How could God consign anyone to hell? The fair response to that question is to ask another. Who are we to judge the perfect God’s dealing with our lack of perfection? For us to decide how to punish our sins is simply too self serving. It’s no different than asking prison inmates to determine their own sentences.
In addition, that question is defective. Some prisoners hold the judge of their case responsible for their incarceration. That is not honest. People are sent to prison because they were found guilty of crimes. When the judge pronounces sentence, he is merely applying the law to a lawbreaker. The person who sends the lawbreaker to prison is the lawbreaker himself.
The same principle applies to people in hell. God does not send souls to hell. Our imperfect lives demand that sentence. People send themselves to hell. But people also choose hell when they reject God’s plea bargain.
The judge of the universe does not want any human being in hell (1 Timothy 2:4). That’s why, instead of holding humans responsible for the sins they commit, he held his only Son responsible. The Bible says, when Jesus died on the cross, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement” (Romans 3:25). Jesus’ sacrifice atoned for our sin – the picture is Jesus’ blood covering over our sin so thoroughly that all record of the sin disappears.
Hell’s existence does not lead us to determine God is too strict in punishing sin. It testifies to his determination to snatch us from hell, to justify us (that is, pronounce us not guilty) “freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
But humans have the ability to refuse God’s love for them. God’s respect for us will not allow him to rob us of that right. Humans have intrinsic value because God himself created us. He valued us so highly he sacrificed his own Son to forgive us. For God to force anyone of us to go to heaven would deprive us of our ability to reject him. It would dehumanize us, and it would transform human love into slavery. For whoever chooses not to share in the forgiveness and eternal life Jesus gives, God provides an everlasting existence outside of his presence, outside of his love, beyond his peace and joy. He honors our choice to say no to him – even as he invites and empowers us to say yes.
On a variety of levels the question, “How could God send anyone to hell?” is the wrong question. The much better framed query is, “Do I trust that God has redeemed me for heaven in Jesus?”
What does the Bible say about hell?
It is an eternal place of punishment for those who reject God’s grace in Jesus.
- Daniel 12:2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
- Matthew 13:49,50 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
- Matthew 25: 31,32,41 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, … 32 he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…. 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Humans escape hell’s punishment through faith in Jesus who suffered the punishment they deserve.
- Isaiah 45:24 They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are deliverance and strength.'” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.
- Ephesians 2:1,3,4,5,8,9 You were dead in your transgressions and sins… 3 We were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
- 1 Peter 1:3,4 In his great mercy [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.