We often hear people say that “if God loves people why does He still send them to hell", or they ask “why would a loving God send anybody to hell?” I actually agree with the answer of these two presumptive questions. The answer is that God doesn’t send anybody to hell. They choose to go there.
Most people who ask those questions don’t believe in God, heaven, or hell anyway so your answer won’t matter. It’s just a way to try to get under your skin and make you start to question and doubt God’s promises and actions. However there are people who really do wonder about heaven and hell and who goes, and we should be prepared to give them an answer.
1 Peter 3:15 (NLT)15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.
Do Heaven and Hell Exist?
The first thing that we need to address is whether heaven and hell even exist.
The Bible teaches that there is a real heaven and a real hell. Heaven is the spiritual dwelling place of God. Hell is the place of eternal separation from God, prepared for the devil and his angels. It is a place of eternal torment.
In the Bible, the term heaven generally refers to areas beyond the earth. These areas can be the air, outer space, or the dwelling place of God sometimes called the highest or third heaven.
Corinthians 12:2-4 (NLT)2 I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows.3 Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know4 that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.
The Bible tells us that heaven is God’s throne.
Isaiah 66:1 (NLT)1 This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place?
Acts 7:48-49 (NLT)48 However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,49 ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that?’ asks the LORD. ‘Could you build me such a resting place?
After Jesus’ resurrection and appearance on earth to His disciples, He was taken up into heaven.
Mark 16:19 (NLT) When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand.
Acts 7:55-56 (NLT)55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”
According to the Bible, after the return of Christ, believers will live with God in a New Jerusalem on a new earth.
Revelation 21:1-4 (NLT)1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
While we don’t know exactly what heaven will be like but the Bible tells us that there will be activity there.
Revelation 21:22-27 (NLT)22 I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light.24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory.25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.26 And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city.27 Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Heaven exists and it’s splendor is unimaginable.
According to the Bible, hell is just as real as heaven. Jesus used certain images of hell that show it as a place of awful torment.
Matthew 25:44-46 (NLT)44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” (Bold mine)
Matthew 8:10-12 (NLT)10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!11 And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.12 But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared--will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Bold mine)
Here is the way Revelation describes hell;
Revelation 14:9-11 (NLT)9 Then a third angel followed them, shouting, “Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand10 must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb.11 The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.” (Bold mine)
Revelation 21:8 (NLT)8 “But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars--their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Bold mine)
While the Bible tells us what being in hell is like it doesn’t explicitly say what it is or how it functions. However, the Bible makes perfectly clear that hell is real and that it is eternal and not a place where you want to go. It is to be avoided at all costs.
Does God Really Send People To Hell?
Now that we’ve established the fact that hell does indeed exist let’s get back to the questions that we asked at the beginning; “if God loves people why does He still send them to hell’, or they ask “why would a loving God send anybody to hell?”
When God created man He gave Him “free will”, in other words He gave man the ability to choose. We often ask why God would do that and I believe that God wanted man to have the ability to choose to obey or not obey Him in order to really know if man loved Him. If you don’t have the ability to choose to not love love me I never really know if you do. So God gave man the ability to choose to obey (love) or not obey )love) Him. Well as we know Adam chose to not obey and suffered the penalty of disobedience
Genesis 2:15-17 (NLT)15 The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.16 But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden--17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
Death in this context is not only physical death but eternal separation from God.
Because of Adam’s disobedience all of mankind was cursed with his punishment.
Romans 5:12 (NLT)12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.
Romans 3:23 (NLT) For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
But because God loves mankind so much He put a plan in motion to save us from eternal punishment. That plan was for His Son Jesus to suffer the punishment for sin for all mankind.Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to a cross and while hanging there, He took upon Himself all of our sins.
Romans 4:20-25 (NLT)20 Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.21 He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.22 And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous.23 And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded24 for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.25 He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. This is a free gift that God gave us, but it is a gift that we must choose to accept. It comes down to whether we choose Heaven or we choose hell.(Bold mine)
Romans 6:23 (NLT)23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
If you don’t believe in Christ the Bible says that you have been judged already.
John 3:16-18 (NLT)16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.
One day, we don’t know when, there will be a day of judgement and those who have believed in and trusted Christ will be with Him in heaven and those who choose not to believe will be sent away, and the place where they will be sent is hell. The choice is theirs.
Matthew 25:31-34, 41 (NLT)31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.
God wants everybody to be with Him so much so that He has delayed that day of judgement
2 Peter 3:8-10 (NLT)8 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.10 But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.
God given every person the right to choose to or reject the gift of life through Jesus Christ. Those who choose will spend eternity in heaven and those who reject Christ have already been told what awaits them in hell.
We make many choices every day. We choose whether to obey or not obey our parents as children. We choose the college we want to attend. We choose our friends. We choose our spouses. We choose what car to buy, what to eat, choice after choice. For some of the choices we think long and hard and even pray. For others we give little thought but there is one choice that everybody must make and that is whether to accept or reject Christ. That choice that we all must make is one that will affect us forever, even after death.
In Moses last address to the Hebrews before he died and they went into the Promised Land he talked about the choices that they could make. They could obey and be blessed or disobey and be cursed. He urged them to choose to obey.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NLT) 19 “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!20 You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the LORD, you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
C. S. Lewis wrote in “The Great Divorce” “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."
It’s Your Choice!
How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
J. Vernon McGee
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March 2017 and has been modified to include this section excerpted from Q&A with McGee.
The Bible doesn't say that a loving God sends anyone to hell, and yet they do go to hell. But they don't go there because God sends them; it's the only place for those who have rejected Jesus Christ and have no capacity for God whatsoever.
When you say that He's a loving God, you've only described one part of God. God also is righteous and just and holy. And if you think that you can violate all the different attributes of God and then depend on His love to save you, you're entirely wrong. Because you cannot insult and blaspheme against God. He's told us that we're sinners and cannot come into His presence, that we do not seek after God, that we're alienated from Him.
Do you think He's going to bring you into His presence when you have ignored Him and turned your back upon Him? No. He is a holy God. He had to give His Son to die on the cross for our sins, and if you're going to reject the only way He could work out for your salvation then you must understand that this is the place for you.
Don't say that a loving God sends people to hell. Say that there is a holy God, and when you do not meet His standard you cannot go into His heaven where He is. That ought to be very obvious to you. In your home I'm sure that you have a standard and there are certain people that you would not let come in. God does the same thing. You have to meet His standard if you're going to heaven.
There's only one place for the lost who have rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and that's with the devil and his demons. Don't say that a loving God is going to send you to hell - He's not. The thing that's going to send you to hell is that you're a sinner and you don't want to admit it. That's the problem with the human family. It's a self will, a desire to want to go their way. Yet God has provided a way for you to come. And any time you want to make the turn, a loving God will save you.
Taken from Q&A with McGee (used by permission).
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Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.