WHY WOULD A LOVING GOD SEND PEOPLE TO HELL?
“ Religion has actually convinced people that there is an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do every minute of every day and the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and forever till the end of time…but he loves you!”
Those are the words of a classic joke of George Carlin, the late atheistic comedian, who has now, as we speak, discovered whether there is such an invisible man and such a place. For some reason, the atheist never accurately presents the Bible and Christian theology. Their normal modus operandi is to present a distorted, ludicrous image of Christianity, God and the gospel and then mock it. Obviously if such an invisible man as described by Carlin exists, he would be worthy of mockery and disdain but thank God such a man is a figment of Carlin’s imagination.
The joke however highlights a very crucial question. One which bothered me a lot both as a child and as a new Christian, “why does hell exist at all in the first place, and why would a loving God send people there?”. How do you reconcile the existence and horrors of hell with the theology of “God is love”?
ON THE EXISTENCE OF HELL
Hell was created for one purpose and one purpose only. Jesus explains this to us in Matthew 25:41,
“…Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels”
We learn from this statement that hell exists for the sole purpose of punishing the devil and his angels for their rebellion against God’s authority and corruption of the earth (Isaiah 14:14, Ezekiel 28). These were angelic beings who served in heaven, beheld God’s glory and authority but still went against His government. Earthly governments punish rebellion against laws and ordinances, how much more a just, heavenly one? This is only fair.
ON MEN BEING IN HELL
However, we learn from the same passage that men also go into this fire created for the devil and his angels. The “cursed” being told to depart are men. Jesus also warned men about hell. In Mark 9:42–48, He stated (in hyperbolic language of course) that it was better for men to cut off their hands and pluck out their eyes if it caused them to enter into hell because it was better they entered into life maimed than into hell. There would be no point to this warning if men did not go to hell.
However, the heart of God is that men do not go to hell. John 3:16 states that God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus that men should not perish but have everlasting life. Paul in 2Timothy 2:4 states that it is God’s will that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Peter also states that God is not slow in bringing about the day of judgment but is rather longsuffering and not willing that any should perish (2Peter 3:9). Jesus said that it is God’s will that He should not lose anyone that comes to Him but rather that such people enter into life (John 6:39-40).
From the above portions of scripture, it does not sound like God wants men in hell but why do men go there anyway?
ON GOD SENDING MEN TO HELL
It is only when we see the heart of God the Father in the gospel of Jesus Christ that we begin to get the real picture. God does not send anybody to hell. People CHOOSE to go to hell.
The real picture is that Adam’s rebellion in the garden of Eden made him a partaker of God’s wrath on the devil because Adam’s rebellion mirrors the devil’s rebellion. Every man born of a man is a partaker of Adam’s sin and liable to the same punishment of Adam which also mirrors the punishment of the devil. God because of His love for men, sent Jesus to bear the full punishment for man’s rebellion. So in Christ, men can be saved from the wrath of God and be reunited with God free from any further punishment or judgment.
So the picture is that every man is as a result of his sinful nature heading to hell and the gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate, final and desperate attempt to save them from the fires of hell, which is the punishment for rebellion, one they rightly deserve. So every man who rejects God’s attempt to save him (by not believing in the gospel of Christ)goes to the hell he was heading to anyway. It is therefore incorrect in any context to say God sent such a man there. At worst, Adam sent such a man there and he refused God’s salvation so he ended up there.
This is why Paul says we were “children of wrath” when we were unsaved. (Ephesians 2:3). He calls the unsaved, “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2) and says the wrath of God falls upon them (Ephesians 5:6). The unsaved are hell bound by their very nature and can only be saved by accepting God’s salvation. In essence, God is not the bad guy in all of this.
John the Baptist summarizes the position succinctly,
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)
What hell (which is a very real place according to scripture by the way) represents is God’s judgment on everything that rebels against Him (sin, death, the devil, men who reject the gospel). To refuse Jesus Christ is to choose to remain on the path of rebellion. To refuse the salvation He offers is to choose Hell.
Again, the fact that men have the power and discretion to choose where they end up is a reflection of God’s love. The fact God does not force men to choose salvation is a testament of His loving character. As Kenneth E Hagin put it, “God loves the sinner so much that He would let him go to Hell if that is what he really wants”. And there is profound truth to this statement because Hell is also a final, ultimate separation from God (2Thessalonians 1:9) to the same degree heaven is the ultimate reunion between man and God. The sinner who wants nothing to do with God has his wish granted for all of eternity; he is separated from God and takes full responsibility for the consequences of that decision.
In conclusion, God is not George Carlin’s invisible man. He does not watch over men with a big stick in salacious anticipation of sending them to Hell. Rather He, through the gospel is desperately trying to save men who are already on the way to Hell because it is not His heart that men end up there. Jesus means “Jehovah is salvation”, how can God be the one sending men to hell when He sent His only begotten Son to save men from it?