How can a loving God send people to hell?

Imagine there were ten people in prison each for gruesome murders. One of them is given a presidential pardon. What would be one the questions that might come to mind? I would want to know how that can be fair. ‘How is it fair that this man gets off?’ That’s the sort of question the gospel answers. ‘How can a just God allow guilty people go free?’

You know the story of the man who is lost. He rolls down the window of his car and asks a local for directions. The local replies, ‘if I was going to that place I wouldn’t start from here!’ In some ways it is similar for many people when it comes to thinking about Hell. We start from the wrong place. We ask ‘how can a God loving send anyone to Hell?’ when the real puzzle is actually ‘how can a just God not send people to Hell?’

Take those nine men who remain in prison. It is obvious why they are there. They committed a terrible crime and are getting something of what they deserve. They can’t say that it is not fair that they are behind bars. Similarly the Bible says that our sin and guilt is a far worse thing than we generally imagine. We have rebelled against the creator of this world. We have rejected his rightful authority over our lives. We ignore him and do what we please. The Bible has no problem in accepting the fact that we all deserve Hell. The perfect justice of God demands that we should be punished. But what about the person who receives the presidential pardon, what about the fact that God sets many prisoners free, how can that be fair?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). God could send everyone to Hell and that would be perfectly just. However, in love he has provided a rescue plan. In love he has given a way whereby he can realise prisoners from their guilt and not compromise his perfect justice. He has given his Son who went to the cross, taking our guilt upon himself, paying the price that we owe. God is both just, and the one who justifies (Rom. 3:26).

In the Bible we are told that God invites people to know the forgiveness and acceptance that can be ours because of what Jesus has done on the cross (e.g. Rev 3:20). We are told that that he wants all people to be saved and comes to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3). We are told that the Lord’s return is being delayed because God does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). We are told that people go to Hell, not because God won’t have them, but rather because they refuse to acknowledge the truth and so be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

So let’s go back again to those ten men in prison. There would be something wrong with the justice system if it did not seek to punish their crime. Similarly, there would be something corrupt about God if he simply turned a blind eye towards our sin. God’s love can not be at the expense of God’s justice. Indeed if his love was at the expense of justice it would be a very shallow thing.

While we may not like to hear it, our sin is a repulsive, awful, deplorable thing in the sight of the perfectly holy God. Despite what people may believe we all deserve Hell. Yet in his love God holds out, to a rebellious world, his rescue plan. There is one way whereby he can accept us and not compromise his justice. He wants us to put our trust in what his Son has done in our place on the cross, and turn to him proclaiming loyalty to Jesus as our king.

Confronted by a God who is both perfect in justice and love we are faced with two challenges: Have we put our faith in his rescue plan and are we telling others of the God news of his offer to save them from their sin and guilt?