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Let me preface this by stating that I received a Christian education and have seen the idea that individuals choose to go to hell (rather than God sending them there), mostly from a vaguely evangelical context. This statement bothers me for various reasons, I won't go into, but it strikes me as rather vague for the following reason.

Suppose person X hears about Christianity, but for some reason, does not accept it. There are various reasons for why this might happen (it's not convincing enough, for instance), but one that strikes me as particularly "problematic" (and not just so from my perspective as an atheist) is one where X hears about Christianity from some very poor representatives of the religion (e.g. Christians who have decimated the people of X's religion of ethnicity). As a result, because of X's poor experiences, he refuses to convert even when he is told about Christianity. (There's some reference to this sort of scenario in some accounts of the conquest of Latin America.)

Does this count as a scenario where X chooses to go to hell, as per the formulations of people who believe in this account of where people end up in the afterlife? More broadly, what is meant by "choice" in this context of choosing to believe in God?

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The statement of "choosing to go to hell" is an over-simplification that really is an example of intellectual laziness, and is a great example of the difference between the "true theology" of a group and the type of pop-theology that springs up and causes great confusion.

Looking at it from any side, saying that people choose to go to hell does not make sense.

First, there are no passages of scripture that specifically mentions a person choosing to go to hell. Rather, multiple passages mention an action by God causing the separation of people, from the allegories of separating goats from sheep, or wheat from chaff, to the judgement scene in Revelations 20. Note that the separation is more of an acknowledgement of a preexisting distinction, but still only happens at the action of God. Then there is Matthew 7:21, in which it appears there is a person who wants entry to heaven, but God turns them away because they did not approach the correct way. Obviously not a choosing of hell, but rather a failure to choose heaven the right way.

Second, even just a casual examination of those who are not "born again", or those who have not "accepted Jesus", clearly shows that they have not seen a black and white choice between a choosing of heaven and a choosing of hell. Almost nobody ever believes in the existence of hell and then deliberately chooses it. As you said in your example, normally people just don't believe; not a choosing for one side versus the other, but rather an absence of choosing either.

So yes, according to the normal Evangelical interpretation there is a choice, but it is a choice to believe in and follow Jesus versus a choice not to believe in Him or not to follow Him. And yes, a choice to follow Jesus results in being allowed into Heaven, whereas a choice to not follow Him results in not being allowed into Heaven, and instead being sent to Hell, but that is a consequence, not the actual choice.

Unfortunately some people boil this down into the statement that a person is choosing to go to hell when they are actually choosing to not believe in Jesus (or at least the Evangelical interpretations).

All denominations/movements, and religions for that matter, are filled with pop-theology - the latest thoughts that spring up, which sound good to those sharing it, but don't hold up under scrutiny based on the group's base theology.

  • Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. This question is a bit weird for types of questions the community usually allows and will probably be closed. However, you answered it quite well. I hope to see you post again soon. – 3961 Nov 25 '14 at 23:54
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It means that in the end, you get what you choose. If you chose evil, consequences follow. If you choose good, consequences follow.

Also remember that our motives matter. There IS as difference whether I reject Christianity because I didn't understand, or because I fear that my friends will laugh at me if I openly show it. That happens more often than you would think. Even then I would question whether they REALLY understood.

But because we are not the judges, we should probably not even ask whether some specific person is going to hell or not, and let the Judge decide at the last day. All we should do is care for our own choices, and help others do the right ones themselves.

  • Is this the official stance of some Christian group, or is it just your opinion? – Matt Gutting Nov 25 '14 at 19:18
  • What my understanding of official LDS doctrine is, watered down enough to a position I think others will share too. – kutschkem Nov 25 '14 at 21:25
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Your statement that people choose to go to Hell is invalid. People choose not to go to Heaven. With the fall of mankind in chapter 3 0f Genesis:

This will be fairly extensive and I will be quoting a lot of Scripture from the King James translation

The serpent deceives Eve

1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

Both she and Adam transgress the divine command, and fall into sin and misery

6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

As is evident by the fact that they suddenly realized that they were naked and sewed fig leaves indicates that something in them had made a drastic change. That something has to do with the fact that they now had the knowledge of both good and evil, and it is because of the fact that they now knew evil that being naked made them ashamed. It was not the naked body that caused them shame it was the evil desire that caused their shame. That desire is evil in that it was now perceived as pleasure and not the duty which God gave them in:

Genesis 1:26 and 28 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

God had given them the command to be fruitful and multiply, before the fall, and he had also given them the reason for it; which was to subdue the Earth. Since he had given them domination over the animals and fish they had a responsibility to care for their welfare, which would increase in proportion to the increase of the fish and animals.

But man with his newfound knowledge of evil no longer was the pristine creature God created in the beginning. Satan knew that if he could get man to accept that first disobedience to God he would then be able to continuously appeal to man's pride and cause him to disobey God continuously. This was because he could make man so prideful that his desires would be placed ahead of God's desires. And that strategy has worked for Satan ever since Adam willfully disobeyed God and ate of the tree.

Now that we have covered that let's take up your statement of choosing Hell, and why that is erroneous.

God knew that man once he had disobeyed, (which is what sin is) he could and would be attracted to the evils of this World.

Genesis 8:21 And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

As we see here even after the flood when only Noah and his family were saved, God still said that man would always desire evil; and this is in spite of:

Genesis 6:6 through 8 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

It is important that we note that Noah and his family were saved through the grace of the LORD.

Man is inherently evil and is destined to die.

Genesis 2:16 and 17 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

And now we must give some analysis of verse 17;

  1. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: God had already given them every green thing on the Earth to eat except that one tree.

    a. With everything else to eat they did not eat of the tree because they were hungry, they ate for another reason; that being pride.

    Genesis 3:4 through 6 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

2.But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. This is where your statement of choosing Hell goes astray, but in order to fully understand this we must do some Scriptural analysis.

a. What is meant by in the day you eat it you will surely die?

Since God is Spirit and not material death must have a different meaning to him than it does to us. So let’s look at what death might mean in the Spiritual realm.

Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

man became a living soul, has to mean that had taken on an eternal part which would never pass away.

Since now man has a part which is eternal known as the soul which is one of the characteristics of God and God said:

Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Therefore if we are made in his image the breath of life must refer to something eternal, and God did make man in his own image.

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Since the Soul is eternal then what could God mean in Genesis 2:17?

The answer to that question appears to be in:

Revlation 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. Revelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

This is the most likely prospect for what God meant when he said ‘In the day you eat of it you shall surely die.’ Since from that first disobedience of man , all mankind has been under the penalty of death; which is know as original sin: but in actuality means that man with his knowledge of evil is in his human form unable to avoid sin.

So let’s go back to Noah and the flood; remember that Noah was saved through the grace of God.

Well God’s saving grace did not end when he saved Noah from the flood. Had Noah and his family died in the flood they would still bear the burden of their sins, and since:

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

In order for Jesus words in:

Mar 10:30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

Come to fruition God’s grace had to extend further than just physical death it had to cover the second death, and so God extended his grace even beyond physical death and provided a way for mankind to avoid the second death, and therefore:

John 3:16 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.

What John 3:16 really indicates is that God sent Jesus (the Christ) to completely conform to God’s will in a human form, with the ability to withstand temptation, where man could not, and Jesus resisted every temptation with which man is confronted in:

Matthnew 4:1 through 10 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. 3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 5 Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6 And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Since Jesus has resisted every temptation the choice is not to suffer God’s punishment but to allow Jesus sacrifice on the cross to atone for our sins and choose to spend eternity with God in Heaven or to ignore God’s grace, and suffer eternal punishment.

So the choice is accept Jesus’ death and resurrection as our ticket to Heaven, or stay under the sentence of death, for our eternal soul.

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