People want to love and be loved.
People also want to love and be loved by God.
We are hardwired to love and be loved, whether we believe in God or not, just as we are hardwired to love and be loved by God, whether we believe in him or not.
We are hardwired to love and be loved, and we are hardwired to love God and be loved by him.
Show me someone who claims he or she doesn’t want to love or be loved, and I’ll show you a liar.
Fathers report an instantaneous surge of love for their children when they hold them in their arms for the first time. They say they “fell in love” with the child. That indescribable joy, packaged as the love of a parent for a child, is engendered by God so that children will know unconditional love, however imperfect. Mothers typically develop that love early in their pregnancy so it is already full-blown by the time the child arrives. A parents’ love is a stand-in for God’s love until the children are old enough to decide whether or not they want to receive God’s love and love him in return.
When we come to God as a follower of Jesus, our love for God starts to grow. That part of us that is hard-wired to love God is sparked into life. Sometimes it explodes as a full-blown love, depending on the circumstances, but mostly it grows over time the more we get to know and depend on God: our love for God and our faith in God grow together.
Children aren’t born loving their parents. Instead, children come to love their parents through depending on them and learning to trust them. God doesn’t engender a love for parents in children the way he engenders a love for children in parents. In the same way, God doesn’t force us to love him, even though he has been helplessly in love with us since the instant he created us.
Once established and nurtured in a soul, the love for God almost never dies. Sadly, it CAN die (depending on the person’s choices in life), but it almost never does. God enables us to love him, but he doesn’t force us to love him. Because we are hardwired to love God doesn’t mean we have to love him, any more than we have to abide by his Commandments (even though he’s written them, as he’s promised, on our hearts). There is no obligation on our part to love God. It is a purely voluntary act. But God’s love for us NEVER dies, even if we condemn ourselves to Hell.
This is something that unbelievers (and, unfortunately, some believers) can’t quite grasp – if God loves us all unconditionally, why does he send some of us to Hell? How can he love us if he punishes us eternally?
The answer is that God’s love is not separate from his justice. God is patient in his love for us; he gives us ample time to repent of our wrong-doings (and we know when we’re doing wrong, even if society and local laws tell us we’re not) and to learn to treat others as we want to be treated. God gives everyone as much time as they need to get it right, but eventually time is up.
If, at the point of death, we still refuse to treat others as we want to be treated, there will be no place for us in Heaven. Heaven is a sanctuary from bad behavior and rebellion against God. It wouldn’t be Heaven if stealing, lying, mean-spiritedness and destructive behavior were permitted there. So, if people refuse to give up behaviors that are contrary to God’s way – even though God gives them years and years and opportunity after opportunity to do so – then Hell is the only place for them.
God loves us all the same; he doesn’t love some of us more than others or less than others: he loves us all the same. In the same way, his justice is applied to everyone equally; he doesn’t let some of us off the hook while punishing others for the same thing: we are all held to account for breaking his laws or treating others badly. Our punishment may be different (depending on our individual circumstances and mitigating conditions), but punished we will be, one way or another. Hell is the last resort for people who absolutely refuse to treat other people right. Given there is only Heaven and Hell as final destinations after death, where else could the unrepentant souls go?
I’m not sure if I’m going to Heaven (I want to go, but I won’t know for sure if I’m going there until God says so, as it’s not for me to judge my own soul), but I do know that if I get to Heaven, I don’t want to have to lock my doors and windows at night or worry about someone stealing my lawn jockey. We don’t magically stop stealing because we’re in Heaven; we choose to learn not to steal while we’re on Earth. It’s not something that is imposed on us; it is something that has become part of us through our own free will choice, and free will only exists during our time on Earth.
God’s love for us doesn’t mean he gives people a pass on bad behavior. He gives us plenty of time to repent and change our ways, but if we’re stubborn and refuse, God has to give us our dues, which for the unrepentant ultimately is Hell. This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love the unrepentant sinners; it just means there’s no place for them in Heaven.
People choose their way to Hell. It’s not God’s fault that people end up in Hell; it’s people’s own fault.
This is a humbling and sobering thought. It’s meant to be humbling and sobering, which is why Jesus mentioned it every so often.
He wanted to stop us in our tracks.
He wanted us to constantly realign our priorities so that what truly matters – the state of our eternal soul – would be our focus, not “the cares of this world”.