Would a God of love send people to Hell?

by Pastor Ian Parker 

Why do people say “Go to Hell” – they never say “Go to Heaven.”

The subject of hell is often a huge stumbling block when people are considering Christianity.

There is a book entitled, “Letters from a Sceptic.” by Greg Boyd. Greg is a Christian, his father a sceptic. Here is a question the father put to his son:

“I can’t so quickly find solace for the nagging questions I have about hell. The Bible paints a truly nightmarish portrait of this place, does it not? It’s the place of fire, hot sulphur, brimstone, darkness, and torment, and the thing supposedly goes on for all of eternity. Now tell me what the hell (excuse the pun) would be the purpose of torturing someone eternally. What’s the point? Obviously there is no lesson to be learned. 

This isn’t corrective punishment. The person in hell has no hopes of improving his character or situation, so…” – This is the father’s conclusion and it is also the conclusion of a lot of people – “…this is sheer vengeance, pure retribution, unadulterated anger with no motive other than the pure, divine delight of inflicting horrifying pain on a person.”

There are a lot of people who have heard sermons about hell and they have felt distressed and troubled. One lady said to me on one occasion “I would never throw my children in a fire and I don’t believe my God would either.” She seemed surprised when I agreed with her.

 Talking about this subject is one of the most important discussions we can have, even if the subject is unpleasant. It seems many people are more interested in what Richard Dawkins and the like have to say about this subject than what Jesus said.

When these “experts” start opening blind eyes – raising the dead – walking on water and then rise from the dead three days after death, I may take notice  of them – until then I am sticking with Jesus. Everyone is betting their life on something. Atheist’s are betting their life on there being no God and no hereafter. I am betting my life on what Jesus said. So let’s have a brief look at this subject.

1. JESUS TAUGHT HELL IS REAL whatever hell is, and where ever it is, it’s very, very real. (Luke 16:22-24) The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and his soul went into hell.

There are a lot books written by people who said they have been transported to this place or had visions of this place, but a lot of their descriptions are not biblical. They may have seen too many scary movies or viewed the impression of artists and thought that is what the bible said hell is like. They think hell is a place where the devil has horns and he is torturing people in a torture chamber. They describe hell as a fire burning the flesh off people.  None of that is biblical.

The two Greek words Jesus used that have been translated as hell are “HADES” and “GEHENNA.”

(Luke 16:23) “The rich man died, and was buried, 23 and his soul went into hell [Hades] where he was in torment…”  The word “Gehenna”  is used 12 times – 11 of the 12 times it was used by Jesus. (Matt 10:28) “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna].

(Matt 23:33) “You snakes. You brood of vipers. How will you escape being condemned to [Gehenna] hell?”

Gehenna is a real place. It is a valley outside Jerusalem known as the Valley of Ben Hinnom. It is considered to be a cursed place. Even today no one lives there. It is still considered cursed.  

Centuries before Jesus, Israel chose to ignore God and worshipped a Canaanite god named Molech, and they did it in this valley.

You can actually read about this five times in the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:31-32) “They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom  (the Greek is Gehenna) to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.” 

Molech was a terrifying, grotesque looking creature. It had a huge belly and its arms were stretched out. There was an opening in the back and they would heat this iron god up till it became red hot then they would take their children and throw them onto those arms and watch them burn. Since then this valley was considered to be cursed, cut off from God. No-one would choose to go there. 

No-one would choose to live there. Over time it became  place where the Israelites dumped their garbage and threw the corpses of criminals. It was known for its stench and for the constant smouldering fires and worms gorging on dread copses. Does that sound familiar? You see, when Jesus was talking about hell, He used this place as a metaphor for hell. The bible uses a lot of metaphors . When Jesus talked about being among wolves,  He was not talking about the four-legged variety.

 2. HELL IS A PLACE WHERE PEOPLE ARE SEPARATED FROM GOD.  Read these words from Paul. They will shake you up – (2 Thess 1:7-9 LB) … when the Lord Jesus appears suddenly from heaven in flaming fire with his mighty angels, bringing judgment on those who do not wish to know God and who refuse to accept his plan to save them through our Lord Jesus Christ. They will be punished in everlasting hell, forever separated from the Lord, never to see the glory of his power.” – that should trouble you. Hell is the place that is shut out from the presence of the Lord. God’s absence is what makes it hell.

THE DESCRIPTIONS OF HELL ARE NOT LITERAL.  It is difficult trying to describe something people have never seen, especially if it is in a different dimension.  Literal fire cannot burn or hurt a spiritual body. You can’t shoot  or choke a demon. You can’t stab a ghost. 

Fire will hurt my physical body, but it can’t hurt my spiritual body. When the Bible talks about hell, it does so with these dramatic and symbolic images. You can’t have a “lake of fire” and “total darkness” in the same place – which means it’s not talking about literal fires. John saw Jesus and he said “His eyes are a flame of fire (Rev 19:12), He has..” a sword coming out of his mouth.” The question we have to ask is, “What do these symbols symbolize?  Is hell literally a lake of fire? Probably not, but the truth is actually worse.

Hell is a place where God’s grace is absent – God’s love and forgiveness is foreign in this place.

“Why would a loving God send a human being to a place like that?” The answer is – He doesn’t.

3. PEOPLE ARE IN HELL BECAUSE THEY CHOSE TO BE.                     (2 Thess 1:7-9 LB) “ …when the Lord Jesus appears suddenly from heaven in flaming fire with his mighty angels,  bringing judgment on those who do not wish to know God and who refuse to accept his plan to save them through our Lord Jesus ChristThey will be punished in everlasting hell, forever separated from the Lord, never to see the glory of his power.”

MAX LUCADO: “God at this very minute issues invitations by the millions. He whispers through the kindness of grandparents, shouts through the tempest of a tsunami. Through  the funeral he cautions “Life is fragile.” Through sickness he reminds, “Days are numbered.” God may speak through nature or nurture, majesty or mishap. But through all and to he invites, “Come enjoy me forever.”

Yet many people have no desire to do so. They don’t want anything to do with God. He speaks, they cover their ears. He commands – they scoff. They don’t want him telling them how to live. They mock what he says about marriage, money, sex or the value of human life.  They regard his son as a joke and the cross as utter folly. They spend their lives telling God to leave them alone and at that moment of their final breath he honours their request.

“The Great Divorce” by C. S. Lewis puts it this way: He says, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ – and those to whom God says in the end, ‘Okay, thy will be done.’ All who are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice, it wouldn’t be hell.”

The good news is you don’t have to go there, you have been given the power to choose. You can choose to go God’s way – or you can choose to go your own way. Whatever your choice, there are consequences.

When the subject of Hell comes up, often someone will say something along these lines: “I know this lovely old lady. She’s never hurt anyone. She pays her bills. She is a kind loving lady who would help anybody. But she never goes to church reads her bible or prays. So, do you mean to tell me that because she’s not a Christian, she has to spend an eternity burning in Hell? Would a loving God send someone like this lady to Hell.”

BILL HYBELLS talks about this. He calls the lady Aunt Edna . “I want to think for a moment about Aunt Edna, because here’s what has happened in her life. When she was young, every once in a while—maybe at Christmas or at Easter—she would hear the story of the God who loved her. God would whisper to her through the story of Scripture, ‘You can learn more about Me, if you want to.  I’d love for you to be my child.’ But she made a little decision. It may not have been overt; she may never have verbalized it; it may not have been real conscious; but she made a little decision: I’m not going to do that. I will use my mind to pursue other things, not God.

And then there would be times in her life when she would look at a sunset, or a tree or the ocean, and God would whisper to her through Creation, ‘I made this. I made you. You didn’t get here by yourself. You know that, and you can know Me. You can say “Thanks”.’ She made a little decision: No. I will not acknowledge You. I will not give thanks.

There were times when she did something wrong, because Aunt Edna is no more perfect than you or I. God would whisper to her through her conscience, ‘You know you can be forgiven. You know you need it. You can get a fresh start. I’ll do that, if you’ll confess and acknowledge and repent. Jesus said one of the things the Holy Spirit does is convict us of sin.’ But she made a little decision: No. I will not bend my knee. I will not repent of sin.

As she grew older, more of the people she knew began to struggle with health issues, and they began to die. At every funeral, she was confronted with her own mortality, and God whispered to her through her experience, ‘You cannot beat death, but I have planted Eternity in your heart. This fear of death and the longing for something more…it’s there in every human being. And if you ask Me—if you say “Yes” to Me—you can be with Me forever.’  But she made a little decision: I will not ask. I will not say “Yes.” I will be the captain of my own little ship. She gets to the end of her life. 

Maybe she never said it outwardly, but the truth is that she has said “No” to God a thousand times. She has locked the door of her heart over and over again. She doesn’t want to confess to Him, submit to Him, worship Him or serve Him. All she wants is to be left alone by Him, and being left alone by God is what the Bible calls ‘Hell’.

It’s possible that your choices can lead you to a place where there is nothing about God you actually want. That is so important so you need to read it again slowly. 

It is possible that your choices can lead you to a place where there is nothing about God you actually want.

When Jesus came to the earth, He came with an open invitation. Whoever wants to can come. He said, I’m inviting anybody to my kingdom.

It doesn’t matter about your background or weather you have been good or bad – It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor. It doesn’t matter what country you are from.  You would think everyone would have run toward him – but they didn’t. They made excuses.


(2 Peter 3:9) “The Lord is not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” He went to a cross, and He took on our sin. He descended into our hell. He rose. Here’s the good news. Your sin has already been paid for on the cross. Your hell has already been experienced by Jesus. You just have to say, “Jesus, I need you. I’m not okay without you.”

When you are coming to grips with this terrible doctrine of Hell, you have to ask “Why did Jesus do it?” When He cried out that his God had forsaken him, what was going on?

You have to ask  why did this man who had silenced a raging storm – called a man out of a grave who had been dead 4 days – when they came to arrest him in the garden over 200 hundred trained fighting men fell down hit by an invisible force.

 He said, “No-one can take my life from me, I lay it down.”

Why is he allowing this? What is so serious?

Our sin has separated us from God and it doesn’t matter how good you think you are, as far as a holy God is concerned, you are not OK. You need a Saviour. 

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