Another reader asked...
READER>> Why do some go to Hell, even if temporarily? You say that only the Holy Spirit can lead people to faith and repentance. So then it is God himself who has determined to forgive all mankind from the cross in 33 A.D.. And it is the Holy Spirit who regenerates each individual at the time of his choosing to be born again and receive forgiveness. So then why would God allow any to go to Hades / Hell? Why wouldn't he end the suffering and bring everyone to faith immediately?
ME>> Thank you again for this excellent question. Confidence in God's unconditional love for all mankind defended from the Bible is a great blessing. Yet, now our questions about brokenness, pain, sin, and judgment become even more significant.
We might have stomached these terrible things in the past, concluding that God simply does not love all, or that sinners are simply getting their just desserts, even eternal damnation. We might find comfort believing that the masses drowned in the flood were unrepentant sinners, outside of God's love, receiving their deserved judgment. Maybe there is comfort, but only if we forget that we are sinners just as they. We might think Ananias and Sapphira lost their lives because they really were not Christians in the first place. Maybe that is comfort, but have we forgotten that God also disciplines Christians? We might try to comfort ourselves saying that Luke 16, the rich man punished in Hades, was not a true story, but a parable. Or we might comfort ourselves saying the rich man missed his last chance to repent and so God's offer of love is rescinded. Maybe there is comfort, if we ignore that fact that salvation is only possible through God's gracious choice. And how do we reconcile God's love for all mankind, considering the pain suffered by Cain and Abel, Noah's family and their generation, Pharaoh and enslaved Israel, King David and Uriah, Lazarus and the rich man, the early church and the destruction of Jerusalem, the murderer and the murdered, the rapist and the raped, the aborter and the aborted, the selfish and the starving?
Joy over God's unconditional love for all mankind seems extinguished by the reality of the world around us and the nether world beyond us.
Scripture may not answer your question directly. However, there is a solid answer concluded from our knowledge of our sinful nature apart from grace, our knowledge of God, and our knowledge of God's purpose in grace. Consider Ephesians 2:1-7 (WEB),
1) You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions and sins, 2) in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience. 3) We also all once lived among them in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4) But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, 5) even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6) and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7) that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; 8) for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9) not of works, that no one would boast. 10) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.
First we see that our sinful nature apart from grace is horribly described as,
you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience. 3) We also all once lived among them in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
Ephesians 2:2b-3 (WEB)
This horrible description is often worse than we want to admit for ourselves and others. We are tempted to ask "why do bad things happen to good people?" However, the answer is that bad things never happen to good people. There are no good people. Though of course not all pain suffered is the direct result of our own sin and there are innocent victims. Nonetheless, the description of our evil nature apart from grace still offends. We might be both offended and fearful to consider that sinful mankind and this broken world really do deserve to be thrown into the refuse heap of eternal damnation. The point is that apart from grace we are children of wrath by our birth nature. The point is that unregenerate man prefers the suffering of Hell in order to worship self rather than worship of Christ with comfort in paradise.
I challenge you to a dangerous mental exercise. Consider the sins that tempt you. Imagine committing them and taking them a step further. Take them another step further and imagine further temptations presented. Now imagine steps even further. Continue until you are able to see that your sinful nature and the sinful nature of all mankind are made of the same stuff as Hitler himself. Continue until you are able to see that your unbridled sinful nature raises its defiant high hand to malign God himself. Continue until you can confess that you would dethrone God to be your own god and the god of those around you if you could. Unless of course you claim that you are not guilty of the crucifixion of Christ along with all mankind. Before we boast that we know and love God we should be reminded that we crucified Christ.
So an accurate knowledge of our sinful nature apart from grace at least explains that sinful mankind deserves and even would prefer eternal damnation to worshiping Christ. So the pain suffered in this life or even temporary punishment in the next life is at least merited by our evil nature. So if any suffer in Hades after death, they certainly are not Christian brothers calling on God in repentance, but instead remain God haters by their birth nature. The unbelieving regret the pain, but they have no regrets for their continued unbelief and separation from God, even through Hades.
Scary as our sinful natures may be, thankfully this is only a tiny fraction of the whole equation. Yes, apart from grace the justice of God merits our eternal damnation. However, thankfully there is no "apart from grace" because the cross of Christ now demands mankind's salvation. Our Ephesians passage continues,
4) But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, 5) even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6) and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:4-6 (WEB)
Thankfully God is greater than our sin and he is a savior with no condemnation for sinful man. Our knowledge of God is the great hope of the gospel. The bad news of our sinful nature is only an introduction to the good and great news of the gospel. Ephesians 2:4 is the great contrast of the gospel, "But God!" We are terrible sinners by nature, "But God" is a greater savior!
Okay, but why did God allow the brokenness, pain, sin, and judgment in the first place? Why does God allow it for another instant? Why does the Holy Spirit leave even one person unrepentant?
7) that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus;
Ephesians 2:7 (WEB)
God's purpose was and is to "show the exceeding riches of his grace." God is showing off and demonstrating his grace in loving the unlovable and forgiving the unforgivable over time. He is working out our salvation and the demonstration of his patient grace over thousands of years. He could have allowed only an instant of sin, but instead he is showing off his amazing grace working with sinners over thousands of years. The unstained, perfectly pure, glorious holiness of God Almighty has determined to show off his grace muscles in the salvation of a world full and a history full of sinful mankind through the cross of Jesus Christ.
Thus we observe that God has specifically allowed every possible combination of circumstances to show off his grace. God has proved, is proving, and will prove that his grace is undefeated in every arena. Consider, that God has demonstrated grace before the law with Adam and Eve and during the law with Moses. God has demonstrated grace before the advent of Christ with Israel and after the advent of Christ with the Church. God has demonstrated grace with the believing and also with the unbelieving. Furthermore, God demonstrates grace toward both the living and the dead, even to the depth of Hades. God is exercising his grace in every square inch of this broken world so that his grace alone will be praised at the restoration of all things.
Naturally we still have questions about brokenness, pain, sin, and God's judgments in Hades. However, we also know that God's purpose is to demonstrate the victory of grace from the highest to the lowest places throughout his entire creation. For myself, my appetite and imagination are ready now for God's final display of grace and the complete erasure of the fall and the restoration of all things. Yet God still has further displays of his magnificent grace and patience with sinful man. So we glorify him, trust him, and wait patiently.