Even in the final, awesome death of the wicked, God is still respecting the freedom and the individuality of His intelligent creatures. He has made it very plain, all through the sixty-six books of the Bible, that He doesn’t want to lose any of His children. That is certainly emphasized in the New Testament. “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV). It is emphasized all through the Old Testament as well:
As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? Ezek 33:11, RSV.
Like a physician, God stands ready to heal us. But He cannot, will not, force us to be well. If we prefer to leave Him, He will respect our decision and sadly let us go. But as we leave Him for the last time to reap the awful consequences, we will hear His sad cry, “How can I give you up? How can I let you go?” Hos 11:8. We discussed this text when we talked about why Jesus had to die (Chapter Eight). Do you remember the dramatic story about Hosea and his wife? When God interpreted what Hosea had done, He said, “I have pled so long, so many centuries, with My people Israel to please come home. Bring words of repentance with you, and I’ll heal you and forgive you” (based on Hosea 14:1-4).
Something similar is acted out in the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus told the story to show how glad God is when anyone does come home. How eager He is to heal! How magnificent is that story! Notice the attitude of our Father toward His sinful children:
While he was still a long way off his father saw him, and his heart went out to him. He ran to meet him, flung his arms round him, and kissed him. The son said, “Father, I have sinned, against God and against you; I am no longer fit to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! fetch a robe, my best one, and put it on him. . . . And let us have a feast to celebrate the day. For this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:20-24, NEB).
Jesus added that there is joy among the angels in heaven whenever anybody comes back (Luke 15:10). But Israel did not come back in the days of Hosea. Note this powerful appeal from God: ”Come home, Israel, come home to the Lord your God. . . . Take words of repentance with you as you return to the Lord. . . . I will heal their unfaithfulness, I will love them with all My heart” (Hos 14:1-4, Phillips). But they didn’t come. “My people are bent on turning away from Me. . . . How, oh how, can I give you up Ephraim! How, oh how, can I hand you over Israel!” Hos 11:7-8, Phillips.
As in Hosea, He will sadly hand us over if we insist on turning away. I understand that God will miss us if we are lost. He will miss us forever if we don’t come home. Think of the eternal void that brilliant Lucifer will leave in the infinite memory of God! The good news is that this magnificent picture of God leads some of us to repentance and to trust. “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4, RSV. And when we learn to trust, we will actually look forward to seeing the Infinite One. Even though He will come in unveiled majesty and power, we will not be afraid. Sinners though we all have been, we will be comfortable in His presence for eternity.