How Can a Loving God Send Anyone to Hell?

How Can a Loving God Send Anyone to Hell?

Mike McGarryBy Mike McGarry7 Minutes

Excerpt from Discover: Questioning Your Way to Faith by Mike McGarry

Tolerance has so dominated our culture that it’s difficult for us to reconcile the love of God with his wrath. As intimidating as it is to discuss hell and eternal judgment, it’s a significant opportunity to wrestle with some of the most difficult teachings of Scripture. The Bible’s teaching on hell is not a message of God’s hatred for sinners, but a display of his holiness in correcting injustice and evil. It’s also important to recognize the emotional weight of this conversation. Most of us are usually thinking about our non-Christian friends and family members while discussing this question [How Can a Loving God Send Anyone to Hell?]. Overlooking the emotional element will lead to either a fake or guarded conversation, or a very insensitive one that leads to lots of hurt.

The gospel proclaims the grace of God in all things — even judgment and wrath. Previous generations may have heard “turn or burn” evangelistic messages at youth camps, which has led to a generation of parents and youth workers who rarely warn students about the very real judgment the Bible portrays. It is common to hear Christians admit they believe in hell because the Bible teaches about it but admit they don’t like it and wish it didn’t exist. This type of thinking suggests we believe ourselves to be better judges than God — but we simply don’t have the power to correct him. Such thinking shows we have a weak understanding of why hell and final judgment exist. It’s important for us to understand what the Bible teaches about our loving God’s judgment in both salvation and damnation.

 The Bible’s Teaching About Judgment and Hell

God is perfectly holy (Exodus 3:4–6; 1 John 1:5). This means God is categorically different from and more glorious than created things. He is also the Creator (Genesis 1; Psalm 65). Therefore, all judgment belongs to God. People are not free to instruct God about the moral laws of the universe. This is clearly taught throughout Scripture (Job 38–41; Jeremiah 18:1–10). Jesus teaches that there will be a day of judgment for the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 25:31–46; Luke 16:19– 31). This judgment will be eternal and real, reserved for both angels and humans who have sinned against God’s perfect holiness (Revelation 20).

Although people often say that hell is eternal separation from God, this is not true. God’s anger and judgment against sin is currently being restrained by his common grace toward all people. But there will be a day of judgment, and hell is the experience of God’s unrestrained response to sin (Psalm 139:8; Romans 14:10–12). Jesus frequently taught about hell and the judgment of God, usually in parables. Based upon Jesus’s own teachings, we know that hell will be eternal (Luke 16:26) and conscious (Matthew 13:42). Denying the existence of hell requires a denial of the very words of Jesus.

Two key teachings stand out as essential when we think about hell and judgment. First, sin is human rebellion against the holy God. The Bible talks about sins and transgressions. Sin is an archery term that means “to miss the mark” and reflects failure to meet God’s holy standard of righteousness (Romans 3:23). Transgression means a willful breaking of God’s laws (Romans 4:15). We can sin by accident or by merely falling short of keeping God’s commandments perfectly, but transgression is when we knowingly choose to sin. If we’re honest, every single one of us can confess being guilty of both. This is no small guilt; our sin uncovers our desire to sit on God’s throne as the one who determines right and wrong in our own lives. We all want to live our own truth, even if God says something different.

Second, wrath is God’s holy response to sin. Think about it: how should God respond to sinful rebels who have brought so much death and destruction into his good creation? Unlike human wrath, God’s is never unfair, uncontrolled, or directed against someone who’s innocent. It is not in opposition to his holiness or his love. Instead, it’s a direct expression of his holy love against the injustices that sinful men and women have introduced in this world. God’s wrath and judgment are the purifying fire that fertilizes the garden of Eden to be reborn in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 20–22). If God did not judge sin, injustice would continue, and the curse of sin (death) would never end.

Survivors of injustice and abuse understand that judgment and punishment are right and loving responses to the evil that has been perpetrated against them. They cry out for justice. And when their oppressors find ways to “work the system” and get away without any punishment, we call it injustice. In cases like this, what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to feel? It’s easy to think the entire world is unjust and corrupted — and it is! But there will be a day when all the evil and corruption will be laid bare before God and he will issue his judgment. Injustice will be revealed for what it is. Every sin will be brought into the light, and every sinner will give an account for what they have done. This isn’t because God is really angry, but because his holy love is determined to restore all creation in perfect peace and harmony.

Excerpted from Discover: Questioning Your Way to Faith © 2023 by Mike McGarry. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.

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