I will not deal with the nature of hell (do we eventually go into non-being?) or the duration of hell (is it eternal punishing as in conscious torment or is it eternal punishment as in consequences that last forever?) – even though I have my beliefs on these issues.
Hell is described in many different ways in order to wake us up to its reality (blackest darkness – Jude 13; everlasting destruction – 2 Thessalonians 1:9; weeping and gnashing of teeth – Matthew 8:12).
But the plea of those in hell is not so much “God, let me out, let me out, let me out.” Rather, it is “God, you get out! Leave me alone, you cosmic Sadist.” Hell is a place where people have barricaded themselves in, in order to keep God out. So hell then is a courtesy for those who insist that they want no part of forgiveness, no part of God. Hell is simply the only place left to go for those who will not accept their acceptance by grace. They are successful rebels to the very end.
Lewis held that there are two kinds of people in the world: (I’m paraphrasing) those who say to God “Thy will be done.” And those to whom God will finally say, “Thy will be done.” If you really want to walk away from life eternal and barricade me out, I have made you with free-will and will honor your choice. Hell is the greatest monument to human freedom and the choices we make. Love cannot be forced. Hell exists because love and grace can be refused.
Having tried to win them, God will ultimately say to some, “All right, have it your way.” This is not cruel or unloving at all. It’s the ultimate expression of a self-limited God who refuses to violate free will.
So yes, to the person who refuses to believe in God, acknowledge him as God, and surrender to His love, and persists in these views throughout an entire lifetime – hell is, in effect, chosen.
George MacDonald talks about the “one principle of hell” in one of his sermons written decades ago. “The one principle of hell is: ‘I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject. I am the center from which go out my thoughts. I am the object and end of my thoughts… My own glory is…my chief care… My kingdom is comprised of as many as I can bring to acknowledge my greatness over them… It is my right to have what I desire.’ (Truth in Jesus)”
But always remember when you are in any discussion on hell, that Christ says, “You can go to hell if you want, but it’s over my dead body that you’ll do it.” Love…true love…