Summary: This sermon seeks to answer the question, “How can a loving God send people to hell?”
How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
Millions believe that God is loving and merciful, but also that He has condemned millions to suffer torment for all eternity. What do you believe? Light a match, then hold your finger in its tiny flame for five seconds. What happens? You'll likely scream involuntarily and suffer misery for several days from a painful burn. Perhaps you've seen a burn victim who was disfigured in some horrible accident, his flesh gnarled and misshapen. What would that kind of agony feel like for a year? A lifetime? An eternity? Most people find that horrifying, almost beyond imagination, that anyone might willingly torture another person in that way. And they ask, “How can a loving God send people to hell?”
Many have wrestled with that question, both laity and clergy alike. Pastor Rob Bell has written a book entitled, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” In it, he wrestles with the question: Does a loving God really send people to hell for all eternity? He writes, “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.” Rob Bell reads Jesus’ warnings of divine punishment asmeant only for the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and had very little to do with eternity. Thus, he denies the existence of hell and the teachings of Jesus and Scripture because he can’t imagine a loving God sending people to hell.
Why would God, who is full of mercy and grace, send people for eternity to a place of torment for disobeying Him or not trusting in Jesus, especially if they are good people? Is that fair? Is that right? The problem with this question is that we are appealing to what we perceive as fair. We’re looking at the issue from a human perspective, when we should be looking at it from God’s perspective. God determines what is right and fair, not us. He decides and that’s based on who He is, His character.
We learn three things about God’s character in Scripture. First, God is holy, "You shall be holy, for I am holy," 1 Peter 1:16 Holiness is incorruptibility, perfection, purity, and the inability to sin. It is perfect, without flaw, and that is the standard of all that is right and good. Second, God is love. "And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love." 1 John 4:16 God loves us and seeks our well-being and security. Because of his love, he wants the best for us. This is why God doesn’t desire anyone to go to hell, but that all come to repentance that they might spend eternity with Him. 2 Peter 3:9 Third, God is righteous. "God is a righteous judge.” Psalm 7:9 The words just and righteous are identical in the Bible. When we say that God is just, we’re saying that He always does what is right, what should be done, and that He does it consistently, without partiality or prejudice. God’s righteousness (or justice) is the natural expression of His holiness. If He is infinitely pure, then He must be opposed to all sin, because its against his nature, opposed to His good desires for us (His will) and to be exposed to sin would make him impure. And that opposition to sin must be demonstrated in His treatment of all His creatures. Thus, we are assured that His actions toward us are in perfect agreement with His holy nature.
When God created us, he did so in His own image. In fact, everything that God created is a reflection of His image and that includes the Law of God, because it comes out of who He is: holy, perfect, righteous, just and good. Therefore, the Law is the standard of perfection and if we do not keep it perfectly, then we have sinned against God. To break God's Law is to offend God. As with all laws, there are repercussions when broken because there is no Law that is without punishment. So when we break the Law, we fall under the judgment of the Law. Punishment comes not just because of what we have done but because we have offended an infinitely, holy, righteous and just God. There are three contributing factors to going to hell.
First is Original sin. God created us to be loved and be in relationship with Him. In the Garden of Eden, God lovingly provided everything they needed: food, safety and a place to live as well as an intimate relationship with their Creator. God gave them three simple commands (have children, tend the Garden, and don’t eat the fruit from the Tree at the center of the Garden). All they had to do was obey but they didn’t. The Creation story teaches us that God created human beings to be in a relationship with Him. But true love has to be freely given.