FAQ #3: If God loves people so much, why would he send them to hell?
The question of hell—whether it exists or not—is often communicated more as a statement than a question. I’ve heard people declare (vehemently), “I don’t believe a loving God would send people to hell!!” The very idea that there could even be a place of eternal torment, a “hell,” is very offensive to many people. In fact, even some churches are now backing away from the concept of hell, saying that it’s simply “too upsetting” to people.
However, in the interest of full discloser, hell is real. Jesus described hell (sometimes referred to a “hades”) as a place “where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched” (Mark 9:48). In fact, Jesus mentions hell in the Bible over 70 times, and it’s listed in the New Testament alone over 160 times.
The point is, there is a well-established foundation in the Word of God for the reality of hell. Put another way, it’s not a man-made concept.
But how can we reconcile a loving God with a place of eternal punishment and torment?
While that question is often asked, it’s the wrong question. The implication in it is that God sends people to hell and so that must mean one of two things: one, either God isn’t good—or he wouldn’t send people to hell—or, two, hell doesn’t exist—because God is good. But here’s the truth:
Hell exists, and so because God is good, he has designed a way to keep us from having to go there.
Nevertheless, in order to grasp how people end up in hell, we need to understand a few things regarding its purpose and characteristics.
Thing #1: Hell was never intended by God to be a destination for people; it was designed entirely as a place of punishment for Satan and his crew. And because angels and demons are eternal beings, hell is an eternal place.
Thing #2: Because God is light and purity and peace and goodness, and because God is absent from hell, there is therefore no light, purity, peace or goodness in hell. There is only darkness and corruption, torment and agony, evil and sin. And that’s an understatement.
Thing #3: Because God is the embodiment of holiness, he cannot dwell where sin exists. The prophet Habakkuk says, “God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon sin” (1:13). As mentioned in previous discussions, the word “cannot” literally means “not able to;” God is not able to have any communion with or even proximity to sin. It does not mean that God could tolerate sin if he wanted to, or can if he really loves someone, or is just plain being mean and choosing not to have relationship with sinners. Because he is holy, God literally cannot be in the presence of sin in any form.
It’s a dilemma.
Thing #4: Because humans are eternal beings (our spirits are eternal), that means that when our temporary bodies die, our spirits need somewhere eternal to go. Earth is temporary and will someday be destroyed, meaning it’s not an option—nor is the rest of the universe. Therefore, because heaven and hell are the only two eternal places in existence, people who have sin “on” them default to hell because, again, God “cannot [even] look upon sin,” much less live with it. In other words, God does not “send” anyone to hell. It’s the only other eternal and available place in creation for people to inhabit after death.
Thing #5: God has resolved this dilemma by providing for us the only means possible to eradicate sin from the eternal spirit of a person so that that person can dwell in close proximity with a holy God. The Word says that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness [of sin]” (Heb. 9:22). In the Old Testament, the shedding of blood came through the sacrifice of “perfect” animals (those with no disease or imperfection), but those animal sacrifices were temporary, having to be offered every time a person sinned. Moreover, the Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory [holiness] of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore, God knew that the sacrifice of animals was not a sufficient sacrifice for the purification of all mankind for all eternity. The only sufficient sacrifice would be from the blood of a sinless and eternal sacrifice, and only Jesus, his son, fit the criteria. Therefore, he sent Jesus to be an eternal sacrifice for our sin, which is why he is called the “Messiah,” meaning “Savior”. Jesus has saved us from our sin, giving us access to heaven, God’s throne room.
Final thing: If we need a “savior,” that implies that there is something we need to be saved from. That thing would be “hell.” But if there is no hell, then there is nothing we need to be rescued from, and if that’s the case, then Christ died for nothing. And we know he’s too smart to have done that.
There is, therefore, a hell.