A former student (now in college) asked the following question a while back. How would you answer this fascinating theological question about the nature of Satan, forgiveness, judgment, heaven and hell?
Q: I was discussing Lucifer and his fall from heaven with a roommate, and she wondered if Lucifer ever had a desire to return to God, knowing that he has lost the cosmic battle. While I don’t think he’d ever want to, theoretically could God’s forgiveness and Jesus’ blood forgive Satan and return him to heaven? Just a random what if, but do you have any thoughts?
A: Great question! I have some thoughts but it’s hard to make them brief. I’ll try.
1. I was just reading about hell last night in a great and highly recommended book for you and any skeptic friends you may have : “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” by Timothy Keller. pp. 79-82
2. C.S. Lewis really helped everyone see that Hell is “locked from the inside” meaning that we shouldn’t view God as sending repentant people there against their will kicking and screaming and crying out for mercy. No, as Keller puts it “hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.” Read Lewis’ “The Great Divorce.” Here’s a lengthy quote from Keller’s book:
“The people in hell are miserable, but Lewis shows us why. We see raging like unchecked flames their pride, their paranoia, their self-pity, their certainty that everyone else is wrong, that everyone else is an idiot! All their humility is gone, and thus so is their sanity. They are utterly, finally locked in a prison of their own self-centeredness, and their pride progressively expands into bigger and bigger mushroom cloud. They continue to go to pieces forever, blaming everyone but themselves. That is why it is such a travesty to picture God casting people into a pit who are crying “I’m sorry! Let me out!” The people…would rather have their “freedom,” as they define it, than salvation. Their delusion is that, if they glorified God, they would somehow lose power and freedom, but in a supreme and tragic irony, their choice has ruined their own potential for greatness. Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom.” As Romans 1:24 says, God “gave them up to. . . their desires.” All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself.”
Lewis writes: ‘There are only two kinds of people — those who say “Thy will be done” to God or those to whom God in the end says, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell choose it.”
3. So, hell is more than just a “place” as we typically think of a place. It is more like an eternal state of existence whereby our moral character is finally solidified in an irreversible, eternal state of defiance against God and enslavement to self-centeredness. In this life we are becoming either more and more open to God’s influence or more and more hardened to the hand of the Potter. Each day we are becoming more fit for heaven or hell. Expand this gradual character growth and openness to God (leading to heaven) or personal disintegration and hardening (leading to hell) on and on to infinity and you’ll eventually have either a saint or a subhuman. And I believe a person (or angel in the case of Lucifer) eventually reaches a point where the process is impossible to reverse. I believe Lucifer is well past that point.
4. So, to answer your question, you said,”While I don’t think he’d ever want to, theoretically could God’s forgiveness and Jesus’ blood forgive Satan and return him to heaven?” I think you’re right. Yes, theoretically God’s forgiveness and Jesus’ blood could extend to Satan (at least in the past). But No, I don’t believe he’d ever want to. Satan, sadly, like many other humans (now subhuman?), got what he ultimately wanted — an existence “free” from the loving, all-pervasive presence of God.
To those who believe a God who judges people’s eternity is unfair, how could God be more fair than this?
Much more could be said. This is a highly speculative topic we should resist being too dogmatic about. But I hope this helps!