colvmbiana asked a question:
I love God very much. But I recently saw a post on my dash that said, “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” and now I can’t stop thinking about that. How can He?
Hey dear friend, I truly struggle with this doctrine too, and if it were up to me, I’d be done with the whole idea of hell in a heartbeat. But I do want to consider the question, “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” — and examine the words loving, send, and hell.
First I have to say: I’m not sure that any Christian is irrevocably bound to believe the doctrine of hell. I know Christians who believe it and some who don’t. I love them both. We must not make the ancient mistake that 1) our theology is only about “consequences,” because it’s primarily about intimacy and oneness with God, and 2) to bicker over such dogmatic differences. Too many people wrongly emphasize the doctrine of hell as a motivation for Christianity, and that’s a false phantom motive that boils down to, “Date me or I’ll punch you in the face.” If there really is a place called hell and people are going, then 1) no one would become a Christian just by trying to “avoid” hell, and 2) the devil would love to have us arguing about it instead of loving on people towards God.
The following are some thoughts to consider. Please feel free to disagree, to fill in, to discern and to question and to dismantle. I recognize that many of us are appalled at the idea of hell and find it atrocious, and I’m with you: I hold the same feelings, while pondering the gravity and depth of its possibilities. There are no easy, satisfying answers here, but only ruminations, in which you and I must land on a conclusion, however differently.
1) Hell couldn’t be just for anyone. No one could be “sent” there. It would be hard work to get into hell.
C.S. Lewis says, “The doors of Hell are locked on the inside.” What he means is, getting to hell takes a massive amount of effort over a lifetime.
I think it’s a lot harder to get into hell than we think. A prison, at least in its original intentions, isn’t meant for someone accidentally wandering in without effort or knowledge. Hell is designed for the unrepentant, remorseless, unconscionable person who is deliberately dead-set on chaos and sadism. “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” That sort of person is rare, but they exist.
In tiny blips throughout history, someone will perpetually abuse their own singular life to the point of irreversible perversion, and very consciously choose everything against God’s design of love, compassion, and generosity. I believe that the idea of hell, in its purest conception, is a place exclusively reserved for that kind of cruelty. I might even replace the word “hell” with justice, or safety, or balance.
Of course, anyone can be rehabilitated. I will always believe that. I would never ever be satisfied at anyone going to hell, not even at the worst sort of criminal. Anyone who relishes the thought of someone going to hell must really re-think their own sanity. I believe that God gives a billion chances, over and over, all throughout Scripture. Many of our “Bible heroes” were murderers and tyrants and cheaters who reformed. Yes, there is grace even for child molesters and kidnappers. That’s the craziness of grace. If you care even the slightest about God’s divine heart for the world, then no, I highly doubt you’ll fall into hell.
2) I’ve discovered that hell is an uncomfortable idea for middle-upper-class privileged Westerners, but so much more palatable for every other society and culture—especially when hell is re-framed as the cosmic answer to evil.
Hell is certainly a distasteful idea, but let’s consider: My friend’s mother grew up during the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. She watched five of her brothers shot in the head. She saw the absolute worst injustice of the “killing fields” in Cambodia as a young child, and the memories of blood and gore haunt her every nightmare.
Where is the justice for dictators like Pol Pot and his entire regime? What prevents my friend’s mother from picking up a weapon and going on a rampage of vengeance to scorch the earth of her captors? What would truly prevent a cycle of violent retaliation in such a cruel, oppressive culture?
The thing is, most of us reading this live in the suburban quiet of an idyllic first-world gated community. We’re intoxicated by luxury. We have been naive and sheltered about endless tribal violence. Certainly, we have not been touched by war in the same way that my own parents have—my dad, at ten years old, was covered by his mother’s body as war planes dropped bombs on rooftops, and years later, my dad was captured and tortured by the Viet Cong, escaping only to find that they had gone back to his previous camp and killed every single man, woman, and child there in the slowest ways possible. Can you imagine? Because I cannot.
You and I don’t know that sort of trauma. And if you do, then you may instinctively long for a sweeping justice of evil. Most people already believe in the idea of hell, whether they admit it or not, because they believe in justice, fairness, and the hope that we will be held accountable. At the risk of unfairly generalizing, I believe that most people troubled by the idea of hell have probably never been troubled by much else, and have been lucky to live a relatively charmed life bereft of suffering or consequence.
3) A loving God does not mean a God who lets people off the hook.
For every story that you read of a five-year-old raped and killed, or a single mother made mentally disabled by a home invasion, or third-world children shot in the street, there is outrage, and rightly so. Any other reaction is coldhearted privilege. Let’s take the news story of an eighteen year old boy who was molesting an eleven-year-old: the molester was beat up by the eleven-year-old’s father until his eyes were swollen shut. It turned out the molester had been taking advantage of the boy for three years. While I’m not a fan of comment sections on any article, the comments reflected what we were all thinking: the father did exactly what we would do if we found our eleven year old son being molested.
In all of us, there’s an inherent, innate sense of justice, and it’s mostly luxury-bound Westerners who have the most trouble comprehending that justice is crucial to our world for the suffering and traumatized.
A loving God isn’t one who turns a blind eye to the plight of the ostracized, marginalized, and minimized—whether in this life or the next. A God who isn’t against injustice wouldn’t be God at all. Love has to include justice, truth, discipline, and rebuke, or else you have a remote-control God who only does your bidding, and then we’re not talking about God anymore but an enabling abused spouse who only caters to your whims.
If you love in such a way that “you can do whatever you please,” then you couldn’t possibly be truly loving, because boundaries exist to protect our safety, and actual love is for the best of a person, not their pleasure. Pleasure is not the ultimate goal. Love balances perfectly with truth, with harmony, with the scales made even. The Christian God, of any faith system, is the most splendid mix of both love and truth that aims for our best.
4) We have no clue how God is working with each individual in their own complicated journey of piecing together the Divine.
When someone tells me, “You have to know Jesus to get into Heaven!”—I have to ask, “How much do you need to know? What is the exact amount of Christian theology that wins someone into Heaven? What about a five year old? What about a kid with Down syndrome? What about those tiny huts in third world countries where no one’s seen a Bible? What about an eighty year old at his deathbed with five minutes left? Can you even tell me exactly what you believe? Are you believing for the right reasons? How do you know?”
The thing is, most people use their own normative standard to judge someone else as “acceptable” or “unrighteous,” but you and I are not the judge of that. God has such a wide grace that we can’t possibly judge who has “enough knowledge” to “get saved.” We don’t know the cut-off point between Heaven and hell. Only God knows who belong to Him (2 Timothy 2:19). We have no idea how God is working with each individual. My guess is that His grace is so absolutely encompassing that He works differently with each person and how they’re wired, according to the grace given them, in accordance with a perfectly crafted love and justice that only God would have the power to wield.
5) If hell does exist, Jesus already paid for it.
When someone tells me, “It’s not fair that a loving God made a hell!”—I never hear anyone also say, “It’s not fair that Jesus had to pay hell for us!”
Think of it: Christianity is the only religion in which the Creator was the architect of a prison for the sinful selfish rebel, and then He Himself carried out the sentence of His own prison so that we could be freely loved. No one talks about that part. Maybe we’re scared that it’s too easy. But that’s the recklessness of grace. God opened His arms that wide.
You see, any plain idea of God could “love” with sentimentality. Jesus could’ve silently forgiven us from a basement and drank poison to die quietly. But only costly love could be real love, because love without a cost is cheap and merely out of surplus. Only love with a cost is electrifying, galvanizing, tenderizing, and transforming. Only love that paid the cost of justice would ever set us free. That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t merely love us by sentimental notions or verbal pledge. He was flesh, he was vulnerable, he absorbed our darkness, he took on our pain, and in solidarity brought us into union with himself. He is not just the way to Heaven, but Heaven in and of Himself.
8 thoughts on ““How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?” — Five Difficult Truths About Heaven and Hell”
This is a very thoughtful exposition of the doctrine J.S.
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I like your exposition here. It is thought provoking! I’d love to spotlight this post.
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The Bible says it isn’t Gods will that any go to hell. It is their decision because they haven’t lived for God. If we accept what the Bible says there are only two destinations available after we die. Either we are rewarded for what we did on earth or punished. If unrepentant sinners went to heaven hypocrites that drove Christians out of the church and those that made fun of Christians would make Heaven miserable for the Christians as they did on earth They would be cursing God and we would have to listen to it. The worst unrepentant murders that were in jail here on earth would be in heaven. The Christians in Heaven would have to put up with the same persecutions we have here on earth if the unrepentant sinners were in heaven. It sure doesn’t sound like Heaven. It sounds like life here. We have a lifetime to make a decision where we go when we die so it isn’t like God sends anyone to hell. God gave us a free will to decide our final destination.
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I want to make sure that I believe what I believe based on what the Bible says about it. I haven’t clearly sorted out everything the Bible says about hell, but it is referenced in more than one way. Can you help me out with a little more Biblical truth for your reasoning? Thx!
You wrote…”When someone tells me, “You have to know Jesus to get into Heaven!”—I have to ask, “How much do you need to know? What is the exact amount of Christian theology that wins someone into Heaven? What about a five year old? What about a kid with Down syndrome? ”
I’m not here to agree with you or disagree with you. That is something you will need to work out for yourself through prayer and the Word. However, to address one area of your line of questioning concerning the young or the mentally challenged, please do a research on the Hebrew Blood Covenant. I believe that you will see that the child or mentally challenged are of God’s covenant until such age as they are able to decide for themselves.
Age and mental issues fall under age of accountability as you said. A baby or person that doesn’t understand asking Jesus to forgive them and not continuing to sin goes to Heaven if they die before the age of accountability which varies with the persons ability to understand. If anyone prays and asks to be forgiven for their sin they will usually be able to tell by the way they feel when they have prayed through. I have heard of some that didn’t feel it but did their best to live like a Christian and later felt the presence of god with them. This isn’t a thing where they can figure they can sin all they want to after being forgiven and go to Heaven. The Bible says only those that endure to the end will be saved. If you live the Christian life Jesus will save you from going to hell when you die. A minster told me that when he was young before he was a minister he would repeatedly ask Jesus to forgive him then go back into sin. He said that the time came when he felt that he had to stop sinning because he knew he obviously wasn’t really sorry for his sin because he kept returning to it. You will usually see a difference in the way Christians live and act after being forgiven if they are sincere as they grow spiritually. It may take some time but you will see the results. They may backslide but if they keep trying they will make progress. There are things that God will convict them of as they grow spiritually. A prayer life is needed to grow spiritually. It is like a friendship. If you aren’t growing together you are growing apart. I have had friends that I haven’t seen as much now because we had to change churches so we don’t see each other as much. If a person professes to be a Christian for many years purposely and repeatedly being cruel or doing things to hurt others they obviously have not grown spiritually and have actually gone back into sin or were never a Christian to begin with. Christians are to be Christ like. If they lie about or mistreat others they need to ask the person to forgive them as well as asking Jesus to forgive them because lying or mistreating others is sin. As far as the standard God knows our heart. He is our judge. If we have ask Jesus to forgive us and have done our best to do his will through out our life, He knows if we are sincere. Hypocrites that put on an act might fool some people for a while but they can’t fool God. they will be judged by what God knows about their life. People aren’t good judges because they often don’t know the real heart of a person. I have been fooled by some people that acted like a friend and turned on me. Remember that people like that in power in the church doesn’t indicate that there aren’t good Christians in the church. the power hungry are the ones that want these positions. Unfortunately Christians can be fooled when electing people in the church. Then when they are find the leaders aren’t what they should be they are too passive about removing them possibly because they are afraid of them. in some cases they become too powerful and can’t be removed from their position.