HOW CAN A LOVING GOD SEND PEOPLE TO HELL FOREVER?
by Shawn Brasseaux
How can a loving God send people to hell to be tormented forever and ever? There is a plain and simple answer to this question that is repeatedly asked. Usually, this question is not asked in faith. It is often asked by people who just want to ridicule and scorn, or people who want to deceive themselves into thinking they are not going to such an awful place. How would God want us to answer those who challenge the reality of hell and the lake of fire? Should we just be silent, or should we tell them something? How do we go about explaining it to them? Dear friend, all we have to do is look in the Bible to see what it says, believe what we find it says, and then tell others what it says. “For what saith the Scriptures?”
THE GOODNESS OF THE GOD OF THE BIBLE
The God of the Bible has often been portrayed as a bloodthirsty, grouchy old man sitting in a rocking chair in heaven. He is depicted as a monster that is insensitive, distant, and cruel. Religion does not help in dispelling these myths, for religion is just that—insensitive, distant, and cruel. We want to demonstrate that the God of the Bible is a wonderful Person, a God who is kind beyond our wildest dreams.
We read why the God of the Bible is delaying His wrath in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Why has God’s wrath not yet come upon this Christ-rejecting world? Is it because that wrath was not real? Was God was just “bluffing?” Sending out a false alarm? No, not at all! He is giving people ample time to be saved from that righteous wrath! How’s that for a loving God?
Just before the Babylonians came and deported Judah into captivity, the Lord GOD asked these rhetorical questions in Ezekiel chapter 18: “ Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? …  Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. …  For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.” The God of the Bible pled with Judah to straighten up, that His wrath not come upon them, and yet He knew they would not listen to Him. How’s that for a loving God?
Or, let us try Ezekiel 33:10-11: “ 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?  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?” Again, JEHOVAH God the Father wanted Israel to turn around, do right, that they not die because of their sins. How’s that for a loving God?
And Lamentations 3:22-23, when the Babylonians finally came and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple: “ It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” Are you not glad that God deals with you on the basis of your faithfulness but rather on the basis of His faithfulness? If it were your faithfulness, you would have been consumed a long time ago! How’s that for a loving God?
The Apostle John wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). Surely, the God of the Bible is not simply loving, but rather He is love. His very nature is love; to wit, He lives without any selfishness. God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Ghost all live for each other’s benefit. Actually, the very first time the word “love” appears in Scripture is in Genesis 22:2: Abraham loved his only begotten son, Isaac, which represented God the Father’s love for His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. How’s that for a loving God?
Another glimpse of the loving unity among the three Persons of the Godhead/Trinity is Jesus’ prayer to His heavenly Father: “for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). God the Father called Jesus Christ “my beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). The three Persons of Godhead do not simply love one another, but they also love undeserving mankind. Again, how’s that for a loving God?
The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:19, “We love him [God], because he first loved us.” The Apostle Paul confirmed, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Paul also affirmed, “…the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Why God loves such wicked creatures as us is still difficult to grasp. How’s that for a loving God?
And we see in Micah 7:18-20: “ Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.  He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.  Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.” Someone who cleanses the sins of those who will never deserve that forgiveness? Someone who delights in mercy? Someone who is not angry forever? Someone who has compassion on the unloving and unlovely? How’s that for a loving God?
We read in Joel 2:12-13: “ Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:  And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.” JEHOVAH God declared that He did not want to judge wicked Israel. He wanted them to reform, that they not experience His wrath. Again, how’s that for a loving God?
And the Bible says in Jonah 4:1-2: “ But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.  And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” Jonah said the reason why he refused to go to Nineveh and preach to them was because he knew God would be merciful if they repented. After the encounter with the whale, Jonah went to Nineveh and preached to them. When the city reformed, Jonah was greatly disappointed and very angry. He wanted God to destroy them, but God was merciful in not punishing Nineveh! How’s that for a loving God?
Psalm 145:8-9 is a wonderful set of verses: “ The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.  The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” Again, how’s that for a loving God? The God of the Bible is very gracious, loving, and compassionate, but we should not overlook that He is also a God of justice and righteousness. Recall Exodus 34:6-7: “ And the LORD passed by before him [Moses], and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,  Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” How’s that for a loving God, that He would be forgiving and longsuffering and gracious and abundant in goodness and truth?
Again, there is no question about the fact that the God of the Bible is love: the Bible clearly teaches, “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). However, the sinner had better not assume that the God of the Bible is nothing but love, for he or she will have quite the shock when he or she faces an angry God in judgment!
After discussing man’s specific sins in Romans 1:18-32, Paul begins Romans chapter 2: “ Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.  But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.  And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?  Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?  But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;  Who will render to every man according to his deeds:  To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:  But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,  Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;  But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:  For there is no respect of persons with God.”
Paul was the greatest servant the Lord Jesus Christ ever commissioned to teach and preach God’s grace and love to us in Christ. Yet, even Paul was honest about God’s wrath and justice when he preached God’s grace and love. Romans chapter 2 is one such clear instance. The Holy Spirit through Paul had religious people in mind when He wrote, “ God…  Who will render every man according to his deeds…  But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,  Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also the Gentile” (Romans 2:5-6,8-9). Man’s pathetic efforts to appease a holy God will have one result—”indignation, wrath, tribulation, and anguish,” forever, and ever, and ever, and ever. Sinners can merit nothing but God’s wrath. They cannot merit God’s grace or God’s blessings.
We can conclude this section by looking at Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:3-6: “ But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;  Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.  For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”
GOD’S JUSTICE DEMANDS HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS BE DEFENDED
The idea of a “loving Jesus” is discussed ad nauseam among “feel-good” circles in Christendom. Many decades ago, a Bible commentator wrote about how liberalism and modernism had crept into Christianity, and how “God’s love” and “God’s Fatherhood of all” and “God’s goodness” were constantly being stressed, at the expense of God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice. The writer talked about how there was too much preaching about “God’s love” and nothing about “God’s wrath!” How much more today!
Friends, to emphasize God’s love to such an extent that His justice and utter hatred for sin are ignored, is a grave error. It actually harms people rather than helping them. It not only involves being dishonest with people, but it entails being deceitful using God’s Word. To make the Bible popular with man, the average local church is pressured (and sadly often acquiesces) into presenting Bible reading as a “get happy quick” scheme. The Scriptures are appealed to only when someone needs money, encouragement, physical healing, et cetera. There is no sincere desire to learn the timeless truths of the Bible for the sake of trying to better understand His will for us. God is not merely a God of love. He is also a God of righteousness and justice. Anytime an action does not measure up to God’s standard of rightness, His justice requires a punishment. We can look at four brief, simple examples in Scripture.
IN THE DAYS OF NOAH
Genesis chapter 6 opens up with the world totally corrupt. Man’s thoughts are nothing but evil and his actions are nothing but violent: “ And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”
It is here in human history that God finds Noah, one man in the world who has not abandoned His Word. Of all the millions—if not billions—of people in the world at that time, God can only find one man of faith! Noah “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9) because he believed what God said to him. God instructed him to build an ark of wood to save his house, as well as save the animal species of the world. Hebrews 11:7 says that Noah “became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” For over 100 years (Genesis 6:3), Noah was “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) as he prepared that ark of gopher wood (1 Peter 3:20).
Through Noah’s words, God warned the millions upon millions—if not billions—of people of the impending global flood. As the ark was under construction, God patiently waited for over one century for mankind to get right with Him. Alas, they refused to listen to Noah’s message, and not one showed up on the ark. It is important to note that after the ark was finished, God gave mankind another seven days before the floodwaters came from above and from beneath (Genesis 7:4,10). Still, no one came to the ark for salvation, and they all drowned. How’s that for a loving God, that He gave them a century to reform to not avail? Again, lost mankind had ignored God’s warnings of impending wrath, and mankind alone was to blame. There were eight believers in the entire world at the time of the Great Flood (2 Peter 2:5)!
IN THE DAYS OF ABRAHAM
We can see how JEHOVAH, Israel’s God, the God of the Bible, is very patient. It takes very much to anger Him and cause Him to retaliate in righteous indignation and wrath. When His patience is finally exhausted, one does not want to be in the path of what is coming! God is “slow to anger,” but He is “great in power,” and He will never let sinners off. This is the justice that we need in this world, if things are ever to be made right. Beloved, we all know how things have to be set right in the end, and God Himself will see to it. Hell and the lake of fire are part of God’s plan to make things right.
Sodom and Gomorrah were in Palestine (their ruins may be near the Dead Sea’s southern shore). These two wicked cities were engaged in homosexual activity (“going after strange flesh;” Jude 7). Abraham, Israel’s greatest patriarch, negotiated with God regarding His wrath on those two ungodly cities. In Genesis chapter 18, two angels and the LORD (in a theophany, pre-incarnate human form) visit Abraham. Abraham, knowing the wrath is soon coming upon Sodom and Gomorrah, asks the LORD in verse 23, “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?”
Abraham reasons with the LORD: if there are 50 righteous people in the city of Sodom, will God destroy them all with the wicked? The LORD agrees not to destroy Sodom if there are 50 righteous people living in it (verse 26). Abraham decreases the number from 45 (verse 28), to 40 (verse 29), to 30 (verse 30), to 20 (verse 31), and finally, to 10 (verse 32). The LORD agrees, “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake” (verse 32). How’s that for a loving God?
Again, we see God’s great mercy. He is not a ruthless monster, but He is quite willing to spare Sodom if there are just 10 believers there. We all know what happened, however. Genesis chapter 19 continues: “ Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;  And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.” Imagine that—there were not even 10 believers in the LORD, dwelling in the city of Sodom!
IN THE DAYS OF THE PROPHET NAHUM
The Prophet Nahum wrote about the divine judgment coming upon apostate Nineveh. It was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire that the Prophet Jonah had visited and in which he preached God’s Word centuries before. Nahum predicted: “ God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.  The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:2-3).
In 612 B.C., God meted out His wrath on Nineveh as other Gentile armies came in and defeated it (just as Nahum predicted). The Ninevites had abandoned Israel’s God and the message that the Prophet Jonah preached to them nearly two centuries earlier, and Nineveh had reached the point that it was beyond saving. God’s love did not do away with His wrath. His justice had to be satisfied, and it was when other Gentiles punished wicked Nineveh.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Dear friends, there is coming a day when this dispensation will end, and Israel’s program will resume. God’s people, the Church the Body of Christ, will be taken into heaven at the Rapture, and the unbelievers will remain behind on Earth. Once the Antichrist appears, the seven-year Tribulation will run its course.
We read from 2 Thessalonians chapter 2: “ For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.  And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:  Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,  And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:  That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
We want to pay close attention to verse 10. The unbelievers “received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” The lost experiencing the seven-year Tribulation period, Daniel’s 70th week, did they want God’s love in our Dispensation of Grace? Did they want a God of love, a God who died for them at Calvary? No. Did those in hell want a God of love? No. Will a God of love force Himself on those who reject Him? No! Will God force people to accept His love and force them into heaven? No! The God of the Bible values free will—He did not create us as robots. A loving God will let people go to hell because they do not want a loving God and they do not want His heaven that is filled with His love. They prefer to hate the living and loving God of the Bible. They prefer to hate Jesus Christ, who loved them so much that He died for them.
1 John 3:16: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” How’s that for a loving God?
Romans 5:8: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” How’s that for a loving God?
1 John 4:10: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” How’s that for a loving God?
If people reject the love of God that He demonstrated to us at Calvary’s cross, the love He displayed by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die in our place, if they scoff and reject His sacrifice, then the plain and simple truth is that those people are the ones who are “unloving!”
How could a loving police officer arrest law-breakers? The police officer believes in justice, so he or she will enforce it. How can a loving parent discipline his or her unruly child? The parent believes in justice, so he or she will enforce it. How can a loving judge sentence a proven murderer to life in prison? The judge believes in justice, so he or she will enforce it. How can a loving jury find the defendant “guilty” in light of the incriminating evidence. The jury believes in justice, so they will enforce it. How can a loving teacher send a disobedient student to the principal’s office for corporal punishment, suspension, or expulsion? The teacher believes in justice, so he or she will enforce it. If we would not criticize these people, perhaps we had better use our tongues more wisely than to blame God for the eternal destiny sinners choose for themselves.
Suppose you had two grown sons, and one murdered the other in secret. “Oh, son, I love you so much I will overlook what happened. You killed your brother, but I will not turn you over to the authorities! You can hideout in my house from those unloving officers!” What about this? “Officer, why have you arrested me for driving while intoxicated? Why are you so unloving?! You need to be more lenient!” What about that? While everyone will agree I am being silly, some blame God for the poor decisions of sinners. Is that not sillier? Yea, it is insanity, pure insanity! When someone asks, “How can a loving God send people to hell?,” it is a flawed question. It is question of unbelief, for the Bible declares that He will not let sinners escape. The question should be, “How could a just God not create a place called hell?” Would He really be God if He were loving and not just/fair? Think of all the people who would then say, “Oh, how unfair God is! He always lets the evil person get away with wickedness!” Instead of nitpicking and putting God on trial, we should say: “How God is ever so loving! He sent His only begotten Son to an awful Roman cross, to shed His sinless blood for us, that we not go to the awful hellfire we merited as sinners!”
Someone once appropriately said, “God’s love will never let you go, God’s love will never let you down, and God’s love will never let you off.” Contrary to popular belief, God does not send people to hell; they choose to go there. Jesus Christ died for man’s sins, His innocent blood was shed, He was buried, and He was raised again the third day. That is the Gospel of Grace of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. Faith in this Gospel of the Grace of God is man’s only way to escape the righteous wrath of God. God has done everything to keep man from going to hell, but if man refuses to accept God’s solution for sin by faith, God will let man reap the eternal penalty of sin. That penalty is to eternally exist in a place where God’s wrath is meted out and His justice against sin is the punishment of unredeemed sinners. His wrath is never appeased so hellfire must last forever. Remember, one must cross many barriers to wind up in eternal hellfire. One has to ignore the Gospel, ignore the Christians, ignore the Bible, ignore Jesus Christ. No one ever “accidentally” went (or goes) to hell!
If there were no place such as eternal hellfire, there would never be any true justice in creation. Sin would have no penalty, and creatures (angels and humans) could do whatever they wanted without fear of punishment. Matthew 25:41 says that “everlasting fire” was originally “prepared for the devil and his angels.” God never intended man to go to everlasting fire: that punishment was meant for Satan and his angels. Hell was God’s response to the angelic rebellion in heaven. It was to keep the rest of the angels from following that rebellion. However, when man joined that rebellion in Genesis chapter 3, he too became worthy of such a dreadful place.
Someone once asked, “Why would a loving God send you to hell because you did not believe in Him?” Simply put, God has a special place reserved for people who deliberately refuse to participate in glorifying His Son Jesus Christ. That place is called “hell,” and the ultimate destiny is “the lake of fire.” Notice what Psalm 7:11 says: “God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.” And Hebrews 12:28-29: “ Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:  For our God is a consuming fire.” Or, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8: “ And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,  In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:”
And, Jesus’ very unpopular hellfire discourse in Mark chapter 9: “ And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.  And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.  And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.  For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.  Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.” (Modern English versions and their underlying manuscripts bracket off as uninspired or completely eliminate verses 44 and 46 for obvious reasons.)
Dear reader, it is the author’s burden that you not die and go to hell forever. You may not believe in hell right now, but after you die, you will change your mind, and by then it will be too late. Do not put off salvation through Jesus Christ another second. What God the Father wants to see is your faith/trust resting solely in Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork. He died for your sins, He was buried, and He was raised again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Please trust Him and Him alone, and you will never know about hell beyond the pages of Scripture.