This is another important “why” question. This question has led some people to believe that there is no such thing as hell. This question has led some to not believe in God. Before we can answer why there is a hell, we need to have a better understanding about heaven and hell. So let us take a moment to consider what is hell.
What Is Hell?
The first point I want us to see in the scriptures is that whatever hell is, it is eternal. “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). Jesus is describing what will happen to the wicked. The same duration for the righteous is given for the wicked. The end result is eternal. Hell is not a temporary solution. Hell is not a place where one pays for sins and then goes on to heaven, which is the Catholic concept of purgatory. The scriptures teach that hell is eternal.
The other word that is repeatedly used to describe this eternal punishment is torment. “And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side” (Luke 16:23). The rich man wanted to warn his brothers about how to live their lives “so that they will not also come to this place of torment” (Luke 16:28). The most common description of the punishment, especially the gospel of Matthew is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13).
This description of pain, suffering, and torment has led to some interesting theories about hell. Apparently people think that hell is the place you go and experience physical suffering. One writer said that is where our flesh is being burned off. However, the imagery of fire was not intended to be understood in a literal sense. Remember that when we die, we will not have flesh or a physical body. It would not be possible to be tormented by physical fire because we will not be in the flesh. Fire is an image of severe judgment. We saw this imagery in our study of the Holy Spirit where the “baptism of fire” was speaking about a time of judgment. To amplify why we do not want to be in hell, Jesus used a Greek word that was the trash heap of the day, where bodies of criminals were toss and fires burned the bodies and trash. Jesus used that word but added that it is “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). The point is that torment is eternal. The fire never goes out.
So what is the suffering if it is not physical? Since hell is not a physical place but the place where wicked souls reside, what is the suffering? Jesus tells us: 27 But He will say, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you or where you’re from. Get away from Me, all you workers of unrighteousness!’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in that place, when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but yourselves thrown out. 29 They will come from east and west, from north and south, and recline at the table in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:27-29)
Carefully read why there is weeping and gnashing of teeth: because we see what we are missing. We will know about others are at reclining at the table in the kingdom of God but we have missed out. We will see the heroes of faith in the kingdom of God but we are cast out. The suffering is that we are separated from God. In fact, “gnashing of teeth” describes a state of anger or realization of great loss. The “gnashing of teeth” has often been described as the physical pain causing us to grind our teeth. No, we are talking about spiritual anguish and despair because we realize eternally what we have lost. We are placed where there is no God, the ultimate horror. If we cannot grasp evil in this world, consider a spiritual realm separated from God entirely. Jesus is using images to try to picture the horror of such a state, not a physical or geographical location.
How Could a Loving God Send People To Hell?
Now that hell has been defined, I think the answer to our question is easy. How could a loving God send people to hell? God does not send people to hell. On earth we have made a choice that we do not want a relationship with God. On earth we have made the choice to not concern ourselves with the things that God has deemed important. While on the earth we have decided that we do not want to be with God nor become like God. So what is God supposed to do? We have decided not to be with him. Should God make us be with him? We are returning to our answer concerning free will. God will not force us to be with him. God will not force us to have a relationship with him. Therefore, God will not make us be heaven. God will not make us live with him. What is God to do but to send our souls to a place where God is not: hell.
This answer also explains why there is a hell. God must have a place for the souls of those who have decided that they do not want to be with God. In fact, Jesus himself said so: “Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!'” (Matthew 25:41)
We are not intended to go to hell. Hell was not prepared for us. The devil rebelled against God. The devil does not want a relationship with God and does not want to be with God and so a place had to be created for him and his followers. Humans are not supposed to go to hell. But when we choose to ignore God and through our disobedience declare that we do not want to be with him eternally, then what is God to do? He grants us our free will and send us to a spiritual realm without God. The knowledge of what we have missed out and the reality of being in a place without God brings excruciating pain. God does not send us to hell. We choose to go to hell in our actions.
What Happens When We Die?
The scriptures repeatedly depict that when a person dies, he or she goes to Hades. The word “Hades” does not tell us anything good or bad. It is simply the abode of departed souls. Peter argues in Acts 2:27 that when Jesus died he went to Hades. Luke 16 shares with us that there is a good place in Hades for the righteous. Jesus called this place “Paradise” as he spoke to the criminal on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). There is also a place in Hades for the wicked called a place of Torment. The wicked go to this place, as seen in Jesus teaching concerning the rich man in Luke 16. There is a gulf between the two, meaning that once you are in one location, you cannot have the opportunity to go to the other. No one in torment is going to paradise and vice versa. Therefore, when we die we will immediately know our fate. We will know if we are in paradise and with the Lord or if we are torment and separated from the Lord. So why is there a judgment day? Judgment day is nothing more than a sentencing day. We saw this recently in the Michael Vick case and we see in every legal case in the United States. Judgment has been pronounced but the sentence from the judge comes weeks later. In the case of heaven and hell, we know the outcome. But we stand before the judgment seat for an official sentence declaring our deeds in the flesh. Essentially, this is the justification of why we are in paradise or torment.
How can God send children to hell?
God does not send children to hell. One of the most horrible teachings to come from the religious world is the idea that every person is born in sin. If we believe that every person is born in sin, then little children go to hell upon death because they must be separated from God. Because of this false teaching many have rejected God, and rightly so. There is no way to reconcile a loving God sending children to hell who do not have the ability to choose God or not choose God. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Luke 18:16). The scriptures repeatedly teach that children do not bear the sins of their parents (Ezekiel 18:20). It would be unjust on God’s part to hold me accountable for my parents’ sins or even Adam and Eve’s sins. We are each accountable for what we do while on the earth and nothing more. If you remember our last lesson we talked about suffering and how God can see the future. When we understand that children are with God, then death is not a bad thing. Yes, death is very painful to us when we lose our children. But we must understand that our children are with God. This is yet one more explanation as to how God can allow innocent children to die. God does not want children to suffer. But we know that children will be with God.
Why Can’t Everyone Go To Heaven?
Honestly, because everyone does not want to go to heaven. If everyone wanted to be with God, then everyone could go to heaven. Unfortunately, people would rather live their lives, do their own things, occupy themselves with the things of this world rather than be concerned about God. God is not going to make us be with him.
Also, everyone cannot go to heaven because God is morally good. We studied last week that God is all powerful and he is all good. This means there are more limitations with God, most notably, that God cannot be with evil. God is light and there cannot be any darkness with him at all. While God is all powerful, he cannot allow people who are evil be in heaven anyway. To do so would be unjust and that is violation of God’s very character. God is just and righteous. He cannot do something unjust like let everyone into heaven. Besides, if every person went to heaven, even the people who were evil and even the people who did not want to be with God, heaven would not be heaven any longer. It would be the earth, a mixture of the righteous and the wicked.
I want to conclude with the words of D.A. Carson concerning hell, because he makes a very good point:
Hell is not a place where people are consigned because they were pretty good blokes, but they just didn’t believe the right stuff. They’re consigned there, first and foremost, because they defy their maker and want to be at the center of the universe. Hell is not filled with people who have already repented, only God isn’t gentle enough or good enough to let them out. It’s filled with people who, for all eternity, still want to be the center of the universe and who persist in their God-defying rebellion.
What is God to do? If he says it doesn’t matter to him, then God is no longer a God to be admired. He’s either amoral or positively creepy. For him to act in any other way in the face of such blatant defiance would be to reduce God himself.