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Inevitably as a Christian, this question will be posed to you—will a loving God send people to hell?
The assumption beneath this question is that because God is love, God cannot possibly send people to hell—that love and judgment are incompatible.
Let’s examine this question in view of grace.
Yes, the Christian faith agrees with this question, somewhat partly. Yes, the Christian faith acknowledges that God is love. In the Christian faith, love is the essence of God and God is the essence of love. (1 John 4:8,16 NLT) God and love are not mutually exclusive things. They are the same.
But the Christian faith disagrees with the view that God sends people to hell. The unpalatable truth is this – people send themselves to hell. There is nowhere in the Christian scriptures to show that God sends people to hell. God will not shovel human beings in a wheelbarrow to hell. Human beings send themselves to hell.
Most times the people who ask this question seem to gloss over their own sense of love and judgment. If we are created in the image of God, which we are it reasons that we feel and act as God would. Right?
A mum, her kid and a thief
Assuming you love your child and in one instance you see a thief trying to mug your kid. What do you do? Do you sit there and say, “I love my kid and I love the thief. I won’t “judge” the thief.” No ways. Your love for your kid will drive you to judge the thief. You will jump up and fight off the thief (judge him). If irreparable harm happens to your kid, you will want natural law or justice to judge the thief. He will spend time in prison. Now, it was the choice of the thief to go to hell. If you know what I mean. He did wrong and subsequently, his choice led him to hell (prison). In prison, he will live out the consequences of his choice.
The Hebrew and Greek words Sheol, Hades, geenna, are interpreted as the world of the dead, underworld, a place of no return, without praise of God, the wicked sent there for punishment. In biblical Greek it is associated with Orcus, the infernal regions, a dark and dismal place in the very depths of the earth, the common receptacle of disembodied spirits, as a name for the place (or state) of everlasting punishment: — hell. All these interpretations point us to a place where the wicked will endure everlasting punishment for their sins—they will get what they deserve.
Therefore, hell is the place where sinners get what they deserve – they get what they wanted all along. Hell is for those who will stand before God and take full responsibility and punishment for their sins. They will say to God, “Don’t have mercy on me, a sinner.” Hell is for those who will say no pain, no gain. Hell is for those who will refuse to receive God’s love. They were capable of loving themselves. Hell is for people who got a one-way ticket to heaven but decided, “Nah, I don’t like freebies. I will pay for my own ticket, downwards.” Hell is your choice.
The definition of hell then gives us hints of what will happen and who will be in heaven. In heaven, you will get what you don’t deserve because Jesus got what you deserve. Heaven is for those who believed Jesus bore the responsibility and punishment for their sins. They will say to God, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Heaven is for those who say Jesus’ pain, my gain. Heaven is for those who received God’s love in Christ. They were incapable of loving themselves. Heaven is for people who freely accepted the one-way ticket that was paid for by Jesus. Heaven is for sinners who don’t get what they deserve. Heaven is God’s choice for you.
So yes, the Christian faith affirms that there is a hell, but hell will be for those who took responsibility for their own sins. Heaven, on the other hand, is for sinners who accepted the punishment for their sins in the body of Jesus. In their place, Jesus bore the punishment for their sins.
Grace for the mum, kid and thief
Remember the illustration of the mum, kid and the thief?
The exclusive thing about the Christian faith is that it announces to the mum, kid and thief that ya’ll can end up in heaven if you receive salvation by grace—meaning grace is for every human being regardless of their status. So heaven is for the mum, her kid, and thief who received the undeserving favour of God.
Hell is for the mum, her kid, and thief who will refuse the offer of God’s undeserving grace and will have based their life on their goodness (I am a good mother because I saved my kid, I am a good kid because I obeyed my mother), or the thief (I take full responsibility for my sins—I deserve this punishment)
Notice the difference?
Here are a few quotes from C. S. Lewis and Tim Keller on hell
C. S. Lewis
- Hell is the greatest monument to human freedom.
- There are only two kinds of people—those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ to God or those to whom God, in the end, says, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice, it wouldn’t be Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.
- Hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.
- Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on forever.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s easy to go to heaven. Easy. All you need to do is believe that Jesus bore the punishment for your sins and Voila you are in heaven. Actually, heaven becomes an already-now and not-yet reality for you. Heaven invades your life right now, and in the future, you will live in heaven, forever. That’s how simple it is to go to heaven.
Non-Christian, try it.
That’s what grace looks like