How Can God be Loving and Still Send People to Hell?

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This is a question that many intelligent theologians have wrestled with over the centuries.  It was, in fact, this question (among others) that drove the early church leader Origen to believe that all people will end up in heaven.  He believed that the love of God demands it.

Can God be loving and still send people to hell?  If what I have argued in this book is correct, then we must answer yes.  Here are three reasons why:

First, God is love, but He also defines what love is.  We don’t have the license to define love according to our own standards and sensibilities.  We often assume that love means achieving the ultimate happiness of everyone you are able to.  If this were love, then yes, hell would be incompatible with God’s love.  But Scripture doesn’t define God’s love in this way.  Love is part of who God is.  And God defines what love is.  God does not have to save everyone for Him to show love.  Love, in other words, is essentially wrapped up in the character of God.  Though God acts in ways that seem unloving by our standards, they are not unloving by His standards-and His standards are the ones that matter.

Second, we must understand the love of God in light of His other characteristics.  God is love, but He is also holy and just, and He frequently pours out wrath toward sin.  In fact, God sometimes withholds certain attributes in order to exercise others.  For instance, God withholds His wrath to exercise mercy.  God withholds justice to pour out His grace.  Of course, God could choose to lavish all humanity with His mercy and therefore choose to withhold His wrath toward everyone.  But the Bible doesn’t support this.

Third, and to my mind most importantly, we must understand God’s love in light of God’s freedom. As we have seen in this book, God, as the Creator, is free to do whatever He sees best.  He is compelled by none other than Himself.  And God’s freedom means-though it’s difficult to swallow-that God can withhold love (Romans 9).  It’s a logical (and theological) mistake to think that God can’t be loving unless He saves everyone.  Such an assumption, while seeking to cherish the love of God, violates His freedom and sovereignty.

I’m not at all trying to minimize the pain we feel when we think about the unsaved being tormented in hell, nor am I suggesting that we simply snuff our emotions and move on with our lives: Remember Paul’s anguish (Romans 9:2-3).  All I’m suggesting is that as the all-powerful, all-wise Creator of the universe, God does what is just, right, and loving in a much more profound way than we can possibly imagine.  We must cling to Abraham’s words in Genesis 18:25: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

-Francis Chan, Erasing Hell

Here are other Frequently Asked Questions and how the Bible answers them.

Saved by Grace through Faith. In love with Jesus, His Glory, and obviously my beautiful wife Joelle, daughter Peyton, and son Matthew! Seeking Him in everything to glorify Him and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pastor at Austin Life Church.

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