“How could a God of love send people to an eternal punishment in hell?”
Many people react angrily at the apparent contradiction between a loving God who could send people that didn’t agree with Him or want to serve Him to a place of everlasting anguish or torment. It’s not a pleasant thought, to be sure, but there are some truths about God and ourselves that can at least help us understand these things better.
- God is love. He loves every person on this planet (John 3:16). He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but desires that every person be saved and come to know Him and His truth. (I Timothy 2:4).
- God is personal, relational. We are made in His image, created to be in a love relationship with Him that fulfills and satisfies us, filling us with His peace, joy, and love. Sin has ruptured that relationship with God, but God in His mercy has sent His own Son to take the responsibility and guilt for our sins. By trusting in Christ, we can be brought back into the love relationship with God.
- Heaven and Hell need to be seen primarily in Relational terms. Heaven is an eternal conscious existence in the presence of God, the Being who fills our lives with all that is good — love, joy, peace, meaning, truth. Hell is an eternal conscious existence apart from God. The biblical descriptions of hell (lake of fire, outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth) are figurative ways to tell us that eternal separation from God is something horrible. The biblical descriptions of heaven (streets of gold, gates of pearl, no more sorrow or suffering or tears, seeing God face to face) are figurative ways to let us know that eternal life in the presence of God is wonderful, priceless.
- God gave us a free will, and He respects our freedom to accept Him or reject Him. I have yet to meet a person who would like to give up their freedom to choose. Free will is a precious gift. Of course, however, we can use our freedom in ways that are destructive and have negative consequences, for others as well as ourselves. Like it or not, life has a built-in system of accountability for our actions. We can use our free will to neglect our responsibilities, but the consequence is likely to be failure. We can choose to participate in sexual immorality, but possible consequences include herpes, aids, hurting somebody, an unwelcome pregnancy, a guilty conscience. Similarly, we can choose to live our lives apart from God, but we are accountable for that choice and will bear the consequences of it.
- YOU determine whether you will spend eternity with God or apart from Him. The Bible says, “This is the judgment! Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). You and I choose our own eternal destinies. Do I want God in my life, or do I want to be my own god? Will I respond to Christ’s love and sacrifice for me, or will I reject Him and choose instead to face God in my sinfulness? Will I choose to follow God’s truth as it is revealed to me, or will I turn my back on the truth and pay the consequences? Will I turn from those things that God says are wicked, or will I tell God to “get lost”, and lustfully gratify my sinful desires? God respects our freedom to choose, to the point that He does not interfere with the consequences of our choices. If by our desires, decisions, and actions we make it clear that we despise God and want no part of Him, He is not about to coerce us into His presence forever.
- God is fair. No one will walk away from God’s judgment and say that God is unfair. What about innocent children who die? They will be in heaven. What about those who never heard or had a chance? A number of biblical passages indicate that judgment will be based on the amount of light or revelation of God’s truth a person had, and what they did with it. There are hundreds of “what if” and “what about” questions one could ask. But the bottom line is, “Is God fair?” And the answer is YES. God is loving and He is just, and we can trust Him to do the right thing in every circumstance and for every person.
- You need to make a decision. It really comes down to this: You and I need to decide for or against Jesus Christ. God in His love invites us into His open arms. He has a purpose and plan for our lives that is wonderful. But we need to make the choice: “Yes, I want You, God. I thank You for loving me, for sending Your Son to die for me. I receive Jesus Christ by faith. Please come into my life, forgive my sins, and fill me with your Holy Spirit. Help me to live for You. Thank You, God. Amen.”