This is the fifth installment in a series on the way the Bible presents Hell and answering questions that are commonly asked. Parts 1 & 2 are the foundation for all the other answers.
Question: Why not reform people and allow them into heaven?
This is actually a great idea, and God has offered to do just that. Everyone on earth has the opportunity to be reformed and go to heaven. God even promises to regenerate people spiritually and count them as righteous. All they have to do is accept His offer. Unfortunately many people do not like heaven, for time there is spent worshiping Jesus (see Part 2) so they dislike the idea of God and heaven-like things. What God does not do is force people to change and worship Him against their will.
Question: Why did God create people He knew would go to hell?
This has been answered in detail in another blog post, see here. In short, unless God were to create pre-programmed robots, He could not have created truly free people who genuinely have power of contrary choice but still always choose to love God. No human has ever done it consistently in the history of mankind.
Question: Why not annihilate sinners instead of sending them to hell?
The Bible says that humans are distinct from animals because we are made in God’s image. Whatever this means, it includes the fact that we have a spirit and reason that deserves respect. Apparently, God has enough respect for His image that He will not destroy it. Society punishes criminals, but we demand that when they are imprisoned, they be treated fairly and respectfully. Annihilation would be destroying God’s image. Bluntly, it is kind of like saying ‘Love me or I’ll kill you.’ Instead, God says “You can accept the offer of forgiveness, or have it your way, and go away from Me.” Further, the sin that people have committed have been against an eternal being, God, so punishment deserves an eternal separation.
C. S. Lewis said: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock, it is opened.” (Lewis, Great Divorce, 69)
Lewis also said, “The one who refuses God has his wish–to live wholly in the self and to make the best of what he finds there. And what he finds there is Hell.” (Problem of Pain, 111).
“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside. I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of Hell . . . but the certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self–enslaved. (Lewis, Problem of Pain, 115-116)