Hell is one of, if not the, biggest issue that people have with Christianity. It is also one of the most wrestled with issue for believers as well. It isn’t possible to have a heart and not think about it. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “There is no doctrine in Christianity that I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it were in my power.”
My goal in this post is simply to share one angle to how hell can exist in alongside an all-loving god. Why would God send people to hell?
Hell is not God’s rejection of us, but our rejection of Him.
Luke 16:19-31 is a parable taught by Jesus about a rich man who was also a Pharisee (religious leader) and a poor man named Lazarus. The gist of the story is that this rich man ignored Lazarus and his suffering his entire life. Eventually, both men die, and Lazarus goes to heaven while the rich man goes to hell.
Now there are two interesting things to note about the rich man in this story.
1) He is very religious.
How do we know? Before Jesus begins the parable, it says this in verse 14. “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things (that Jesus was teaching) and scoffing at him.” This shows us that Jesus’ audience for this story was the Pharisees, a very religiously elite group, whom this rich man is a part of.
You also see this in vs. 24, when the man calls out from hell to Father Abraham. Meaning that he was a good Jew. A good, moral, very religious man. Probably lived a decent life, likely gave to the temple, and maybe even held a position there.
2) He was very rich, but no evidence he had any real relationship with God.
In this story, the rich man has no identity other than being rich. We aren’t even told his name. The well-known 19th-century theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “sin, at its core, is basing our identity on or drawing our ultimate fulfillment on anything but God. Something we think that to have is what would constitute the good life.”
On top of it all the rich man calls for father Abraham, not God. Pointing us to the fact that he had no real relationship with God. And a major sign that he has never experienced God is that he continually ignored Lazarus showing that he was not kind or compassionate to the poor.
Here is why that is significant. Because a mark of knowing God is that we are generous with our money. Jesus himself talks about money and our resources more than anything else, even more than heaven and hell. Why? Because how we handle our money shows where our trust really lies.
So if you understand the Gospel, that God rescued you in your greatest need, then by being generous, we are in a small way doing for others what God has done for us, we are helping those in need.
Lastly, we see that rich man was completely unmoved by the needs of Lazarus. Even in hell he viewed him as a water boy! Hell for this rich man was simply a continuation of how he lived on earth.
Knowing all of this, it is still perfectly natural to then ask the follow-up question. How though, does a loving God still allow people to be sent to hell? Isn’t hell incompatible with a fully-loving God?
How does a loving God allow this?
Here’s what is fascinating about the concept of a loving God; it is a purely Christian concept. You will not find any other religion or religious text outside of Christianity and the Bible that says God created the world out of love and delight. Most ancient religions believe the world was created through struggle and violent battles between opposing Gods or supernatural forces. Even eastern religions like Buddhism do not believe in a personal God at all.
So if you are struggling with the concept of a loving God and hell, or you can’t believe in a God who punishes and judges because “God is love” let me ask; What makes you think God is love? Can you look out into the world today and say this is a God of love? Or can you look at history and think the God of history is a God of love? What religious text outside of the Bible concludes that God is love?
By no means is love the dominant, ruling attribute of God as understood in any of the major faiths. Therefore, I don’t know where else you can conclude that God is a God of love outside of the Bible itself. And the Bible tells us that the God of love is also a God of judgment who will put all things in the world right in the end. Tim Keller writes,
The belief in a God of pure love – who accepts everyone and judges no one – is a powerful act of faith. Not only is there no evidence for it in the natural order, but there is almost no historical, religious textual support for it outside of Christianity. The more one looks at it, the less justified it appears.
Ironically enough, we never ask the parallel question to this either. Which is how could a just God send people to heaven? On a purely intellectual level, that is every bit a problem as the question we are looking at in this post. Of course, this is where we see our need for Jesus. Where he took the wrath and punishment we deserved so that anyone who would trust and follow him can be forgiven and loved by God.
*It is vital to note that there is so much more to be said on this topic. Hell is a difficult subject to grasp, and one that should be an issue that all Christians should wrestle with. The hope with this post is simply to provide one angle to this difficult topic.