Hell, election, the Cross, your unsaved friend, and what Paul said
The primary reason people struggle with the doctrine of Election is because of another doctrine call Reprobation. This doctrine states that God in choosing to save some from judgment for sin (election), by default chooses others to not be saved. Obviously, then, receiving the penalty of their sin instead of the forgiveness of it. For anyone who has ever cared about anyone, this is a tough doctrine. So tough, that it usually leads people to ask, how could a good God send people to hell? In one sense that is a good in question. God himself professes to be good, loving, and merciful. On the other hand the question is lacking. It is not really a question either, but a statement of arrogance. "How could a good God" already assumes the questioner has the drop on what good actually is? The “question” also assumes that God’s wrath is somehow not “good.”
The doctrine of reprobation made a debut in the Seventeenth century document called The Synod of Dort. This document was established to state its position against the doctrines that are commonly known as Arminian. As it relates to God choosing some to go to hell, the document states, “Moreover, Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and undeserved grace of our election and brings it out more clearly for us, in that it further bears witness that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God’s eternal election— those, that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made the following decision: to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice. And this is the decision of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin, but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger.”
That’s some tough talk right there. It is clear first and foremost from scripture and the Synod of Dort, there are people who are going to hell. So then how can God be good and do that? The only way, I believe, to really answer that question is to ask another question. Why would God, who needs nothing and is at the same time master and creator of everything, decide to become a human being, to then die like a slave? My assumption is that you know that the cross, as used by the Romans, was a slave death. It was a statement killing. The Romans often used the cross to show criminals and slaves the consequences for jumping out there against Rome. Regardless of your innocence, once you hung on a cross to die, any respect that you had prior died with you. Your final memory was one people wouldn’t even want to discuss. With that being said, why would God allow himself to die in the place of people who sinned against him? Until a good answer is given for that, no one should expect a good answer for why he is allowing some people to go to hell for things they have done wrong. I’m not saying that there is no good answer to the issue of hell but the answer is rarely to the satisfaction of the questioner.
The best answer to the problem of hell is the cross. We have to wrestle with why the Son of God would allow himself to leave his incessant kingdom for infested people. If the logic of a good God sending people to hell for the sin they have committed is incomprehensible then what superlative describes that same good God punishing himself for the sin of those he does not intend to judge. Blank Stare…
Paul rhetorically dealt with this same issue in Romans 9. For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:15-24 ESV).
So what does that mean for your unsaved friend? It means that as long as they are alive there is a chance that they may respond to the gospel. Don’t let the doctrine of election dissuade you from praying for and talking to your friend. Truth be told, only God knows who are his and you and I are not God. The only certainty we can have about someone's election is what they believed when they died. Until then, we are free to have hope and boldness to make disciples of the people we love and care about the most.