This can be one of the most troubling and serious questions that you may ever wrestle with, whether you’re still considering following Jesus or have been a disciple of His for 50 years. The very notion of hell is unsettling and, quite frankly, disturbing.
This is exactly how it is supposed to be.
Hell is an aberration, an abomination, a place that was never meant to be. Hell was not a part of the original creation. In fact, hell is not even meant for humankind.
Hell is made as the banishment awaiting Satan and his angels. The tragic tale of humanity is that there will be some of us who will choose to join him there. But the fact that the idea of hell seems so out-of-place and “wrong” speaks to this truth that it is not where we are meant to go. Hell is supposed to shock the mind and the senses. However, don’t let that unease keep you from considering the claims of Jesus. If we preached a God that made complete and perfect sense to us, we’d be preaching a man-made god, not the Infinite Creator of the Universe who so vastly exceeds our intellect and imagination that we can’t even think or imagine the extent of how much He does.
But back to the question: how can a God who claims to be perfect and infinite Love send people to a place of infinite punishment and torment??? There’s no way I could possible hope to cover all the relevant aspects of hell in one short blog post so I’ll post some resources at the end for further study.
So instead of a full discussion of hell, I want to focus just on this aspect of it, the question asked in the title.
First off, a giant misunderstanding about hell is that it’s a place God angrily throws people who didn’t do things the way He wanted them to, or simply believed the wrong things about Him.
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.D.A. Carson, as quoted in The Case For Christ
Hell is the place for people who don’t want to be with God, who don’t want to bow to anyone but themselves, who don’t want to serve others but want to be served and to oppress others for their own gain. When Jesus returns to end our present mode of history, God will finally shout ENOUGH! to the world. When he comes back, He will be saying “From now on there will be no more rape, no more murder, no more child abuse, no more hatred, no more oppression, no more condemnation. That is finished with, now and forever.” Justice and peace will finally reign and all wrongs will finally be righted.
Unfortunately, that won’t be good news for everybody. That type of world will not be desired by all.
You may (perfectly reasonably) object, “But perhaps God could just change them so that they see the light and realize how wrong they are.” The problem is that these hell-bound people already have seen the light, and they consciously rejected it, knowing full well what they were rejecting. Consider this: to be “cured” against your will by God of pride, selfishness, and total independence would be a sort of divine cosmic rape of your very soul. As Chesterton said, “Hell is God’s great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice.” We are not programmed robots but powerful beings with self-determination and free will. True free will demands the possibility of rejection of God’s love and way of life.
What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? He has already done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They [do not want to be] forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
It is theorized that the gates of hell are not locked from the outside by God, but rather from the inside by its own inhabitants. It may be possible for a being in hell to leave it any time they wish and join God in heaven, but because of its very nature, the type of souls that go to hell will never want to enter God’s presence. It would be like a vampire walking into the bright noonday sun. For someone whose whole existence is wrapped up in self-worship, self-centeredness, and ‘getting what’s mine’, the sacrificial servant-love of God that will characterize heaven would be like bright, powerful rays of burning painful light.
Heaven would be hell for those types of people!
Milton was right…’The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words ‘Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.’ There is always something they insist on keeping even at the price of misery…C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
The only kind of people in hell will be the kind of people who agree with that statement…even if all it means is to reign over the flies of the garbage dump. But imagine a whole nation populated with only those types of people. That’s why hell will be misery and torment–not from any external punishment by God, but because their own wretched, selfish desires will constantly be frustrated by all the other people there who will also be trying to become their own “lord of the flies”. Or imagine a drug addict who is so totally addicted to their substance that no amount of it brings them even the smallest high anymore, yet they’re still addicted. That is the misery of hell.
Basically what I’m trying to say is that God doesn’t send people to hell. People send themselves there, and they want to be there.
Nobody will be in hell who doesn’t want to be, and nobody will be weeping behind hell’s gates because they realized just a bit too late how wrong their life was lived. There won’t be a single person in hell lamenting that they’re not in heaven because they ‘missed it by that much‘.
All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find.The Great Divorce
I truly believe that if you are the kind of person who wants to be kinder, gentler, more loving, more compassionate, more self-controlled, more giving, and truly wants to be with God and live in a place where agape reigns supreme and is the normal mode of existing, then you will be in heaven. The caveat is this: you can’t do it on your own. Anyone who’s seriously tried to will themselves to being a better person solely by their own power knows keenly well how impossible this is. I’ll let God sort out the details, but if you are not yet a follower of Jesus, then read His love letter to all of humanity, written in the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice. The Spirit of God is the only power in this universe that can transform you into that type of person and guarantee your inclusion in that community with a seal of ownership.
In closing, the best quote that I have ever read on this, one which so completely captures the essence of the doctrine of hell in one solitary sentence comes, again, from C.S. Lewis:
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, “Thy will be done.The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
For further study and reflection on the reality of hell, I recommend the following: (and please forgive me for pimping my own work 😉
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis
Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli
Who’s Got God?, by Yours Truly [pages 69-74]
Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
Falsehood aptly defended loses not its falsity.