Ask the Pastor: If God is Loving, Why Hell?
Don’t forget to submit your Bible questions to us – email@example.com or in the “Question Box” outside the sanctuary.)
One question submitted this week by young person in our congregation:
If God is loving, why is there hell?
Some our deepest longings, played out in box office hits, call for swift justice against wrongdoing. Yet, our society is built on the foundation of the rule of law and justice for all—the very antithesis of this spirit of vigilantism. We go to great lengths to ensure even criminals receive equal protection. We settle for procedural justice, knowing it isn’t perfect, while longing for a primitive yet perfect justice, where the criminal meaningfully pays for the wrongs he committed.
Yet, who among us is capable of determining and executing this perfect justice? We reject vigilantism in real life because it is private, unaccountable, and quickly corrupted. We fall back to a legal system built on procedure, and vicariously enjoy our desire for vengeance on the movie screen.
Must we always choose between the two? Is there any hope for real justice in the world?
God has revealed Himself as an avenging God (Nahum 1). We recoil at the thought, but the omniscient, holy God is the only one capable of dispensing perfect justice. We are conflicted, because we know this vengeful God can finally judge evil—but we also know that puts us in jeopardy, because we, too, have done evil. So we imagine that God is like us, that He hates the things we hate, and will put the Hilters and Stalins and serial killers of the world in hell… but not people like you and me.
But what kind of God is that? The sort of God who is partial and plays favorites isn’t one to trust.
Because God is perfectly and always good, He isn’t partial; He must put an end to sin, and all sinners, for His justice to be perfect. Therefore, a good God must be a God who judges all evil—including the evil in me. If real justice is what we seek from God, the irony is that very goodness is what we can least endure about Him in our own lives, because He demands perfection.
And in Jesus Christ, the God of towering, unimpeachable, and unbending justice shows mercy to any and all sinners who bow their head and put their faith in Him.
What is our situation (Romans 3:10-20)?
In a word—bad. Everyone is in trouble—separated from God. We are spiritually condemned. We are characterized by faithlessness, unrighteousness, sin, and rejection of God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans makes it clear that we’re depraved. We have rejected God.
You have a problem with justice—or, perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that justice has a problem with you. If you don’t understand this, you won’t understand Jesus’ claims.
Paul’s indictment is also aimed at you. People have two defenses they tend to make against the accusation that they are sinner—either: “I’m not that bad,” or “God isn’t really that good.”
The Bible says you are, in fact, that bad. The human reaction to these truths might be a resolve to “do better,” but Paul sweeps that hope away. No one can make themselves righteous.
God is holy—He does not just fudge to get His children out of trouble. The perfect Judge will condemn sin, including yours and mine.
Where does that leave you? You need The Gospel!
How can we be saved from this Judge (Romans 3:21-26)?
Your greatest need is for God to declare you righteous, and Paul declares that need can be met. God’s throne is built on righteousness and justice; this demands our sin to be dealt with.
How can He show mercy to the guilty?
God showed mercy and provided Christ to prove His commitment to justice. We often act on a presupposition that we deserve to be forgiven. But if you understand who this God is, you know this isn’t the case. God owes you nothing.
Christ’s death was an atoning sacrifice. Jesus took God’s wrath on our behalf, and God punished all our iniquities. This means the justice that demanded our death now pleads our case. God’s sword is no longer raised to strike us, but rather, to defend us.
This salvation is for all who will come (Rom. 3:26). It’s not something you work for or earn; it is a free gift by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). You must reject any notion that you play a role in your salvation. It all by faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone.
So, why would God send people to hell?
The world says,
How can God be love and send anyone to hell?
But heaven says,
How can God be just and allow anyone into heaven?
The one who minimizes the gravity of hell minimizes the gravity of the cross. If hell isn’t real, Jesus was all bluster. If hell isn’t real, we ought to say, “Give it a rest, Jesus. We all know you’re just being metaphorical.” But not even one door in hell is found the word “exit.”
The fact that God is love doesn’t mean there is no hell. It means that if God abides in you and you in Him, there will be no hell for you.
Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven during His three year ministry (Matthew 13:41-50; Mark 9:43-49; Luke 16:19-31, etc.). And the Bible isn’t sentimental about heaven and hell—not hesitant, not mushy. The message is clear and alarming (Isaiah 65:13-15).
All sin costs. It is very easy to go to hell. Simply do nothing. Or lots of things. Either way. Part of our sin is that it blocks out a feeling of sin. The “little” sins of everyday life will send us to eternal hell.
The Quran says that God sends bad people to hell. The Bible says that, at the cross, God went to hell for bad people (Galatians 3:13). If God let every person run head-long into hell, He would still be just, and His reputation would remain untarnished.
The wages of sin cost God His Son and Christ His life. It costs believers repentance and unbelievers hell. Sin always costs. The next time you think you’re a good person, remember that God had to kill His Son to keep you out of hell. God says the worst about me (I deserve hell) & the best (I am loved & justified), so what you say about me is held in this perspective.
There are many paths to hell, but only one way to heaven. If everyone escapes hell and goes to heaven without trusting Christ alone, then Jesus was just wasting his time. Salvation is not just getting man out of hell and into heaven, but getting God out of heaven and into man.
Where Are You?
Why then is it that some people are more sad by how many people unfollowed them on Instagram and Twitter and unfriended them on Facebook than by how many unbelievers went to hell today?
And if, at your church, you never hear about the righteous wrath of God, unleashed either at the cross or in hell, run.
The word of Christ’s finished work changed me, rescuing me from sin, hell, shame, depression, and suicide. No church marketing gimmick can do that. If we really believed in hell, our teaching, preaching, and evangelism would be far more convincing.
Avoiding the doctrine of hell is one step away from denying it all together. One of the most loving and merciful things Jesus did was preach about hell. Unless you believe in hell, you will never know how much Jesus loves you. Hell is full of sincere, religious people, never born again, and heaven is full of immoral people who repented and believed in Christ.
Friend, if we didn’t wake up in hell today, we should be dancing. If we don’t know we deserve hell, we don’t know Christ.
This is why the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon said:
When men talk of a little hell it’s because they think they have only a little sin and believe in a little Savior.
God is good, and He’s a refuge to everyone who trusts in Him. But because He is good, He will also judge those who oppose Him to the bitter end. The cross is proof of that. On the day you appear before God, He will be good. The only question is what His verdict on you will be. Trust in God, trust in His goodness, and find Him to be good to you—all through Jesus Christ.