“We can take solace in the fact that he was a good person and went to a better place.” Similar sentiments are often expressed at funerals.
The common religious myth is that good people go to heaven. A myth it is. Goodness, as man defines it, is evil in the eyes of God. Man has no idea whatsoever of goodness. A man called Jesus good and got a rap on the knuckles for it, since the man was using human criteria for his judgment.
Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the publican ends this way:
I tell you that this man [the publican] went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18.14.
Most everyone would have said that the justified person between the two — and the person who had a guaranteed place in Heaven — would have been the Pharisee. Look at all the good he did! The publican, a traitor and a cheat, was definitely headed for hell.
Jesus told the parable to turn our concept of goodness on its head.
He wants us to know that hell will be full of good people.
Even popular culture has a bit of an idea of this truth. This can be seen in the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Jesus said hell was prepared for the devil and his angels, Matthew 25.41. It was not intended for humans. But when the Fall happened, it found another purpose.
Eve thought eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a good thing. Or she wouldn’t have done it. The serpent redefined in her mind what was good. And so has he been doing since.
In order for us to enter Heaven and avoid hell, we need to do like Hezekiah: “He did what the Lord his God considered good and right and faithful” 2 Chronicles 31.20. Not what I consider good and right and faithful, but what God considers these to be. The issue is to listen to him, because he tells us.
It is not only those who kill and maim, who riot and destroy, who steal and lie, who are evil. Respectable people who give to charity, who go to the church of their choice, who do what most consider to be good works, will also go to hell.
Jesus said so.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many powerful deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ Matthew 7.21-23.
To be expelled in the judgment day from the presence of Christ is to have only one other possible destination.
So, yes, hell is for good people, too.
The point is for each one of us to confess what Paul said was true of every single person, as he quoted the Old Testament:
All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” Romans 3.12.
This is me. This is you. So, like the publican in the parable, we throw ourselves upon the mercy of God, obey his commands in order to receive grace, and live in daily gratitude that hell will be deprived of yet another (un)good person.