Tough Questions Series Part 1: How Can A Forgiving God Send People To Hell?
This week I’m starting a new series entitled “Tough Questions”. The point with these blogs will be to help people overcome some common objections they may have about God and continuing to remove any questions about God’s trustworthiness.
The first question I’ll address is when people ask; How can a loving God send people to hell? This is one that I struggled with for a long time. It didn’t make sense to me how this could be possible. As has been the case many times, I realized I was asking the wrong question. But before I answer the question I want to elaborate a little bit on the road that one can go down with this type of reasoning and the destructive effects it has. This is a very important question, that if left unanswered will make it very difficult for you to enjoy your relationship with God or even want to come to Him at all.
So here are some questions that would come to my mind:
– If God is forgiving, then why doesn’t he just forgive everybody and let them go to heaven?
I have been very fortunate that not many people I’m close to have died, but I remember the first time somebody I actually knew well died. The thoughts that started to come to my mind were about how this person didn’t go to church, the different sins they committed, etc. I grew up Catholic so I had the notion that one had to go to church to go to heaven. I started to think what if this person didn’t make it heaven? Then I started thinking this person probably didn’t make it in (based on my standards and a false belief of what I thought God’s standards were). Then I started to get angry at God and think well if that is the way God is, if he sends good people like that to hell then I don’t want anything to do with Him. All of that stemmed from things I didn’t even know were true or not, but I had taken them on as truth without even knowing it.
– What is the basis for His decision of whether somebody makes it to heaven?
So after I thought this one person was probably in hell, I started to get more intrigued in God simply so I could get some fire insurance. The only thing I was interested in was what I could do to make sure I don’t go to hell. Of course the doctrine that was preached to me was the 10 commandments…which even then I knew was impossible. Then I would come up with my own system, which was basically trying to ensure that my good outweighed my bad and maybe just maybe God would have mercy on me as long as I continued to go to church. I had no confidence or assurance of what would happen if I died. I was just wishing, hoping, praying and begging…which oh by the way is exactly the mindset a lot of churches want you to have. Isn’t that convenient that the doctrine they preach just so happens to hinge your eternal salvation on your church attendance? Hmmm.
– Why does He get to decide?
This may not be something many people struggle with, but once I got to the point of complete frustration, I started to ask things like why does He get to decide? Who made Him God? Why would God be so stupid and unjust? If this is how God is, then why is He God? Shouldn’t God be smarter than that? When you start blaming God, that’s when you know there’s a serious problem with your belief system.
Sin & Forgiveness Defined
In order to understand the answer to this question, we have to understand this question is actually about life and death, not heaven and hell. When we think about sin, we usually think about lying, cheating, stealing, etc. But what sin actually means is to miss the mark, to not partake of and to not have what was assigned to you. As Bertie Brits has said; sin is when God has planned for us to have a gift and us not having that gift. Us not having that gift of eternal life leads to death.Sin is when God has planned for us to have a gift & we don't have that gift. ~ Bertie Brits Click To Tweet
Now forgiveness is not God deciding not to punish us. Forgiveness in the Greek means to separate or divorce. In Hebrew it means to lift or carry off of. When you forgive somebody you are ending the torture they are in. You are lifting that torture off of them. The concept that there has to be anger in order for one to forgive is false. Forgiveness doesn’t originate from anger. If we think of forgiveness this way, then we will always have the foundation of our identity in our behavior.
Imagine if I said I needed to beat somebody up in order to forgive someone. Let me just go get one of your kids so I can beat up on them and then I’ll be able to forgive. What?!?! You would think I need anger management classes wouldn’t you? That’s not forgiveness at all. So see we tend to build our doctrines around our traditions. We’ve traditionally thought about forgiveness in a way that doesn’t line up with Biblical forgiveness and like the scripture says, we thus make the Word of God of no effect in our lives (Mark 7:13). However, if we were to look at the way Jesus defined forgiveness, it would look something like what he stated in Luke 4:18 when he said:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruise, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. KJV
Looking specifically at the phrase “to preach deliverance to the captives”, the word deliverance there is actually the same word that is commonly translated forgive. Putting it in context I see it reading something like; I came to separate my people from the bondage they are in to death which was caused by the union they had with sin. It’s a little wordy, but hopefully the concept of forgiveness is clearer now.
So again, in context with God forgiving us, it’s not Him looking the other way…it’s Him destroying the union that man had with sin and separating them from it. When we put the two concepts of sin and forgiveness together, as defined in the Bible, we can see that God being a forgiving God means that he has divorced us from the life that we were married to in Adam of not partaking in the gift that God has given us. It’s not like God has favorites and says he’ll really actually forgive one person but not the other one. It’s not like we are left in the dark about what God thinks of us or what is required for us to have eternal life. When we combine this with the fact that God gives us free will, the truth of the matter should be clear.
So, the answer to this question is actually very simple. God isn’t the one who sends people to hell. He gives people free choice and the only way someone goes to hell is if they choose that they don’t want anything to do with God. Hell is not a place that God created for people who are disobedient to Him in order to teach them who is boss. In my opinion, hell is just separation from God. James said that every good and perfect gift is from God (James 1:17). God is the only source of life. So if you are separated from him you are separated from every good gift and the only source of life.
When you talk about every good gift, in that would include even common things we take for granted, like even the air we have to breathe. The only option for somebody separated from the only source of life is death. God doesn’t need to kill somebody that is already dying. As a matter of fact, He leaves no stone unturned to rescue all who would respond to the convicting and leading of the Holy Spirit. He is constantly trying to guide us off of the path to destruction, but if somebody is determined to jump over every hurdle and go around every obstacle, then that is their choice.
Think about this too, if a child has cancer, do you hate the child or hate the cancer that is killing them? When Jesus died on the cross, God was killing the thing that was killing us. What was killing us? Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death…not God. Those that don’t obtain eternal life will do so because of the wrong belief they have, not because God is killing them.
Proof In Action
Ezekiel 16 – Picture of God Speaking To Fallen Man
To help reassure you of the way God deals with sinners, let’s take a look at some instances in the Bible.
Ezekiel 16 shows us God speaking to Jerusalem, but actually gives an awesome picture of God speaking to fallen man:
“‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!”[a] 7 I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.
8 “‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.
9 “‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. 10 I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. 11 I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, 12 and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.13 So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. 14 And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord. Ezek. 16:6-14 NIV.
Here are my paraphrased notes from Greg Henry on these verses:
“So He saw we were trampled under by death, in bondage to death, and He said live to us. He spoke a word to us that said live. This word in Hebrew means restored to life and health, to revive from death. When he saw us in bondage to death he spoke a word that was meant to restore us back to life. Does that sound like an angry God? In verse 8 he says behold, thy time is a time of love. This is the type of language a man would say to a woman when he could not help but want to be married and joined to her. This is fallen man he is speaking to.” ~ Greg Henry
The Woman Caught In Adultery
A while back I wrote a blog entitled God’s body language. In it I described how many people love to argue scriptures back and forth but don’t even consider if it lines up with what we have been shown in Jesus. It’s like when somebody says they’re doing good but their body language says something totally different. What’s more telling? The body language. With that in mind, look at what happened when Jesus was brought the woman caught in adultery:
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:3-11 NIV.
So we see here that the scriptures actually said to stone this woman, but Jesus said I don’t condemn you. Jesus was the Word of God. He judges no man according to the flesh, meaning by what they do or have. When he said “go and sin no more”, he was saying “go and no longer find the report of your life in the flesh.” Sin as defined in this context would be unbelief in God or as mentioned above, trusting in your own ability for life and not partaking of the gift God has given us. If what you think about how God deals with sinners doesn’t line up with what Jesus has shown us here, then you aren’t getting the clear picture of what He has shown us.
Isn’t It Just That God Punish Sinners Though?
Still, the argument that many have is that God is just and He has to punish sin. They say God can’t stand to be around sin. Really? Don’t we see Jesus hanging out with sinners and eating with them all the time in the Gospels? Bertie Brits gave a great analogy for this when he was in the U.S. this year. He said imagine if you needed a babysitter and somebody had a recommendation for you. They said this person they know is so holy that they can’t even stand to be around sin. If someone sins around them, they will just kill them because they just can’t stand it. Would you trust your children to somebody like that? Who could trust such a person? Yet this is the way most people, even Christians, think God is like. And we wonder why people have a hard time trusting God. For good measure, here’s a few more scriptures for you:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.. Romans 5:8 NIV
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 NIV
But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: Romans 5:20 KJV
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9.People say God can't stand to be around sin. Really? Don't we see Jesus around sinners all the time? Click To Tweet
I hope this blog helps give you a confident expectation of the way God deals with us. You don’t have to worry that you have committed too many sins for God or that you have committed a sin so big that God can’t forgive you. As the scriptures say, perfect love casts out all fear.
Now just so this is clear, I’m not preaching universalism, which states that basically everybody goes to heaven regardless of what they believe. Just because God sees you as beautiful does not give you eternal life. You still have to believe and put your trust in Jesus as your savior. Not everybody will believe in the finished work of Jesus, but just for the opportunity that they may, he went to hell and paid the price of sin for all of them. He died on the cross just to be with you, not change you. He would’ve done it if you were the only one. Jesus literally loves the hell out of you…if only you will let Him. There is much more to say about that and I’ll get more into why Jesus had to die next week.Jesus literally loves the hell out of you…if only you will let Him. #GodNeedsNewPR Click To Tweet
Song of the Week
The Gospel was intended to give you peace in your relationship with God. It should give you a confident expectation of the way God sees you and will deal with you. Unfortunately most are robbed of this because of the traditional way the Gospel is presented.
The cross is an expression of God’s love for you, not His anger. If you think God was mad at you, but now can love you because He got His anger for you out on Jesus, it will always be a struggle for you to believe God really loves you. The truth is you are beautiful in His eyes and have ALWAYS been that way. We forgot who we were and God came and reminded us of who are in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. He came to make the crooked things straight. God loves you just the way you are. The question is; can you believe it?