Thoughts on Goats and Hell

As Christians, we profess God to be the perfect judge over all creation. As we saw in Matthew 25, it means that God will judge humanity for how we have treated other people. If we care for the “least of these” then we are welcomed into fellowship with God, for among the poor we find Jesus. But if we lead selfish, closed-off lives–the goats of the passage–then we are cast away because we neglect to care for Christ himself.

This idea of God being a judge has always fascinated me. More often than not, we assume that God is seated up in heaven and will pull out the trapdoor to drop unbelievers into the fires of hell. (Perhaps you’ve see this scene before in a cartoon like Tom & Jerry!)

But I think these cartoonish depictions of the final judgment are always misleading. Let’s think about heaven and hell more seriously… and theologically!

One of the greatest theologians of last century, CS Lewis, had an interesting idea that the doors of hell are actually “locked on the inside.” In his book The Great Divorce, Lewis articulates what he believes about heaven and hell through a fictional account of someone traveling through the afterlife on a cosmic bus. The book is more of an imaginative narrative about what heaven and hell are like.

When the narrator of the book visits hell, he notices many different things. Hell is an isolated place. There are indeed residents, but they keep moving further away from one another, refusing to show neighborliness or friendship. So, hell actually ends up looking like a sparse desert, with people refusing to interact with one another. Lewis authored this illustration because it is quite true that when we reject the love God has granted us, we tend to lead lonely lives. In this sense, hell is the ultimate example of this. In choosing life apart from God, we freely embrace sin and suffering.

As I said above, The Great Divorce also gives a profound picture that hell’s doors or boundaries are locked from the inside. That means that those who live in hell do so by their own free choice. God doesn’t have to condemn them or put up a massive wall to deter escapees. Instead, when we reject Christ, we make the personal, conscious, and intentional decision for hell.

Lewis’ book is an interesting interpretation of what we find in scripture about Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats. When we care for the poor, we are training ourselves to be around the kinds of folks Jesus loves. If we refuse to share and if we are hateful to one another, chances are we won’t like heaven too much.

A practical example of this would be the sin of racism. Scripture clearly states that people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be present in heaven. If someone who is so prejudiced in his or her heart witnesses this scene, chances are they would be uncomfortable (or even angry) at God for allowing the object of their hatred in. Heaven would be unbearable for prejudiced hearts with all its wonderful diversity in the body of Christ!

So with all that said, you and I have a clear choice to make.

Are we going to be like sheep, welcoming in all of God’s children and caring for them?

Or will we be like goats, ignoring the cries of the needy?

How we treat others is a sign of whether or not we have God’s love in our hearts. Jesus warned us that these actions are so important, they even connect with our life after death.

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