How can a loving God send “good people” to hell?


by Rob Lundberg

Behind every questioner there is the question that is stuck in the mind of the person making a decision difficult to trust Christ and become a follower of Him. One of the more challenging question is related to a loving God sending someone to hell.  In order to answer this one, I need to define a few terms, point out and then correct a couple of problems with the question. In order to have a clear understanding of this question, it is very important to make sure that the definitions are biblical, and our assumptions correct in answering it.

Why is this the wrong question?

In getting to the question, let’s first look at the term, “loving” when it comes to God. The phrase assumes a few things about God. So answering the question at hand, according to flawed assumptions leads to wrong conclusions. Since this is coming from an angle of misunderstanding who God is, we need to understand the cultural viewpoint. The culture defines a “loving God” as a completely non-confrontational being who tolerates anything we want to do.[1]

But that is not a biblical definition. First John 4:16 says that God is love. That means that He does not possess love as we do; He is the very definition of love and therefore cannot do anything that is unloving. The law of non-contradiction states that something cannot be both true and false at the same time. So, if God IS love, then He cannot be at the same time unloving.

But before I give a better answer, I would like to point out that there are a couple of problems with the question.

The first problem is in our understanding about God.

So the first problem that I see in this question “how can a loving God send someone to hell?” is the idea that allowing people to go to hell is an unloving act on God’s part.  If we humans decide that God is somehow wrong to allow an unrepentant sinner to pay their deserved penalty, then we have just declared that we are more loving than God. Think of it this way.  They did not want to obey and want anything to do with God in this life, do we honestly think that they will want anything to do with God in the next life?

When we pose the question, “how can a loving God send someone to hell?” and make a judgment that God is wrong in doing this, we have set ourselves up as God’s judge and jury.  And by doing this, we have become in danger of closing the door to deeper understanding of who God is and what He is like. Therefore, the first step in answering this question is to agree with Scripture that God IS love; therefore, everything He does is an expression of that perfect love.[1]

The second problem is centered around the “sending.”

There is a second fallacy presented by the question “how can a loving God send someone to hell?” The problem with this question is centered on the word send, which denotes an action only on the part of the sender. Think of it this way.  If I send a letter to my wife, or if I send a request or a gift, all of the action is a one of volition on the part of myself. There is no action was taken on the part of the letter, the request, nor the gift. However, this understanding of the word send cannot be applied to the question at hand because God has given human beings freedom to participate in their life choices and eternal destinations (John 3:16–18). The way this question is worded implies that, if anyone goes to hell, it is the result of God’s unilateral action, and the person being sent to hell is a passive victim or the recipient of God’s action. Such an idea completely disregards the personal responsibility that we have been given by the God Who has entrusted to each of us. freedom is a gift from a loving God. And the exercise of that freedom bears with it some responsibility. So who is responsible for ending up in hell as their final destiny?

So now let’s get to the real issue of asking the right question.

We Need to Ask the Right Question.

Asking “How can a loving God send someone to hell?” is entirely the wrong question. A better wording the question is “If God is love, then why do some people go to hell?” Looking at  Romans 1:18–20 we see the Apostle Paul laying the foundation for the answer: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

If we look at this passage in depth, we can see that there are several key points in this passage that give us glimpses into the heart of God.

First is the fact that people actively “suppress the truth.” People have been given enough truth to know and surrender to God, but they refuse it. Self-will wants to deny God’s right to tell us what to do. So, with the truth in front of them, many people turn away and refuse to see it. Atheist Thomas Nagel has said, “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”[2]

Second, Romans 1 states that God has “made [God’s nature] plain to them.” In other words, God has taken the initiative to make His truth known to everyone. History has proved this since time began, as every people group has sought some understanding of a Creator to whom they owe allegiance. Such knowledge is an integral part of what it means to be created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Romans 1:20 then says that “people are without excuse.” And to whom would they give such an excuse? The very One who says He has made Himself known to them, if they would only humble themselves and accept such revelations. God judges each of us according to the truth He has given us, and Romans 1 states that we each have enough truth to turn toward Him, rather than away from Him.

The question “how can a loving God send someone to hell?” draws in God’s justice. There is a lot of talk about justice today, but true justice is rooted in God’s nature.  God is not only love, He is perfect justice.  Justice requires adequate payment for crimes committed. The only just punishment for high treason and spiritual anarchy against our perfect Creator is eternal separation from Him.

This kind of separation implies the absence of goodness, light, relationship, and joy, which are all enveloped in God’s nature. To excuse sin would require God to be less than just, and to allow sin-tainted humans into His perfect heaven would render that place less than perfect. That’s why only the perfect Son of God could go to the cross in our place. Only His perfect blood was an acceptable payment for the debt that you and I owe God (Colossians 2:14). When someone refuses Jesus as our substitute, there is a payment that we must pay ourselves (Romans 6:23).

God gave us the freedom to choose how we respond to Him. If He forced us to love Him, we would be nothing more than cosmic chess pieces or moist robots. To give us no option but obedience (like Islam) would be a violation of our free will. Love is only love when it is voluntary. Love is only love when it costs something.  We cannot love God unless we have the option of not loving Him. Because God honors our autonomy, He will never force surrender or loyalty. However, there are consequences for either choice. Let me close this post with a quote from C. S. Lewis.  Lewis summarizes this truth in his classic work, The Great Divorce. In it he stated the following, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.”  What destiny will you choose? Know that a loving God will give us our choice and second our motion.  Don’t gamble your soul away.

Please feel free to check out my Get Real Life link.  It will explain to you and provide you a video link so show why believing in Christ is a the path to being reasonable and happy.

___________________
Notes

[1] When I am referring to the God of the Bible, I referring to the God whose attributes are spaceless, timeless (eternal), and as the First Cause of the universe.  This is a great description of the God of the Bible who loves you and I enough to send His Son, Jesus Christ to pay for our sins on the cross of Calvary and through His life, show us who He is and draw us to a personal relationship with Him.

[2]  Thomas Nagel, “The Last Word.” Oxford University Press: 1997, 119.



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Version 3Rob is a blogger, writer and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and to communicate the message of the gospel to a confused culture in a chaotic, “postmodern world.”

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8 comments

  1. I don’t know what hell is. I also remember, in the bible, that it explains we are not to create images of things above or below. Live our lives now, as I see it. But I think when people die, they lived their lives as the lived. Some people create their own hell on Earth. Others live in hope. I think, and I don’t know this, that people go where they’ve always been. On Earth, some lived lives of horror, inside or otherwise. Some lived their lives in hope. A minister friend once said, when he was at the bed of an elderly person, he was continuing to counsel them, encouraging. I don’t know how, but he said he could see in that person two choices. The person, according, chose hell because heaven was too painful. I think for a sinful person, living in paradise, where there is no distraction or sin, where all is pure and good, is impossible. Perhaps, remaining sinful, not embracing the promise, for sin cannot be in heaven. But this in intellectual. I’m just considering.

    1. As a Christian I believe there is a Heaven and there is a Hell. Jesus spoke more on Hell, because He was warning people to pursue Heaven and not Hell because of the three images He presents: weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, outer darkness, and eternal fire. C. S. Lewis said, that there are two kinds of people when it comes to this issue. There are those who say, “Thy will be done.” And there are those who say, “My will be done.” And God being a loving God, granting man his free choice will grant him his wish even in that declaration. Besides those who reject God in this life, are probably thinking they will not want to be in His presence when this life is over. How sad that will be when they realize the reality of Hell.

      As for your comment, are you asking a question or are you just making some rhetorical remarks? Thanks, Rob

  2. No one knows what the afterlife will be like, and even the bible explains not to imagine or create images, for I think it’s because we just don’t know. But I also think that “hell”, whatever that is, is the place people are while on this Earth. So when people die, they go where they’ve always been, how they lived and what they thought. Can a person who’s lived a life of sin, hated other people, even punished and berated decent people, imagine living in a place of no sin, where everything is peaceful and everyone is honest, looking right through you with merry eyes twinkling? It would be like hell to that person. They would only be “comfortable” around the people they’ve always been like, and perhaps that’s hell. But I suppose they might be subject to complete darkness for truth is light.

  3. I read in the bible about not making images of what’s above or below. Also, remember the part where some people were told to be sons and daughters of the devil, that that’s their father?

    1. Thank you your comment. However i do believe that you are missing the context of the passages that you are pointing out. Would you care to reference those passages and let’s discuss them. Thanks. RL.

  4. At church, I have found the same difficulties. I think that’s why numbers are down, why more people haven’t put up concerns and strove to keep the doors open. What I have often found is real understanding is often not encouraged, and there’s a reason for that. One church I attend, or haven attended, is pretty good, but the seeds of not thinking for yourself are there as well. And I think that’s part in why the simple things I’ve shared are told to me as not being understood. I look for people who are truly looking to understand. God bless.

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