Summary: Third in a five part series that attempts to answer hard questions about God, the Bible and faith.
Growing up, I wasn’t particularly opposed to God. In fact, as I look back, I certainly believed there was a God, and for much of my early life I just assumed that since I wasn’t an axe murderer or a thief and that I’d done more good things than bad things in my life that one day I’d go to heaven, even though I really wasn’t sure exactly what that meant.
As I look back, I also can see that I believed in hell, at least in theory. It seemed logical that God would have a place of punishment for the really evil and bad people on this earth, people like Hitler or Charles Manson, or even someone who is a Sun Devil fan. But I really didn’t think I was in any danger of ending up there myself.
But one day I was sitting on the mall at the U of A between classes when a young man asked me if he could share some things from the Bible with me. Although I wasn’t particularly interested in the Bible at that time in my life, I agreed to give him a few minutes of my time. And it wasn’t long until he convinced me that I was a sinner and that if I didn’t pray a prayer and ask Jesus into my life I was going to go to hell. And obviously I must have believed enough in hell to pray that prayer that day. And I went away that day relieved that because I had prayed that prayer, I now had spiritual “fire insurance” that would keep me from going to hell.
I later came to realize that becoming a disciple of Jesus requires a lot more than just praying a prayer. As I became more familiar with the Bible, I came to understand that it also required a willingness to give up control of my own life and give that to Jesus – that’s what it means to make Him my Lord. And it also requires being willing to conform my life to what God desires rather than living like I want to live – that’s repentance.
As I began to understand the Bible better, I actually began to struggle more and more with the idea of hell. I had no problem with the idea that some of those really wicked people I mentioned earlier would go to hell. But what about some of the other people in my life that I considered to be really good people? How could a loving God send those people to hell just because they didn’t put their faith in Jesus?
I think all of us have probably asked some questions like that – especially when a family member, or friend or other loved one dies and we have to consider the possibility that even if that person seemed like a very good moral person to us, that it is possible that they could be facing an eternity of judgment and suffering.
So this morning in our third message in this series – Hard Questions, Honest Answers – we’re going to tackle this question:
How Can a Good God Send Anyone to Hell?
Before we can answer that question, we need to first make sure we understand how the Bible uses the term “hell” since it is actually a much more complicated subject than even most Christians understand.
LET’S DEFINE SOME TERMS
• Sheol = “temporary holding place” for souls of the dead
Before Jesus came to earth and began to teach more about the various aspects of life after death, the Jews really didn’t have a very well-developed idea about eternity. What they did understand is that man has both a physical body and an immaterial soul and spirit. For our purposes today I’m just going to refer to that immaterial part as the soul, even though there is some good evidence in the Bible that there are some differences between our spirit and soul. They understood that when a man died the body went into the ground and the immaterial part – the soul - went to a temporary holding place that they called Sheol. That was true for both the righteous and the wicked. So there really was no clear differentiation between heaven and hell.
The ESV and some other English translations consistently just transliterate that Hebrew word as Sheol, but unfortunately, the KJV renders it as “hell” and some other modern translations translate it as “grave” or something similar. As we’re going to see, that is unfortunate because it fails to distinguish between different aspects and phases of God’s judgment that usually get grouped together under the term “hell”.
It was not until Jesus shared the account that we find in Luke 16 that we learn that Sheol has two compartments or sections.