In my last post, I made mention of a study regarding questions that Christian children had about the faith. Each of the youth interviewed had received religious instruction, so they should have had some sort grasp on the basic tenets of Christianity. In that post I addressed the most common question that these 11-14 year olds had: How can I know that God exists? It is now time to turn our attention to the second most common question: How could a loving God send people to hell?
I can certainly understand where a question like this would come from. It seems that most people want God to be a giant cosmic teddy bear that has only hugs and kisses for His creation. The problem is that this does not seem to gel with what God has revealed about Himself in Scripture. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Scriptures clearly teach that God is love and this is something that we can never put out of our minds when we think about Him. In fact, the question being addressed in this post is: why would a loving God send people to hell.
I think we must approach this question on at least two fronts. First, does the fact of God being a loving God necessarily mean that He cannot send people to hell? Second, does this question accurately portray what is happening when people go to hell?
So, let us take a look at my first proposition. From where I sit, there is nothing about God’s love that would necessarily preclude Him from sending someone to hell. When we see a parent that refuses to discipline a child, and instead tolerates aberrant behavior regardless of its impact, we typically consider the parent as irresponsible and doing a disservice to the child. What we do not say about such a parent is, “Look at how much they love their child.” In the same way, we do not consider a government good if it refuses to deal appropriately with criminals. Love is not the same as tolerating all behavior and turning a blind eye to justice.
Regarding the second proposition, I do not believe the question asked by the youths accurately portrays what is actually happening when someone is condemned to hell. C. S. Lewis once made the point that God does not send people to hell, but people send themselves there. I agree with this statement. As you read through the New Testament (the primary place hell is discussed) you will notice that over and over again God is making efforts to have people come into a saving relationship with Him. While there are warnings of hell, these are for those who refuse the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. While there is “fire and brimstone” in the New Testament, God is not breathing constant threats of hell against humanity. What we see in Scripture is a love letter written to humankind. God has reached down to us and, in His mercy, has provided for us a way of salvation. What we choose to do with His offer is on us. So, to make certain the point is clear, God has made a way for salvation and eternal life with Him. If someone chooses to refuse that and is doomed to hell, then that is a consequence brought upon his or herself.