Hell: How can a loving God send people there?
I can still remember being asked this question over fifty years ago. And even though I’ve spent a lifetime studying the Bible, my beliefs about this haven’t changed. I can’t say that about some other things, but I sure can about this. Sometimes people also ask questions about how a loving parent can inflict the suffering of a spanking on their child. The answer to this question is related to the first one. In both cases the issue is not only love but other things like justice. In the matter of hell, it is certainly much more serious and even a punishment that is ongoing and said to be never ending. If you doubt or don’t believe hell will be forever, I hope you’ll read one of my other articles entitled, Heaven and Hell: Are they both FOREVER? People are typically glad to learn that Heaven is forever, but not hell. In fact, many people either don’t even believe in hell or they sure don’t act like it. What are your beliefs about all this? But most important of all, what does the Bible tell us about this. Most people would have an opinion, but what is the truth of the matter?
As I’m writing this article, I’m aware of a current controversy about all this. A well-known pastor who used to believe in hell no longer does and he’s working to influence others to join him in his thinking. But, again, it’s most important of all that we get to the truth about hell no matter who believes what about it. So, where did this belief about hell come from? What’s the basis for it? Answer: The Bible! And how trustworthy is that? The apostle Paul and others tell us.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect [TELEIOS = complete or mature], thoroughly furnished unto all good works. [Emphasis added]
So, what does the Bible tell us about this place? Probably the most interesting passage about it is one where our Lord explains the situation regarding a man who went there. This is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Let’s see what our Lord had to say about it.
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
The first thing we need to note about this story is that it is not a parable. In several ways our Lord conveys the idea that this is a true story. We immediately see that this is about a wealthy man who enjoyed all the comforts of life. He is here compared to a man named Lazarus who was very poor, ate crumbs and leftovers from the rich man’s table and was covered with ulcerated sores all over his body. The only kind of “medication” he received came from the dogs who licked his sores.
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
“Abraham’s bosom” is a term used for the place believers went when they died at that time. Sometimes this place is called Paradise or the place of the righteous dead. Whatever, it was a far superior place when compared to where the rich man went. We see next a description of that horrible place.
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
Again, Jesus is presenting this as factual information. Is He lying? Some people apparently think He is.
In addition to the pain from the non-consuming fire, he experiences loneliness. I think I’ve known some people who’d have trouble being alone for a day, let alone all eternity. Just think, from the time our Lord told this story it has been roughly two thousand years and this man is still there suffering in this torment. All this didn’t have to happen to this man, but it was because of his own decision to reject the means God graciously provided for his salvation. Therefore, he’s even tormented by the memory of this.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
Then in addition to all the above, there’s the reality that this situation will never change for this man. Two thousand years and many more from now he’ll still be there.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
Here he’s promptly told that they have the Scriptures to read. So it is with many today. The Bible contains many warnings about the everlasting future of all who are unsaved.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
Repentance simply involves a change of mind. All anyone has to do to be saved from such is to go from unbelief to belief about what God has provided for their salvation.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. [Emphasis added]
No, this man didn’t need a miracle; what he needed was a simple change of mind. Because he rejected the love of God, he now must deal with the justice of God. Note what the apostle John wrote in that day.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. [Emphasis added]
We have a similar message today. Ones who believe it need never worry about where they’ll spend eternity.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, [as ones who have believed this message] we shall be saved from wrath through him. [Emphasis added]
It is because of Bible passages like these that I write this article. It is with the hope that there will be some, even one who reads it and heeds the warning. Will you be that one? If you’ve not put your faith solely in what Christ did to provide you with a way of salvation, you should do that now. None of us have been assured of even another day of life on this Earth. And once death occurs this matter of salvation is settled for all eternity. There will not be a second chance for anyone. What some churches have taught otherwise is a lie. As Jesus tells us in this story of the rich man and Lazarus, the matter is settled forever at the time of one’s death. Either people are prepared or unprepared. The choice will have been theirs, even as it is yours now.
Some have wondered why God has delayed His wrath upon the people of this Earth. When Jesus Christ said He’d be returning to judge, people thought that would occur soon. But, again, it has been roughly two thousand years since He spoke of His return. But please note the reasoning behind that.
2 Peter 3:8-9
8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing [BOULOMAI = not having purposed] that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. [Emphasis added]
Again, all it takes to be saved is a change of mind—repentance. One must go from unbelief to belief to be saved. Accepting by faith God’s provision for it through Jesus Christ will save anyone.
1 Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel [EUANGELION = good news] which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
By believing He did this for you, you will be saved immediately and permanently.
The delay in Christ’s return to Earth is to provide more people with an opportunity to be saved and to enjoy all the benefits of that forever. God has always been gracious in His dealings with man. Here’s one of many examples of that.
10 Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?
11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? [Emphasis added]
He is here pleading with the unsaved to heed His warning. All this is done because of His deep love for people. But if the warning is not heeded, His justice will be expressed. Here is still another of many warnings about all this that was once given to Israel.
22 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. [Emphasis added]
I close this with more words from the apostle Paul who among many others comments about God’s love. People need not fear God’s wrath if they will accept His love.
20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. [Emphasis added]
How will YOU respond to this wonderful expression of His love for you? Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose again that you might have this opportunity. Accept Him today as your Savior and be delivered from the everlasting suffering you justly deserve.