It’s hard to understand how a heavenly Father who loves his children could ever permit a single one to be lost. II Peter 3:9 tells us: [The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. And it’s interesting to note that Jesus describes the sorrow of hellfire as being something not designed for the human race, but instead prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).
The hard reality, though, is that many of God’s creation are simply not willing to be saved! They don’t want it; they reject it – and an eternity with God in heaven would be torment to them. From the beginnings of our race in Eden, right down to the final moments of decision in the book of Revelation, we find that God gives his children freedom of choice. He absolutely will not violate our right to mark out our own eternal destiny. Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, and the father who let him go, is proof enough.
Years ago I chatted amiably with a colleague at work who plainly told me he had absolutely no desire for an eternal life spent under the rulership of Jesus. No way. He didn’t believe it possible, and wouldn’t want the gift if offered to him.
In his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus gives a clear warning about the reality of being lost. Enter through the narrow gate, he invites. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. A number of his parables spell out the hard truth that a person can resolutely spurn the invitation of heaven: the sower and the hard soil, the story of the weeds, the story of the wedding banquet, the ten virgins, the sheep and the goats, the rich fool, the watchful servants, the rich man and Lazarus. And of course, Revelation’s closing moments are a vivid and tragic reminder that people are free to cling to deception and rebellion, and will ultimately be lost.
We have to balance this high regard for free will with God’s overwhelming desire to woo and to save us. The father of the prodigal allowed his rebellious son to leave him, and did not hound or pursue him to the far country. But the parable in Luke 15 does paint a picture of the father going out to the road each day, scanning the horizon with aching heart, hoping and praying for his boy’s return. In the King James Version, II Peter 3:9 is expressed with these strong words: [God] is not willing that any should perish. In the parable of the great banquet (Luke 14), when the King finds that many have rejected his generous invitation, he tells his servants: “Go out to the roads and country lanes and MAKE THEM come in, so that my house will be full. In the KJV: “Compel them to come in.”
So we have to balance God’s determined and pursuing love with the even greater respect he has for our dignity as men and women with the right to choose or reject his offer of salvation.