“Goodness has nothing to do with it.”
These immortal words of Mae West, sarcastically coined to elicit a laugh, just also happen to illustrate the elective nature of
salvation and the sovereign will of God. Consider…
Even without a Bible, even without a holy book of any kind, it is apparent to all that there is good and bad in the world. Our innate sense of justice desires reward for one and punishment for the other, or at least recognition or shame attach to the guilty (or guiltless) party. And that’s what Eternity seems to be for. But what’s up with God? If He’s so powerful and loving, as ALL religions claim Him to be, why is He putting the guilty in Hell forever?1 Can’t He do something about it?
Religion (and philosophy) have volunteered many solutions. Universalism says that we’ve got it all wrong, that Hell is of limited duration, whereupon everybody goes to Heaven eventually. Annihilationism also says that Hell is of limited duration; that evil will be punished, and then the evil will cease to exist. The Materialist just says ‘forget about it’, that there is no after-place where wrongs are righted nor mercies rewarded. Those who subscribe to reincarnation (and also by implication, ‘the Second Chance’ models) say that the cycle is unending as we drift towards one direction or the other.
I believe the error lies in our exalted view of free will. In all of the above, we are getting lots of chances to decide our own fates. The idea of a free will that is captive to sin is not how we want to think of ourselves. The idea of a loving God reaching down to pluck a helpless humanity from a certain death is more than we are willing to allow. And here’s the most intolerable part: Since it is apparent that not all people make it to Heaven, the conclusion must be that this loving God must have not willed to rescue everybody.
The theological doctrine of Election (and pre-destination and irresistible grace and all that) are the logical reflection of that repugnant conclusion. And to be quite frank with you, I don’t truly understand its inner workings myself. The divine councils of God are but dimly apprehended by this creature (me). Nevertheless, if there is a God, there is an Eternity. If there is an Eternity, and God rules over it, there is a Heaven. And if there is a Heaven, there is a Hell.
The world wants us to be consistent when it says we can choose which road to be on. Here’s my take: We do indeed choose Hell, but we must be “put” in Heaven. God doesn’t send people to Hell, but He does choose people for Heaven. God judges sin (our moral choices), but God gives eternal life to those whom He chooses.
My friends, for Heaven to be a forever place, our human ability must be sufficient to guarantee our eternal innocence.2 A sinless place requires a sinless people, and that’s not us. We must have something external to us to protect and keep us. In Christianity, that protection is the forgiveness found in Christ’s atonement. It’s effective not just for this life, but is eternally effectual. Do we do anything to make it more effective? No. Can we do anything to diminish it effectiveness? No. It is as long lasing and durable as His love. Moreover, it is given to us; we do not earn it. OUR “Goodness has nothing to do with it.”
1 If the wicked aren’t wicked enough for an eternal Hell, then neither are the righteous good enough for an eternal Heaven. Isn’t it interesting that most all people ‘feel’ that those who make it to Heaven will always stay there?
2 Interestingly, no one needs any extra help to stay in Hell. We are all more than able to continue to sin and resent and screw-up. Moreover, none of us possesses the personal self-discipline to stay pure, good, and holy, still less according to God’s standards.