August 06, 2020

How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Nathan W. Bingham & Burk Parsons
How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Since “God is love” (1 John 4:8), how can He possibly condemn anyone to everlasting judgment? Today, Burk Parsons explains that the Bible’s answer to this question reveals that the Lord’s gracious love is far greater than we have ever imagined.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: I'm here on the Ligonier campus with one of our teaching fellows and also our chief publishing officer, Dr. Burk Parsons. Dr. Parsons, how can a loving God send good people to hell?

DR. BURK PARSONS: That's a question we get quite a lot. And the question is a good question. And it's an important question that every Christian needs to wrestle with and understand. And in order to understand it, of course, we need to turn to Scripture where God reveals Himself and His own character. Because when we speak of God as a loving God, people mean different things by that. And many times, I've found, that when people speak of God being a loving God they mean that God is a completely tolerant God, that He tolerates anything and everything. They sometimes mean that God is a loving God to say that He is completely, and in every way, merciful and shows mercy to everyone"or at least He should, they would argue.

And so we need to understand that when we speak of God as a loving God that we turn to Scripture. And what we see in Scripture is that God is not loving in the sense that we are loving, but that God is actually the definition of love. That He is love, as we read in 1 John; that He defines love. And so, we have to look at God in His character and all of His attributes to understand what it means for God to be love. And so, when we consider God's attributes, we see that God is love. We also see from 1 John that God is light. And we see throughout Scripture that God is gracious, and that God is merciful, that God is holy, and that God is righteous. And in understanding these attributes of God, we have to understand that God is indeed a loving God. And He's also a just and holy God.

And so, in Scripture, when we read about God's love and God's grace and God's holiness and God's justice, we understand that God has shown grace to some, grace that He doesn't show to others. And before we look at that, we need to first ask the question about God sending people to hell because just the question itself"Why does a loving God, or why does a good God, send people to hell? Really the better question is, Why does God"if He's a loving God, and a good God, and a just God, and a holy God"why does He send anyone to heaven? Because the reality of it is that none us deserves to go to heaven. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All of us are in opposition to God, in enmity with Him. All of us are haters of God. We are insolent toward God in our natural sinful state.

And so, when we sinned, God could have just wiped us off the face of the earth and sent us all to hell. And that's what we deserved. But God, who is merciful and gracious, He chose to be merciful and to be gracious and to spare His elect from His eternal condemnation, which would have been just for us to receive. We read in Romans chapter 1 that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (v. 18). Now, Paul goes on there in Romans 1 and throughout Romans 2 and Romans 3 to explain how it is that we as human beings are naturally depraved sinners, how not one of us deserves His grace, how not one of us deserves to go to heaven, how each and every one of us deserves to go to hell.

We read from Paul in 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 that those who do not know God and "those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (vv. 8-9).

And so, in answering the question, How can a loving God send good people to hell? we first need to understand that none of us is good. That's what the Bible plainly says. In our natural state before God, without the work of the Spirit within our hearts, we are not good. We are bad. We are sinful. We are against God. We hid from God. We were ashamed in the presence of God. And when God came, in our natural states we killed Him. We put the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ, on the cross.

So, God doesn't send any good people to hell. He sends sinful people to hell. In fact, we could also go so far as to say, if God did not punish evil, He would be most unloving. We understand this even from our own lives and our own families and as citizens of various countries and states throughout the world. That as parents"Nathan, you and I, as parents"if we did not discipline our children when they sinned, that would be most unloving. It would mean that we don't care for them and we don't love them. We read in Hebrews that God disciplines those He loves. If the federal or state governments or national governments did not punish evildoers, that would be most unloving towards the victim and the families of those victims. Punishing evil is a loving act. And so, God in punishing evil and punishing those who are in sin who do not know Him is completely just, holy, righteous, and most loving.

Thanks be to God that for those that He has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the earth, He has shown us His grace. We didn't deserve it. We couldn't earn it. But God, out of His good pleasure and His sovereign choice, He chose us in Christ. And we didn't deserve to be chosen, but He showed us His grace, in His mercy, spared us from His eternal condemnation in hell, and by His grace, granted to us the gift of eternal life with Him, through Christ, in the new heaven and new earth.