We should not speak of eternal damnation as something God imposes on us against our will, as if we had no choice in the matter. Jesus has taken our trash upon himself, his offer of forgiveness is always before us and he longs to sink our deepest sin to the bottom of the sea (Micah 7:19). The first Adam regarded equality with God something to be grasped and chased after (Gen 3:5-6; cf. Phil 2:6), but the last Adam has shown us once and for all what the truly human life looks like.
All who insist on continuing to live in their own filthy mess will ultimately find themselves right at home—in the garbage heap of misplaced desires that could never satisfy and misappropriated power that we were never meant to possess. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Paul’s words describes the sad affair:
What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand. So God said, in effect, “If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.” It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out (Rom 1:21-24 MSG).
Paul’s sad commentary on the human condition supports C. S. Lewis’ famous assertion in The Problem of Pain that “the doors of hell are locked on the inside” and the damned ultimately “enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded” (114). God eventually “gives them over” to the wasted life they desired (Rom 1:24-28). God doesn’t drive a person out of his loving presence. Rather, stubborn men and woman spend their entire lives walking away from Him until they finally rid themselves of Him—to their own eternal demise. And like Jesus weeping over a rebellious Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), we can be sure that God weeps over every self-enslaved sinner who walks ever closer to the pigpen.
But there is always hope. Like the prodigal eating with the pigs, we too can come to our senses and return to the Father’s arms (Luke 15:17-24). From rags to riches—it’s the central theme of the gospel. God specializes in turning garbage into glory. Transforming sinners into saints is the name of the gospel game. It’s the theme of God’s redemption song!