How can a loving God send someone to hell?
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
“The idea that a good God would send people to a burning hell is utterly damnable to me - the raving of insanity, superstition gone to seed! I want no part of such a God.” – Luther Burbank
This is a tough question. One that has and continues to baffle many people. Personally, I’ve wrestled with this question for most of my Christian life. It is often the hinge on which people swing back and forth between critic and Christ – follower. So, I thought it would be helpful to provide some pillars of clarity for those that wrestle with it as well.
First, God doesn’t send anyone to Hell. We send ourselves there. This is can come off dogmatic – but it’s still true. The bible says on multiple occasions (Is. 59:2, Rom. 3:23, 1 John 3:4) that it is our action or lack thereof that separates us from God. It is our own sin that separates.
To take this further, if we are hell bent (pun intended) on separating ourselves from God on the Earth then why should our eternity be any different? God will provide us exactly what we seem to desire – separation from Him for eternity. If you don’t like God on Earth, then you sure won’t like Him in Heaven.
Second, eternal Hell can seem harsh. A permanent punishment for a temporary sin? It seems unfair. That has some truth to it – at least for limited sighted humans like us. But, here’s the biblical truth: sin isn’t temporary - It’s eternal. If you’re not covered by the grace and forgiveness of Christ, which is readily available for ANYONE who wants it (John 3:16), then your sin is not temporary. You take it to the grave. Sin is only written off and vanquished by the power of the Cross – nothing else, not even death.
Sin is less about the isolated things we do and more about who we are. We are sinful people – all of us. We all deserve Hell. But God, in His mercy, has provided a path out of hell and with Him in Heaven by way of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:8).
God can’t be around sin. He is Holy. So, if an individual makes the decision to never repent, accept Christ and get their sins covered then they will carry that sin into eternity. The problem of sin is permanent. To say that it is not is equivalent to a serial killer complaining about being in prison 10 years after they killed someone. Saying things like “This is unfair, the last time I killed anyone was a decade ago, why am I still in Jail?” That's crazy. In every facet of life, crime is committed today, punishment is promised tomorrow. Why would eternity be any different? If sin is committed, punishment is promised.
Third, Hell is real. The bible says so. Revelation 21:8 speaks specifically about the “Lake of Fire.” Matthew 25:46 mentions that those in sin will go to “Eternal punishment.” 2 Thessalonians 1:9 states that the ones who don’t know Christ will endure “everlasting destruction.” The bible is clear: Hell is real, and people go there.
Fourth, at one point, we all must come to the place where we recognize we are not God and don’t make the rules. This one is difficult to swallow. As humans, we pride ourselves on control and clarity. We want to have a good grasp on everything that goes on this world. But, when it comes to the infinite ways of God, that’s not possible. I am a firm believer in learning, growing and chasing after truth, but there comes a time where we must acknowledge that we don’t make the rules, God does.
By virtue of creating the world, hanging the stars in the sky and decreeing where land meets the seas, God gets to decide how the planet AND the life that’s on it works. He is God and we are not. We are subject to His rules and His ways. Whether we think it is fair or not (Romans 9).
In sum, Hell is scary. An eternity without God is legitimately terrifying and I would never want anyone to experience it. Fortunately, thanks to what Christ did on the cross you don’t have too! God desires all people to spend eternity with Him in Heaven (1 Tim. 2:4). He loves us so much but will not force anyone to choose Him. But he sure does rejoice when we do (Luke 15:10). Hell is nothing to be afraid of, just be aware of its reality. It’s just like prison, you don’t have to shutter every time you pass one, just know it exists and do what is necessary to not go to it.