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How could a loving God send anyone to hell?

Posted September 26, 2019 by joel2020 Leave a comment

While Jesus reveals God to be gracious toward the undeserving, he also says hell is an eternal horror to be avoided at all costs. The rest of the New Testament fully agrees. Even if we dismiss the picture most Christians have of hell as an over-literalization of biblical teaching, it doesn’t lessen hell’s horror. So, why would a loving God would send anyone to hell?

To begin, scripture emphatically states that, while God gives us full freedom to reject him, he wants no one to perish.[1]

Although God is very patient with us, at a certain point an individual’s rejection of him becomes immutable. Which is to say eternal since we’re eternal beings. And that’s all hell is—an eternity without God[2]—but with shocking ramifications:

  • As a reflection of his love, human love (self-love included) can’t exist apart from God.
  • Losing our ability to love leaves progressively less room for goodness in us.
  • Being made in God’s image, we can’t be truly human apart from him.

Essentially, hell is all about lovelessness and the dehumanization—paralysis, aphasia and self-loathing—it produces.[3]

This is what C.S. Lewis referred to when he spoke of people destined to become “immortal horrors”[4] and this the reality Jesus so urgently warned us to avoid.

God could easily prevent people from rejecting him, but he forces himself on no one. He allowed Adam and Eve to reject him, even though he knew how costly their choice would be not only to them and their race, but also to him, personally.

Not only does Christ want no one to perish—he died to redeem his creation and cares deeply about every last lost sheep too.[5]

But a life of avoiding God and ignoring Jesus’ words inevitably leads to an eternity of the same. Thus, no one will be sent to hell who doesn’t choose it over Christ’s kingdom. Yet many will be surprised to find themselves in hell because their professed love for God is really just self-love with a religious twist. As Jesus taught, we can be highly religious and yet live in full flight from God. So, anyone who lives avoiding God—whether irreligiously or religiously—will eventually be unable to stop their eternal descent, despite their growing terror.

Thus, the Bible teaches that our choices in this life lead to one of two eternal ends:

  • Choosing to love God and live by his values, we’re embraced by and filled with his love, becoming truly and gloriously human in the process.
  • Rejecting God and his values, whether openly or not, we become increasingly inhuman—alienated from everything around and within us.[6]

Those who exclude God from their lives lose the ability to give and receive love until they no longer experience it—and wouldn’t even want to if they could. At that point, they’ve effectively arrived in hell, whether in this life or the next. Though their confinement is immutable, it involves no prison walls. It’s all of their own making.

Some may think this understanding of hell minimizes the wrath of God, mentioned repeatedly in the Bible.[7] But on the contrary, it explains how and why the biblical God of love is also a God of wrath.[8]

The question, then, is not how God could send anyone to hell. It is, rather, how anyone could reject his love, so evident in

  • His granting us full freedom to reject him
  • His warning us of the danger of rejecting him
  • His dying to rescue us from our self-destructiveness

Blaming him for sending unbelievers to hell overlooks his love in all three respects.

———————————–

[1] 2 Pet. 3:9.

[2] 2 Thes. 1:8-9.

[3] James Houston, personal correspondence, Sept. 14, 2019.

[4] The Weight of Glory (HarperOne, 2001), pp. 45-46.

[5] Matt. 18:12-14.

[6] We reject God implicitly by living without reference to him or deeming ourselves wiser, more loving or more just than he has shown himself to be in Jesus.

[7] E.g., Isa. 26:21, Heb. 10:31.

[8] E.g., 2 Pet. 3:9, Jn. 3:16-17, Rom. 2:5, Jn. 3:36. Being just and holy, God is committed ultimately to eradicating evil and putting the world to rights. Any loving parent would be grieved and angered by a warlord, drug dealer or pimp’s efforts to seduce and subjugate their vulnerable adolescent. Observing how their teen’s bad choices play into the seducer hands, the parent would be grieved and angry with both victimizer and victim. While God gives us freedom to spurn his love if we will, he also feels constant anger and grief over our dehumanizing choices (read, our sins). In his final judgment, he will once and for all resolve the tension between his mercy and his justice by allowing those who have chosen dehumanization to reap in full what they have sown. Then his wrath will be fully expressed.

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There are far, far better things ahead than anything we leave behind
—C.S. Lewis

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