The recent death of Hugh Hefner, the Playboy founder, saw multiple posts on social media remarking about the eternal destiny of the man, that Hefner, having never repented of his sin, died and went to hell. At the same time, there were those who remarked that you don't really know if Hefner went to hell because anything could have happened at the last moment. Perhaps he asked the Lord to save him and we'll see him in heaven? Without wanting to "judge before the time," I would like to comment on something regarding heaven and hell. As it is often said by missionaries and theologians, you can know without a doubt you are going to heaven. But why don't we say the same thing about hell? "You can know without a doubt you are going to hell!" Not exactly the most encouraging thing in the world, but it is a true statement. You can know. The catch is, what will you do with that knowledge?
I think we can know with relative certainty that someone is in hell. That is relative certainty, not absolute certainty. And regarding Hugh Hefner, I think, sadly, he's probably in hell for one simple reason. People are usually true to the character they've lived their whole lives.
It takes a supernatural act for a person to repent and express faith in Christ. Paul discussed this in Romans 8:7, "The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so." Note what Paul said, "It is not even able to do so." None of us comes to faith in Christ without a supernatural act of God. Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…" Again, note what Paul says, the faith we have in Christ originates from God, not from us. Thus, without God working in us to gift us with faith, repentance, and the renewed mind to know him, we do not have a hope of receiving salvation. Without that act, no one has a hope of being saved and remaining out of hell.
Now, my purpose here is not to judge Hefner before the time of judgment. My purpose is to note that just as we can know with assurance about our salvation, we can also know with full assurance about our condemnation. And while such a thought may be terrifying, I assure you, this is a good thing. Knowing with certainty about our eternal destiny—or someone else's—should motivate us. It's what first motivated me when I came to Christ. After suffering a bad beating at a bar, my surgeon told me that if the impact on my head had been just a tiny bit different I would have been dead at that moment. The first thing that went through my mind was this thought, "If I died, I'd be in hell." I knew it. I knew it will full assurance. And I had zero religious background in my upbringing. That thought sent me on a course that lead to Christ changing my life forever. Now I have full assurance of salvation.
Christians, naturally, can be full of sympathy and want everyone to experience God's mercy. I think this is why, when an unbelieving loved one dies we always hope that something may have happened at the last moment to bring that person to repentance. But, consider, the more we say we can't know if someone is in hell because you don't know what happened at the last minute, the more people are encouraged to put off a commitment to Christ and they risk hell. This is why I say Hefner is in hell. It's sad, but true. But he has no one to blame but himself. He is responsible for his own sin, even now. And, hopefully, someone else, knowing what kind of man Hefner was, will not want to repeat or imitate his sin.
My first pastor once shared about an experience he had with a man who was dying who said, that when he shared Christ with him, that even if he wanted to, he couldn't receive Christ. The man believed the story about Jesus was true, but he just couldn't bring himself to make the commitment he needed to save his life. So hard was his heart over the years that he couldn't repent, even though he knew he needed to. He stayed true to the character of which he lived for his whole life, and his death. This is what Paul referred to when he said that the mind set on the flesh is not ABLE to please God.
Others remark that the thief on the cross was saved at the last minute. Yes, the thief on the cross came around. But he knew a lot. Beyond this, we don't know what his life consisted of that drove him to that change of profession. We don't know what God used in his mind to bring him to the point of repentance. It wasn't just that he was about to die. Remember, there was another thief who did not come to faith, even knowing the history of belief in a Messiah and Jesus' fulfilling those prophecies on the cross right next to him.
Also, our desire to hope for certain people to not be in hell may be short-sighted in view of God's judgment. Consider that in Heaven there are people asking God to avenge them, to punish the wicked. In heaven, they cry out to God saying, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us? (Revelation 6:10). Notice that they aren't asking for their killers to repent or for God to be merciful. They specifically ask, when will you avenge us? We also have numerous examples in the Psalms of people asking God to judge the wicked. So, we have a fine balance to walk. On one hand we want people to repent. But, on the other hand we have to recognize God's justice in punishing evil.
This brings me to my conclusion. We can know if we are going to hell. We can know if others are going to hell. And there is a purpose in this knowing. It is three-fold. The purpose of knowing is to:
Mourn those who are lost
Warn others so they won't be lost, and
Adorn God with praise for his justice and his mercy to us
I have family and friends that I have mourned deeply because they did not know Jesus before they died. This mourning steels my determination not to let others I love experience the same fate. So, I warn. When I warn, I praise God for whatever he will do to bring that person to responsibility to what they hear from the scripture, the testimony about Jesus, whether for salvation or condemnation. I can praise God for punishing the wicked just as much as for having mercy on some, including me, for salvation. Mourn, warn, and adorn.
I don't think Hefner had a last moment experience that sent him to heaven. There's no evidence that that took place. Without such evidence I should keep my own sin in view. Had not God, for his own sovereign purposes saved me, I'd be no better off. And neither would you.
Yes. You can know if you are going to hell. Now that you know, would you like to change your destination?