Could a Loving God Send People to Hell? – Part 2
By Ross Netterville
My father has always played a massive role in my life, being a role model for me to look up to and strive after. When I was a young child, my dad was my superhero.He knew everything and was capable of anything. Yet, there came a time where I had to accept that my father is not perfect. Many have experienced this disconcerting revelation; that their fathers are not all that they had previously hoped them to be. A similar feeling of disappointment arises in me when I consider that God, who claims to be love, and is therefore supposed to be loving, is capable of sending people to hell.
This is perhaps one of the more challenging questions which many Christians grapple with. Firstly, it is not an easy one to answer. Secondly, it drives straight at the character of God, challenging His goodness and potentially eroding our confidence in Him. Similar to a child who realises that their father is not an all knowing superhero, we are shaken by a question which implies that the God of the Bible could fail to be loving.
From the perspective of those who do not have a relationship with God, the idea that God sends people to hell casts a shadow on the desire to fall under His rule. Who, after all, wants to follow a divinity with the power and authority to do good, yet chooses to banish people into eternal punishment? If God has such a moral flaw while still claiming to be sovereign, He ought to be feared rather than loved.
The apparent contradiction that this question raises is that God is loving but still sends people to a place of eternal anguish, regret and punishment.
The first question we should ask is whether there is truly a contradiction in that statement? I would contend that there is not. God is indeed loving, therefore knowing what is truly best for us. He gives us a chance to choose the things that are truly best for us. This strikes at the heart of the matter; what is truly best for us and what happens when we choose not to accept this from God?
Firstly, what is truly best for us is to live in relationship with God, striving to know God on an intimate level, relying on Him and obeying Him. This relationship with God is a choice that we must make, and God allows us to reject Him. God does not force us to accept Him, yet there are terrible consequences to rejecting Him; hell. If we choose to reject God, the only way in which we would avoid this fate would be for God to override our freedom of choice and force us to love Him – which He will not do.
What is truly best for us and what happens when we choose not to accept this from God?
Secondly, God is just. Justice is something which God cannot overlook. When an injustice is committed, a response is warranted. We have all sinned, therefore justice demands that the consequences of our decisions be met. Rejection of the eternal ruler of creation leads to a right response of wrath from the Creator. What appears difficult here is understanding how God can exercise justice against those who go to hell, but not those who go to heaven when we have all sinned. Is God a moral monster for sending some to hell, but saving others, if we have all committed the same injustice against Him?
Why don’t all enjoy that what is truly best for them, namely a relationship with God? In addition, how do we make sense of the fact that some people go to hell while others do not, even though all have committed the same injustice of rejecting God’s authority? The answer to both of these questions lies in the person and finished work of Jesus.
Jesus is how we are able to come to a relationship with God, because He stood in our place to meet the demands of justice. By accepting on our behalf the consequences of our rejection of God, He not only ensured that the required punishment of death was carried out, but He also rose from the grave and opened the way for us to enter God’s household as His sons and daughters.
We learn that God will uphold justice as well as accept the consequences of our actions in order to show what is truly best for us. God’s response to our actions, and the length to which Jesus went to meet the demands of justice on our behalf, shows more clearly than anything else the character of God. This is the Father to which I can look up to, knowing that I will never experience disappointment. The Father who has shown me such love that my only reasonable response would be one of reciprocated love.