By Carol Rushton

As I stated in a previous op-ed, I don’t often address subjects like this. But after writing about losing or not losing your salvation, I decided to wade into the subject of heaven and hell while I’m at it.

Heaven and hell are very controversial subjects these days. In the not too distant past, ministers and evangelists preaching hell-fire and brimstone were common. Not in these politically-correct days. Most people in the 21st Century prefer a kindler, gentler Christianity. They want to be told that they’re ok, they’re doing fine, do an occasional good deed here and here, go to church on Sundays, throw something in the offering plate when you feel like it, and don’t worry about the rest.

About 10 years ago I saw a television program that highlighted a pastor who told his congregation that no one sinned so no one was going to hell. One woman interviewed was obviously thrilled. “No guilt” was her response.

People think it’s unfair that some go to heaven when they die and some do not. “After all, I’m a good person” is the line. “I’ve never stolen anything, I’ve never done anything really bad.” “I try to follow the Ten Commandments” or “I’ve done a lot of good things.” One of the most common is “I don’t think a loving God would send anyone to hell.”

Since so many misconceptions abound about why or why not someone would go to hell, I will attempt to explain it this way.

When you were growing up, where did you live? Who provided you a home, clothes, food, and occasionally toys and treats? Who did you ask when you needed something? Most people will say their parents or a relative.

Why didn’t you live with your friend down the street? Why didn’t you ask your friend’s parents for food or clothes or toys? The response will usually be, “They weren’t my parents.”

Your parents were responsible for providing you the necessities of life because they were your parents and you were their child. They provided the things you needed not only because they wanted to, but because you were a part of their family. They had a legal responsibility to do so, recognized by almost every government and legal system in the world. This is why your parents bought your clothes and school supplies but didn’t buy your friend his clothes and school supplies. Your friend, no matter how close, was not a member of your family.

Let’s say, for example, that your best friend down the street lived with parents that did not provide for him. They didn’t buy clothes or food for him or any of the other things that parents have a legal responsibility to provide for their children. Your parents decided to adopt your friend into your family so that he would have parents who truly love him and care for him the way parents are supposed to.

Your parents can’t just say, “Hey, come live with us.” They must go through a legal process that can involve months or even years. They must also pay a monetary price to legally adopt your friend. They must prove to the authorities in your county or state that they are responsible adults who will give your friend a great home. It will cost your parents a lot in terms of money, time, and hassle, not to mention all the legal hoops they must jump through. It’s not simple or easy, but your parents are willing to do all of that because they love your friend and want him to be a part of your family.

Your friend has a responsibility as well. While your parents may wish with all their hearts to take your friend into your home, they can’t force your friend to become a part of your family. Your friend must decide if he wants to be a part of your family. A judge takes into consideration the feelings of the child and what he wants concerning adoption if he is old enough to voice his opinion.

Once all the legal fees and costs are paid, every “t” is crossed and every “i” is dotted, and your friend decides that he does truly want to be adopted by your parents and become their child legally, a judge finalizes the adoption. Everyone is thrilled, there is a great celebration, and your parents can now legally take care of your friend and provide for him the way they have wanted to for a long time. Your friend is now legally a member of a loving family with all the rights and responsibilities being a member of your family entails. He is just as much a child of your parents as you are.

The same thing is true about who will and will not go to heaven. God is love. He wants everyone who ever lived to be a part of His family. But He is also a God of justice. You are not automatically born into His family. This is because sin has separated man from God. In order for any person to become a member of God’s family, He has to adopt you. And in order to adopt anyone, He had to fulfill certain legal requirements and obligations to be able to offer everyone adoption into His family.

Just as there are costs associated with any adoption process for an earthly family, God paid a cost to be able to legally adopt human beings into His family. In His case, the cost was exceedingly high. It cost Him the life of His Son. There was no other way. God’s justice had to be satisfied. Only Jesus’ shed blood on the cross could pay for the sins of every person on earth who ever lived and would ever live. It was a terrible price to pay but both God the Father and God the Son were willing to pay it. They both felt it was worth it to be able to provide a way for people to become a part of their family.

Now God had a way to legally adopt human beings. Those who were willing to accept God’s free gift of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ would become His sons and daughters by adoption. Each person must make the decision whether to become the Lord’s child. For those that do, God had to prove that He can responsibly provide for each one.

So what does a child of God receive? Everlasting life, for one. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Another gift is a beautiful, magnificent mansion in heaven that God is building for each adopted child. “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3).

If that were not enough (I’m honestly not trying to sound like Let’s Make a Deal), each adopted child will get a perfect, glorified body that will never decay or breakdown like our earthy bodies do now. “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (I Corinthians 15:51-52).

We will also receive rewards for our service to the Lord on this earth. “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward” (I Corinthians 3: 12-14).

I’m sure there are many unexpected and wonderful surprises awaiting all of the Lord’s adopted children that we can’t even imagine. In fact, the Bible tells us so. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (I Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 64:4).

God doesn’t have to do all these things for us. He could be a horrible Father, throwing us onto some planet where He continues to make us scrabble for a living for eternity. He could throw us into a black hole or some other terrible place. But He doesn’t because He is love. He wants to do wonderful things for His children and give them wonderful gifts.

However, there’s only one catch. To receive all these wonderful things and more, you must accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, trusting in His shed blood on the cross for your salvation to become adopted into God’s family. You must decide if you want to be a part of God’s family the way a child decides if he wants to be adopted into another family. That is the only to become His child. If you do not, you are not.

When someone dies who is an adopted child in God’s family, He makes sure that person is escorted into His home. Heaven is where He is right now, so like any earthly parent, He wants His children to come live with Him and enjoy all the wonderful things He has for His adopted children in eternity. He can legally do that now because He has jumped through all the legal hoops it took to adopt every person on earth.

When someone dies who is not adopted into God’s family, God cannot allow that person to come into heaven, not because He doesn’t want that person to be in heaven but because He does not have the legal right to accept that person into heaven. Just as your parents would not have the legal right to allow your friend to come live with you and your family in their home because that friend is not legally a member of your family, no matter how much your parents wanted to, God does not have the legal right to allow someone who is not His child to come live with Him, no matter how much He wants to.

It’s very sad that some people either just don’t care or don’t want to accept God’s free gift of salvation. They may have what the world considers a great life on this earth for a short while, but they are missing out on an eternity of joy and wonderment. I’m sure that while God is thrilled with those who become His children, He grieves over those who do not.

When someone winds up in hell, it is truly not God’s fault. It is their own.