Saturday, February 24, 2007

Why would a loving God send people to hell?

One of the aspects of Christianity that puzzles some people is the thought that God sends some people to hell. While this seems distasteful and incongruous with a God of love, in fact it makes good sense when one considers the whole picture.

Before looking at some of the data it is important to state one thing from the start. That is this: the nature of hell is not clearly defined in Scripture. The most common image used for hell is of a lake of fire (Matt 25:45; Rev 21). Some believe that this should be taken literally and see hell as eternal ongoing punishment in a lake of fire. However, some reading the same data argue that hell is not in fact actually eternal suffering, but is being destroyed in a lake of fire for all time i.e. annihilation. That is, those who live forever with God are made immortal, those who reject God are destroyed (conditional immortality). Still others believe that the passages in question which refer to fire are to be taken symbolically. They would hold that all people are given immortality at their conception. Then, if they do not enter saving relationship with God, they will enter hell not necessarily a literal lake of fire but a place of eternal separation from God and all that is good. That being the case, hell is eternal existence in a place devoid of relationship, creation and light; some would say eternal solitary confinement in darkness and nothingness! Whichever is true, hell is a horrific concept. At its heart is separation from God and who wants that?

Now to some of the broader issues that call into question hell as unjust and unloving:

1. Hell is God’s yes to humanities no: Hell is only for those who have rejected God and his offer of salvation. That is, people who have said no to God’s offer of eternal relationship with him in his unblemished world to come. That being the case, hell is God's yes to humanities no to his offer of salvation. Some will respond 'what about those who haven't heard the message'. I have dealt with this objection earlier arguing that all will be judged on whether they responded to God in faith as he is revealed to them through creation and as revealed (cf. Rom 1:20; Abraham in Rom 4; Melchizedek in Heb 7; Heb 11).

2. Hell is essential for the destruction of evil: Justice and logic tells us that if a God exists who is pure, just, loving and good that for his justice to be demonstrated and his love to be complete, that at some point he must extinguish evil from the universe. Whether this is achieved by annihilating it or by confining it to a place for all eternity; the world to come will be free of evil and this is goo. Such confining or annihilation is a loving act to remove evil from the universe; setting free those who long for and pursue goodness and love.

3. Hell is God’s grace and love to lovers of good: Hell is God’s way of removing the tension and pain of living in a fallen world. For those who long to be with God, to enjoy freedom without evil and suffering, to experience life without pain and death, hell is the negative side of God’s yes to them. Heaven is the positive side, a world without suffering, pain, torment, grief and death! Hell then is the setting free of the universe from all that is not good including death, pain and more. I say it is then an act of love. In fact God's holding back from moving in this way is also an act of grace to give all created humanity a fair chance at responding. This cannot go on indefinitely; he will move before evil will triumph and this is right and good.

4. When one considers the extent and nature of evil, hell is totally justified: If Satan exists as the bible describes, he deserves eternal suffering! Jesus said unambiguously that hell is designed for him (see Mt 25:41). After all Satan has sought to destroy all that is good and which God has established and deserves such eternal torment. Similarly Hitler in WW2, Stahlin in communist Russia, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and other meglomaniacal despots of history deserve nothing short of hell for the horrendous way they treated people. The tragedy is that all evil will be deal with in the same way and so many who are far less given over to evil will also suffer; however, God is consistent, he will destroy evil. Especially so when the whole Bible testifies that for God all sin is disgusting and an afront. As such, it must be dealt with because of God's nature, love, justice and purity.

5. Hell is easily avoidable: Those who baulk at hell need not do so for hell is not inevitable but can easily be avoided by accepting Jesus as Lord and saviour. All we need to do is accept God's offer of release from evil, from sin, from eternal destruction in whatever form. God offers us eternal friendship, joy, unblemished and unparalleled bliss by simply accepting his offer of salvation in Christ. That being the case, hell becomes a non-issue if we accept his offer.

I conclude that hell is a reasonable, just and loving concept. It is loving in that it is God’s yes to
humanities no and it sees the removal of evil from the cosmos, something that all reasonable people long for. It is just in that eternal destruction in whatever form is reasonable for Satan and utterly wicked humans. However, the nature of hell is not completely clear. While I consider that eternal separation from God would seem the most likely interpretation, other views of literal eternal burning and annihilation options are possible on the evidence given. The best response is to say yes to God and avoid hell, whatever form it takes.


Arindam said...

What of those people who follow all the moral principles of goodness (such as those said to have been preached by Jesus) - they love and help their fellow humans, hurt no one and in general make the world a better place - but they do not accept Jesus as saviour?

Are you saying:

a) that these people are not sent to hell? (then how does it matter if someone accepts jesus or not)?

b) that they are sent to hell (would you call that justice?)

c) that it is not possible for people to behave in good ways if they don't accept Jesus?

godztuff said...

Thanks for your response.
None of those three options are entirely accurate although c) is closest.

God has to eradicate evil from the world because of love and justice.

Anyone who is a coparticipant in evil to any degree then falls under God's wrath because of this precept.

In that all of us are partially corrupted, unless their evil is dealt with, they will face this destruction.

I am certainly not saying that it is not possible for people to behave in good ways if they don't accept Jesus. All of us including the worst of humanity such as a Hitler I am sure at times has acted in a good fashion in line with the ethics of Christ.

The problem is that partial goodness does not remove the problem of our partial evil.

Hence, God' solution to this problem. Jesus dies in our place as a sacrifice for sins and because of his sinless life rises from the dead. We are simply invited to place our trust in him, and because of his life, we are saved; he exchanges our sin for his righteousness.

So yes, such people go to hell because they refuse the only option to deal with their coparticipation in evil. This is utterly just, because God MUST deal with evil of evil will exist on eternally and there will be no release from its power.

This is the tragedy of rejection of Christ.

God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it; as it stands condemned in its participation in evil. It is up to each person to realise the wonder and brilliance of God's offer of salvation.

God allows us freedom for rejection, but is deeply grieved when we do, because it means we will go the way of all evil... I pray you do not do this my friend...

God bless.