One bad decision, chum, and off you go to hell – oh, really?

Does our free will have the power to determine our eternal destiny? According to many Christians the answer is, “Yes, what we decide with our free will makes the difference between going to heaven or hell. If we decide to believe in Jesus we’re off to heaven after we die, but if we decide to reject him we’re off to hell, to be tormented or destroyed forever.”

But at what point is our decision fixed forever? What if at this moment – and to the day we die – we reject Jesus because the picture we’ve been given of him is awful? Maybe Grandma turned us off Jesus by her holier-than-thou approach, or the church down the road had dreadful signs on its front lawn threatening people with eternal torment, or Protestants and Catholics were killing each other in our city, or Aunt Mabel was gabbling away in what she called “speaking in tongues” but it was all just gibberish and nonsense. And what about all those ghastly stories about the Crusades, and Christians going to war on both sides of a conflict and killing each other? And why does God allow horrible natural disasters and serial killers of women and children?

Does God take all these possibilities into account, that our decision to reject him is based on legitimate reasons? Or does he say, “Too bad, chum, you made your decision to reject me, so off you go to hell”? But what if we’d been given a wonderful view of God instead, and heard nothing but a good news message about his intention to save everybody and his promise to do so through Jesus, and therefore we didn’t reject him? Is it fair that God should judge us on what decisions we make when our decisions can be so easily influenced?

And when is our decision final, too? Is it final now, or final on the day we die, or final only after a period of judgment? Or is it ever final, because in reality it isn’t our decision that determines our eternal destiny, it’s God’s mercy (Romans 11:32)? And, what’s more, “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18), meaning HE also heavily influences our response to him. It’s only on HIS timing when HE decides to extend his mercy to us that our heads and hearts soften towards him.

In other words, it’s not our decision, chum, that determines our eternal destiny, it’s his. He’s the one who holds the strings. But, fortunately, the hands that hold those strings are directed entirely by mercy, love and the wisest of timing.

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