A friend recently told me about a status update which read: “I just drove by Krispy Kreme and the hot light was on. I bought a dozen hot donuts and ate them all. Don’t judge!” While we could debate over whether we would want to eat a dozen hot Krispy Kreme donuts or not the point was that in our current culture it’s not alright to judge others. We live in an individualistic culture in which our actions are ours and ours alone. And not only am I only responsible for my actions, no one else is allowed to judge me for my actions. It’s my choice whether I participate in a certain behavior or not and as long as my behavior does not infringe on another it can not be judged, or should not be judged. Those that do judge others are viewed as insensitive, uncaring, or just plain wrong. Even if I may personally disagree with another’s actions it is wrong for me to judge them. Judgement of others seems to be the worst of all evils.
Because judgement is looked down upon in our culture, the idea of a God who judges us is hard to imagine. God is loving. God has an all-encompassing never-ending love for his creation. Love is centered in grace. Love is centered in forgiveness. Love is about second chances, not holding one’s faults against them. People are tired (and rightly so) of being beat down by religion, beat down by a God who sees everything they do and holds all against them. People are tired of feeling guilty and following God out of guilt or fear. People run to the God of the Prodigal; a God who longs for their wayward prodigal to come home, and literally runs to them and embraces them. People long for a God who will love them and forgive them no matter what; who is anxiously waiting to pour out more and more grace.
Because of this it’s often hard for individuals to believe in a judgement day. How could a loving God sentence people to hell? How could a loving God put an end to someone’s hope of repentance? How could a loving God judge? Love wins. Love has to win. Otherwise God isn’t really God.
Individuals have this view because our view of God is wrong. God doesn’t judge people and send them to hell. Instead, God loves us so much that God allows us to choose for ourselves. God wants us to choose to follow. God gives every opportunity possible to allow humans to follow. God is willing to forgive even the most offensive sins if people will turn and seek forgiveness. But God will not force humanity to follow. God will not force individuals into relationship. While God longs for relationship he allows humanity to choose. And because he allows humanity to choose, some will choose death. Some will choose to ignore his ever-loving presence. Some will choose Hell over Heaven. Miroslav Volf describes it this way in his book Exclusion and Embrace.
“God will judge not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God’s terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified messiah”
Volf argues that hell (or God’s judgement) is reserved for those who refuse God’s quest for relationship. It is reserved for those who resist the loving invitation of the crucified one. It is reserved for those who run away from God to the very end.
God does not sentence individuals to hell. God finds no joy in judgement. God simply allows those who resist his relationship to have what they desire. They desire life without God and so God gives it to them. Not because God wants to, but because individuals refuse the invitation to relationship.
God is a loving God. God invites humanity into eternal life with God; an invitation no one deserves. The invitation is open for all of us. But God will not force us to accept. The choice is ours.