Will God force people to go to heaven against their will?
Either you're going to be with God, or you're not.
"Frank, my mother was a survivor of the Holocaust," began atheist Eddie Tabash asking me a question during our debate at the University of Michigan. "My mom suffered greatly in her life. Before she died, a Christian shared the gospel with her, but she rejected it. Is she in hell right now?"
Well, Eddie certainly knows how to ask a tough question!
I said, "Eddie, I don't know where your mother is right now. I don't know if she had a deathbed conversion. But if she didn't, God did not force her into heaven against her will. If she did not want Jesus on earth, she will not want Him in eternity. God respects our choices."
To illustrate this point, I asked the ladies in the audience that night if they ever had a guy pursue them whom they didn't want to date. Most ladies began smiling and looking around while the men awkwardly looked at their shoes. One lady yelled out over the entire audience of about a thousand, "Yes!!!" (The guy was probably sitting right next to her.)
I said, "Suppose this man continues to ask you out so many times that you finally say, "Look I like you, but only as a . . ." They completed the sentence for me. Every man has heard the dreaded "friend" rejection.
"Okay, suppose that doesn't deter him, and he continues to pursue you. He eventually says, 'I love you so much that I'm going to force you to love me.' Can he do that? Can he force you to love him?"
Everyone agreed that was impossible. You can't force someone to love you. I went on to explain that the same is true in our relationship with God. God can't force us to love Him. Love, by definition, must be freely given; it cannot be coerced.
I then asked, "After you told him to stop pursuing you, if the man truly did love you, what would he do?"
"He would leave me alone!" several responded.
Exactly. And that's what God does with us. He makes His presence known through the two books — the book of nature and the Bible — His Spirit, other believers, and sometimes other special means. But if we continue to turn down His invitations, He eventually leaves us alone to pursue our own sinful desires, as Paul explains in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans.*
What else is God to do? He can't force us to move from belief that to belief in. A lover cannot force himself on a loved one. A loving God must eventually let people go their own way, which for some is away from Him. As C.S. Lewis aptly put it, "In the long run, the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: 'What are you asking God to do?' To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that that is what He does."*
If there is an afterlife, there are only two logical possibilities: Either you're going to be with God, or you're not. Heaven is with God; hell is separation from God. The assumption behind Eddie's question is that everyone wants to go to heaven. That's not true. Some people can't stand the thought of God. They make a living running from Him. If they don't want Jesus now, why would God force them into His presence for all eternity?
He doesn't. God separates Himself from them for all eternity. Hell is literally separation from God.*
Excerpt from Stealing from God by Frank Turek (pp 222-224).
More by Frank Turek: Life's Most Important Question — The majority of young people leave the church after high school, partially because atheism is religiously promoted in college and the culture.