I have a problem. I know God exists. I know God is just. I know God is love. But why doesn't He make it a little more obvious just Who He is? I have this answer: God must keep himself partially hidden from us, because if we saw Him in all His glory, we would all perish (speaking of those not redeemed by Christ.) Thus, it's because of His love that He hides himself — He allows us time to repent. But still, that answer just doesn't seem to satisfy my heart. Surely He could hide himself in a little more obvious way? At least just make us choose between His existence and His non-existence, rather than the smorgasbord of actual religions?
Why does God allow so many religions to come into being? Each claims to be the one true way. But obviously, they can't all be. It's small comfort to be told, "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth." Yes, it helps me to believe in the goodness and love of God, yet I know that millions and millions of souls will be lost forever in tormenting fires. The Bible clearly says that many will end up there. Maybe even most — broad is the path that leads to destruction, but narrow the way that leads to life.
I tell you right now that I am really struggling with the reality of hell. Am I supposed to look at the millions passing me by going to hell and "rejoice in the Lord always"? And I suppose I could always go with the answer "what does the clay have to say to the potter" or perhaps "What is that to thee? Follow thou Me." Yet still I don't feel satisfied. How do you deal with it?
That's a long question. Actually it's two questions: Why doesn't God make His reality more obvious, and why does He allow millions and millions to go to hell? I'll answer by examining your assumptions. You assume (1) That the reality of God isn't obvious, (2) that people can't help being confused about Jesus, and (3) that millions and millions do go to hell. As to assumption (1), the implication of Romans 1 is that the reality of God is obvious. Paul doesn't scold the pagans because they ought to know about God but don't, but because they do know about God and pretend to themselves that they don't. He says everyone really knows about the Creator; we just torture ourselves (or comfort ourselves) with the idea that we don't — and our reasons for doing so aren't pretty. I know that's not the fashionable view, but I think it's the biblical view, and I think — as a former atheist — that it's true.
As to assumption (2): Jesus says plainly that His sheep know His voice, and follow Him. In other words, none of His sheep hear His voice and yet fail to recognize it. "Yes," you may ask, "But what about those to whom the Gospel has not come, or to whom it has been misrepresented?" Christ has not told us His provisions concerning them — but do you really want to tell the God whose very being is love that you won't trust Him to do the right thing unless He lets you in on the details, so that you can judge for yourself? Jesus also said, "And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice." What that tells us is "I know all about your fears for them; trust Me."
Now as to assumption (3): The Bible doesn't tell us that millions and millions are going to hell. It doesn't give any figure at all. It says that the road is broad — meaning easy — but that doesn't tell us how many are on it. It says few are on the road to life, but even a large number may seem few to a God who is unwilling that any should perish. There may or may not be millions and millions on that road; God simply hasn't told us. So there's no point torturing ourselves about that either. We do know God's attitude toward suffering; he let Himself be nailed to the Cross for us, taking the worst of that suffering upon Himself. But we also know that He won't interfere if someone is determined to reject Him.
Here's what I want you to do. Go to a Christian bookstore, pick up the book The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, and read it. It's paperback, and it's a fast read — it's told in the form of a story. Lewis's theme is that the reason some people are in hell is that they want to be there. That may seem preposterous, but I think he's right. Read it and see what you think.
After you've read it, write back. I don't expect your questions will have disappeared, but I'd like to know whether they remain the same, or change.
Grace and peace,
Copyright 2002 Professor Theophilus. All rights reserved.