Wouldn’t a Loving God Make Sure Everyone Gets to Heaven?

The concept of Hell is daunting for many Christians. It’s not pleasant to think our unbelieving loved ones might spend eternity separated from God, regretting their decision forever. Several religious traditions seek to avoid the problem by offering a second chance to those who reject God’s gift of forgiveness. They envision a place where rebellious souls can, in the next life, reconsider their choice or earn their way toward heaven; the Catholic tradition offers “Purgatory” and Mormonism describes a “Spirit Prison”. Both seek to offer solutions to commonly asked questions: Wouldn’t a Loving God love all of His creation? Wouldn’t He make sure everyone goes to Heaven (regardless of what they might believe in this life)? A loving God would never limit Heaven to a select few and allow billions of people to suffer in Hell, would He?

Let’s consider, however, the nature of Heaven and the truth about humans. Heaven is the realm of God, and those who ultimately enter into Heaven will be united with God forever. While that sounds fantastic for some of us, it sounds ridiculous, boring or offensive to many who reject the existence of God (and resist God’s guidelines and obligations). If everyone will eventually end up in Heaven, it is inevitable and compulsory. This type of eternal destination seems contrary to the nature of God and the nature of human “free will”:

A Compulsory Heaven Would Eradicate “Free Will”
People who deny the existence of God relish the fact they have the freedom and ability to do so. Some of these same people, however, argue a loving God would make certain everyone goes to Heaven after they die. But this kind of “universalism” actually denies human “free will” altogether. If Heaven is the only destination awaiting us (based on the assumption all who die eventually end up there), it is truly compulsory. In this view of the afterlife, we have no choice about where we end up; everyone is united with God, like it or not. A compulsory Heaven rejects the importance of human liberty, the very thing those who deny God cherish the most. By offering (but not forcing) Heaven to those who freely choose to love the One who reigns there, God is actually honoring and respecting our “free will” universally. He is, in fact, treating us with the utmost respect and dignity; something we would expect if He is all-loving in the first place.

A Compulsory Heaven Would Embrace the “Unsuited”
In addition to this, a Heaven including anyone and everyone is counter intuitive and un-reasonable. Just think about it for a minute. Most of us would agree: A Holy place of eternal reward is simply not suited for people with a certain kind of character or certain kinds of desires. All of us can think of someone from history who (by our estimate) is unqualified for eternal reward. We may not all agree on who should or shouldn’t be included in such a place, but most of us would hesitate when considering people like Hitler (or perhaps lifelong unrepentant pedophiles with murderous desires) for eternal reward in Heaven. If there is a Heaven, it is surely unsuited for certain kinds of people, and even the most skeptical among us can find someone he or she would place in this category. A compulsory Heaven, including the most vile and dangerous people from history, is not likely what skeptics have in mind when they argue for an all-inclusive final destination.

A loving God would make Heaven possible for all of us while respecting the free will desires of some of us. A loving God would reward those of us who have decided to choose Him while dealing justly with those of us who have decided to choose against Him. For this reason, Heaven simply cannot be the destination of every human who has ever lived. Heaven is not compulsory, but is instead the destiny of those who love the God who reigns there and have accepted His invitation.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.

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20 replies
  1. KR says:

    Free will doesn’t save the concept of Hell. I’ve argued elsewhere on this site that the concept of free will (at least in the classical libertarian sense) is logically incoherent and therefore actual free will cannot exist but that’s a different discussion. Even if there were such a thing as free will, the notion that belief is a matter of making a decision still doesn’t make any sense. E.g., would we expect doubt to exist if we could simply decide what we believe? Of course not – if belief was just a matter of making a decision, we wouldn’t even have a word for doubt – it would be a completely alien concept. The mere existence of doubt is proof positive that our beliefs are not under the control of our will.
    .
    If you’re a theist, would you be able to stop believing in God by simply deciding to? Could you wake up tomorrow, decide to not believe in God anymore and instantly become an atheist? I sincerely doubt that you could – and yet, changing our beliefs by an act of will seems to be what’s expected of the unbelievers if we want to avoid Hell. The thing is, if your beliefs are just a matter of making an arbitrary decision, then the beliefs themselves are arbitrary – no more significant than the flip of a coin. You could flip for it every morning and choose to be a theist or an atheist for the day depending on how the coin lands. That would be an empty belief indeed.
    .
    Of course, this is clearly not how belief works. Our beliefs can come from evidence, personal experience, a compelling argument or by simply assimilating the culture we grow up in. Neither of these would constitute a free will choice (if such things existed). Our beliefs come from our convictions – and we don’t get to choose those. The very idea of being able to freely choose to be convinced of something is absurd, since it would completely disconnect our convictions from reality. We would be able to literally convince ourselves of anything – 2+2 equals 8.5, Paris is the capital of the UK – and no evidence or argument could change our convictions, since they weren’t based on any evicence or arguments in the first place but just an arbitrary decision.
    .
    Well, my beliefs are not arbitrary. Just like everything else about me, they’re the result of nature and nurture, i.e. my genes and my environment (family background, cultural background, education, life experiences etc.). I believe that which can be supported by empirical evidence, is consistent with my experience or just generally makes sense to me. So far, no concept of God I’ve been presented with has met any of these criteria and I couldn’t make myself believe in any such deity anymore than I could make myself believe the moon is made of green cheese. If there is a God and He would punish my lack of belief – which I did not choose – by sending me to Hell, then this God is not only irrational and immoral but downright evil. In fact, the absurdity of the idea of Hell as a punishment for something which is out of my control is one of the very reasons that the Christian and Muslim concepts of God make no sense to me.

    Reply
    • Kalmaro says:

      How exactly does one establish that God is immoral or evil? I’m assuming you don’t believe I. God, which would mean that you also believe that morality is subjective.

      When it comes to choosing what to believe, I believe some choice is involved. Like when looking at evidence for something and deciding if it is enough to support a claim.

      Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          I can show you photos of policemen. I’ve met policemen. Your analogy is poor. Further, you ignore KR’s whole argument about belief. I might as well say, ‘Theists can’t follow a logical argument the same way a criminal can’t follow the law’.

          Reply
        • Dr Sarah says:

          Mark: How so? (This sounded like a dig to me – I mean, it sounds as though you think atheists are trying to avoid God – but I don’t know whether that’s how you meant it to sound.)

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          • Andy Ryan says:

            It’s nonsense. I know atheists who desperately tried to find God – read up on all the apologetics, spoke to priests and other religious people, trying to share their faith. They wanted to believe but just didn’t find the evidence compelling, no matter how much they wanted to. Such people are disturbing for Mark, who tries to recast all atheists as effectively criminals trying to avoid retribution.

          • Tracey says:

            Doubt is an alien concept to Christians, God is Just, Righteousness, and doubt in God is not supported.
            How can you use the word, belief?
            Demonstrate belief.
            God is not a concept you have to grasp, accept; read the article, non-compulsory attendance, it’s your choice with all the accountability and obligations attached to your, choice.
            Where has it ever been written that you, KR, are required to say God is your God, Jesus is your Saviour, where is this written?
            And your right your couldn’t make yourself believe, no, one cannot make oneself believe, this transcribes to, faking it, appearing to, lies.
            So the non-belief, the no God exist, results, in a default, position of, Hell, by taking a no decision.
            Without, sensory, usage one is left with only a logic to walk the Way.
            Jesus demonstrated by Works, and then the Holy Spirit-Belief, the word you used in your passage.

      • jcb says:

        One doesn’t establish that god actually is immoral. God would have to exist for that. But one can establish that if a being existed that did harm to innocent people, that being would be immoral, if one defines morality that way (in relation to harm). (Your question only makes sense if you have a definition of “immoral”.) If you don’t believe in god, it doesn’t make morality subjective rather than objective. If you don’t believe in god, cats still exist (which is about as objective a claim as one can get), and punching others does them harm (also objective, in the normal, evidential sense).

        Reply
      • KR says:

        Kalmaro wrote: “How exactly does one establish that God is immoral or evil?”
        .
        The way we establish that anything is immoral or evil: by applying our subjective morality. In this case, I find it immoral and evil to punish people (eternally, no less) for something which is out of their control. Do you disagree with this – and, if so, why?
        .
        “I’m assuming you don’t believe I. God, which would mean that you also believe that morality is subjective.”
        .
        Correct. It would seem you agree with this – the only difference being that you think God’s subjective morality should be the standard rather than your own. The problem with this is that people can’t seem to agree om what God’s morality is, which is rather devastating for something which is supposed to be a standard. It’s almost as if people are applying their own moral standards when trying to interpret what God wants. The Bible seems to be of little help in this respect – it has proven to be an endless source of quotes that can be used to support completeley opposite moral positions.
        .
        “When it comes to choosing what to believe, I believe some choice is involved. Like when looking at evidence for something and deciding if it is enough to support a claim.”
        .
        If your decision is contingent on evidence, you’ve already conceded that it’s not a free will choice, since the existence of evidence is obviously not under the control of your will. As I’ve already explained, if you’re completely free to choose what to believe, the evidence is irrelevant – making your beliefs arbitrary and fundamentally meaningless since they’re unmoored from reality.
        .
        I’d also like an answer to my question: could you stop believing in God by choosing to?

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        • Kalmaro says:

          “The way we establish that anything is immoral or evil: by applying our subjective morality.”

          That just proves what you feel though, not if something was really wrong. The instant someone disagrees with you would cause a problem, right?”

          “The problem with this is that people can’t seem to agree om what God’s morality is, which is rather devastating for something which is supposed to be a standard”

          I wouldn’t say that. If a standard existed then people could disagree all day but that would not mean a standard didn’t exist. If anything, it just shows that people have the ability not to agree on some things.

          “If your decision is contingent on evidence, you’ve already conceded that it’s not a free will choice, since the existence of evidence is obviously not under the control of your will.”

          I’m not saying that, if someone is shown enough evidence they will be convinced. Then you’d have a point, belief is just based on evidence. My example is someone who sees evidence and makes the decision of if they have seen enough, verses just automatically saying they have seen enough because of how much evidence they have seen. Which is something you may see with a jury, where some believe they’ve seen enough evidence to reach a decision while others might claim more is needed.

          Free will is one of those things that will probably be debated for ever, philosophers on both sides can’t seem to agree on it

          I most have missed your question earlier, about not believing in God. I don’t see why I couldn’t, I have had doubts every so often. I know friends who voiced doubts and some that just plain stopped believing in God after events happened. I also know people who have gone through tragedies and came out the stronger believer.

          Unless you’re asking if I could stop believing just suddenly unprovoked, I don’t think I could. Maybe if I had a question that I just couldn’t come to terms with. Hard to say. I don’t think I’ll be able to give you a satisfying answer on this.

          Reply
          • KR says:

            “That just proves what you feel though, not if something was really wrong. The instant someone disagrees with you would cause a problem, right?”
            .
            I’d say it’s more of a problem for you. People disagree on moral issues all the time, that’s just reality. The thing is, we never see these disagreements resolved by anyone demonstrating what the objectively correct position is. If morality is subjective, there’s no mystery here: we don’t see moral conflicts resolved by any objective standard because there is no such thing. For the believer in objective moral values, however, this becomes a conundrum that needs to be explained: why is no-one ever able to demonstrate these objective moral values?
            .
            “I wouldn’t say that. If a standard existed then people could disagree all day but that would not mean a standard didn’t exist. If anything, it just shows that people have the ability not to agree on some things.”
            .
            If no-one is able to demonstrate what these objective moral values are, it doesn’t matter whether they exist or not. Either way, they’re irrelevant and we’re left to resolve moral conflicts the way we’ve always resolved them: by coercion or agreement.
            .
            “I’m not saying that, if someone is shown enough evidence they will be convinced. Then you’d have a point, belief is just based on evidence. My example is someone who sees evidence and makes the decision of if they have seen enough, verses just automatically saying they have seen enough because of how much evidence they have seen. Which is something you may see with a jury, where some believe they’ve seen enough evidence to reach a decision while others might claim more is needed.”
            .
            If the decision is based on whether we feel that the evidence is sufficient or not, the obvious follow-up question is: do we choose how we feel about the evidence? I don’t see how that would work. If we could decide how we feel about the evidence, on what would this decision be based?
            .
            “Unless you’re asking if I could stop believing just suddenly unprovoked, I don’t think I could.”
            .
            That’s what I was asking – and it seems you agree that your beliefs are not under the control of your will.

  2. Debra Fore says:

    I’m not nearly as clearly spoken as you before me, but I’d like to say a few things.
    The article was about believing before your mortal body dies to get to heaven or if you get another opportunity after death. It was about all people going to heaven or not.
    As a believer, in Jesus Christ, God and the Holy Spirit, my faith & answers are based on the scriptures. My opinion only.
    Jesus says, “All sins are created equal except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” Jesus goes on to say, ” You can blasphemy me & I can choose to forgive you,” He then goes on to say, ” You can even blasphemy my Father, and he can choose to pardon you.” But once you blasphemy the Holy Spirit, that sin goes uncovered.” Blasphemy is when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you reject it.
    There are many believers that have never felt the Holy Spirit Conviction. They simply believe. Some won’t waiver on that belief and other believers do waiver from time to time. His word also says, “One day, All knees will bow and mouths confess, that I am God, Jesus Christ, Your Lord and Saviour.” I simply believe, that God will not let one of his human creations, that He made in His image, go to hell with Lucifer.
    As for Atheists or Satanist or whatever belief or non belief… as to choice or no choice… it’s irrevellant, because once the Holy Spirit comes upon you here or on the great judgement day, you will except the conviction. There is no denying the Holy Spirit is upon you and you will want it.
    Of course, if you willingly seek him here now, the way you go through life with an all knowing Joy, that you can’t explain even in the darkest of times. It’s amazingly comforting and strengthening and energizing. The comforter is available to all as his word says, “I must leave for a time, where i must go, you can not follow for now,but I will leave my comforter with you.
    I say, continue to search all you can but search the Bible in the same and you will one day, find answers to your questions.
    Don’t just try to find contradictions to debunk~ but rather understanding the difference in timeline and who is writing and from what points of view as to why they are telling their story and what was going on. When you spend the time seeking the truth for yourself, God will open your eyes to that truth and your ears will hear the truth through all the chaotic chattering of others. The Truth For You. Not for others but for You. Once you’ve got it for yourself, then you will share it with others. We continue to learn until the day we die. We never learn it all.
    Anyway, God Bless everyone

    Reply
  3. Dr Sarah says:

    This feels like a strawman.

    Speaking for myself and, I suspect, for quite a lot of others, my issue isn’t that I think a loving God would send everyone to heaven. It’s that, according to traditional Christian belief,

    a) the *only* other provision made is for eternal torture. If you don’t meet the criterion for Heaven, that’s where you end up.
    b) the decision isn’t even made on what you’ve done, but on *what you believe*. Grew up in a culture that taught you a different religion was the truth? Carefully examined all the evidence and reached the sincere conclusion that you don’t believe Jesus died for anyone’s sins? Eternal torture it is for you.

    And *those* beliefs are what strike me as morally abhorrent.

    Reply
  4. David says:

    It certainly is possible that a being exists that would create billions upon billions of humans, the vast majority of which he knew would suffer eternally in hell. And it is also possible that he would do this when his holy book says he is in need of nothing. That he is perfectly satisfied and complete within himself. He doesn’t need our fellowship.
    I just don’t know how you could call that being loving. Really, that’s the beautiful story? That this whole human experiment is supposed to result in a fraction of people experiencing eternal bliss and multitudes experiencing eternal torment? Romans 9 even says he created those predestined to perdition so that those who were predestined to election would know just how lucky they were. That’s like saying that a parent would torture to death one of their kids at Christmas time so that the other child would appreciate their gifts to the fullest. To rephrase an old saying from Jim Elliot: He is no loving god who creates that which he does not universally redeem, to satisfy a need which he does not have.

    Reply
    • AB says:

      David, let me quickly respond to the objections that you raised.
      “It certainly is possible that a being exists that would create billions upon billions of humans, the vast majority of which he knew would suffer eternally in hell. And it is also possible that he would do this when his holy book says he is in need of nothing. That he is perfectly satisfied and complete within himself. He doesn’t need our fellowship.”
      The problem with you objection is that such a world might have overriding deficiencies. For example, such a world might only have a handful of people but if God were to create any more people, one of them would freely reject him. Is such a world preferable over one where multitudes freely accept God’s gift of salvation but others freely don’t. I don’t think so.
      “I just don’t know how you could call that being loving. Really, that’s the beautiful story? That this whole human experiment is supposed to result in a fraction of people experiencing eternal bliss and multitudes experiencing eternal torment? Romans 9 even says he created those predestined to perdition so that those who were predestined to election would know just how lucky they were. That’s like saying that a parent would torture to death one of their kids at Christmas time so that the other child would appreciate their gifts to the fullest. To rephrase an old saying from Jim Elliot: He is no loving god who creates that which he does not universally redeem, to satisfy a need which he does not have.”
      David, it’s worth mentioning that your interpretation of Romans 9 is highly disputed. I’m going to take your objection as an objection to one of the five points of Calvinism. I actually agree with you on this point. If salvation is entirely up to God why isn’t everyone saved? This is one of the main reasons I’m not a Calvinist. I would also like to ask you how you can justify your belief that God is unjust(you don’t say this explicitly but you seem to allude to it) if the highest moral standard you have is that of society?

      Reply
  5. Susan Tan says:

    Arguing before you have even understood God’s perspective is ignorant but you run into opinionated people doing it all the time in the world and on the internet.

    I don’t believe people should be concerned so much about their ” destination ” i.e. heaven or hell but in their spiritual regeneration in the here and now.

    Why is there no peace on earth? Because we tolerate a lack of spiritual unity on Earth.

    People argue and refuse to learn God’s side of things denying themselves peace in their own hearts.

    When you don’t have peace in your own heart then you try to disrupt the peace in the hearts of the more spiritual people.

    When you receive Jesus then he gives the gift of faith which includes peace in your heart among other things. Sometimes the Bible uses the word “rest” in the Psalms where it means “peace”.

    Jesus brough God’s love and peace offering to Earth embodied in himself so everyone could come to a spiritual agreement and unity and abide in God’s presence.

    But people reject him and try to argue for alternative states outside of God’s peace and to try to force worldly tolerance of alternative ideas and religions and ideologies on people when Jesus Christ’s ideas and teachings were the very best.

    People settle for disunity and substandard ideas then they want a public venue from which to confuse people and communicate their counter God culture ideas.

    God has saved everyone. When the Bible says Jesus takes away the sin of the world it means just that or else it would have said “takes away the sin of believers in him”. But it didn’t. It said Jesus is the Lamb of God that took the sin away of everybody.

    The sin is gone.

    The question remains. Who will come to a right understanding about the God man Jesus Christ.

    If you haven’t accepted Jesus then you haven’t made your peace with God in this lifetime and you are outside the bonds of spiritual unity with God and are denying yourself His presence and all the blessings He brings.

    Yes there are plenty of worldly blessings to sample and get caught up in but the power of God’s love, joy and peace that comes by devoting yourself to His presence …how can you have that?

    The Gospel is the doctrine of reconciliation.

    God didn’t send His Son to take back just a small portion of this world. He didn’t and His Will will be done and it will prevail. In spite of great numbers of Christians communicating Catholicism’s misinterpretation of eternal fire and damnation.

    Fire is spiritual in many places in the Bible. Not literal.

    The wages of sin is death not hell so why do so many Christians substitute hell as the penalty for sin.

    We all sin even if only in our thought lives and we all die for it.

    Paul describes people as asleep in the grave. Not in heaven. Do our spirits go immediately to heaven or sleep until resurrection when Christ raises us? I don’t know for sure but there will be two resurrections.

    When you haven’t even mastered theology why would you argue against God’s peace process and terms?

    You don’t know what you are arguing against.

    Get Jesus and get peace in your heart and get into spiritual agreement and blessed unity with God through Jesus right now.

    The carnal man is just a savage next to the elegantly mannered elite spiritual man that God can produce.

    How does one do without the Fruit of the Spirit?

    if you don’t have God’s seed in you producing the Fruit of the Spirit why would you tolerate that?

    That is a problem of the here and now….right now!

    Why would one allow himself to give away to carnal corruption, refusing to learn God’s ways and letting Him make something better out of them in this lifetime while they haggle over heaven and hell?

    Learn something about theology first.

    It’s a tricky subject. Not all theologians are equally knowledgeable and equally good workmen.

    I used to believe in hell but no longer.

    God is saving everyone, has saved everyone and will save everyone one?

    So why don’t we all cooperate? Miscommunication, poor theological education, non-stop arguing, egos, etc. try to prevent us. And those are just for starters. Nevermind your own inborn sin nature likes to stumble people too.

    Read Creation’s Jubilee by Dr. Stephen E. Jones.

    Read the the essay online ” If God Could Save Everyone, Would He?”

    These explain to a great extent this heaven and hell problem as well as why there is so much spiritual disunity still in this world.

    God is still working out His plan and the scriptures say He will save each in his own order.

    If in a hurricane you would fight to get to the head of a line to secure some bottled water then why in this non stop crazy risky carnal world won’t you try hard to learn God’s position?

    Why argue when you don’t really have a clue about God’s position.

    Why does the Bible say to love and fear God?

    Because He’s the only one really worthy of love and respect. Only His perspective counts.
    Though He does try to teach us to love and respect everyone too. That is spiritual unity. Not merely tolerating and trading ideas but truly loving and respecting everyone else no matter what.

    To come toma full measure of a man like Jesus Christ. You must first come into agreement with God and have enough humility to love and respect Him.

    Then you agree to learn from Him. He is the Teacher of all teachers.

    So why submit to lesser forms of learning to disrupt your own lessons and cause dissension and disunity in this world.

    Do you really think you will stop God?

    No He has his own patterns and order that He is following.

    Come into compliance with Him and you may learn more because He decides who to inform and when.

    You are a mere apprentice to a Master.

    May His Grace Abound to Everyone Reading!

    Love really does win. When didn’t it with the human race?

    Reply

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