God so loved the world that he made up his mind to damn a large majority of the human race. – Robert G. Ingersoll
If God is as loving as Christians make him out to be, why does he send people to Hell? Isn’t eternal punishment inconsistent with his moral character? I remember a time in my life when these issues poked at my faith like a persistent splinter. It was like a bad pop song I couldn’t get out of my head. I wondered if it was even possible to reconcile God’s love with Hell. How can a good God send individuals to a place of constant torment?
Then I began reading some of the writings of C.S. Lewis, among others, and eventually started to look at the issue of eternal punishment from a different perspective.
In his book, The Great Divorce, Lewis seeks to connect Hell and humanity’s eternal destiny with free will:
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.’ 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. To those who knock, it is opened (75).
Lewis here, shifts the “blame” from God to us. It’s not that God wants us to go to Hell, it’s that we want to go to Hell ourselves. The Bible constantly affirms God’s desire that all would experience new life in him (2 Pet 3:9, I Tim 2:4). One particularly powerful example comes through the writings of Ezekiel:
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezek 18:23, ESV)
God then, in the biblical sense, does not actively send others to Hell, they send themselves. Nothing would make God happier than for all to turn from darkness to light. Yet, he allows each individual the opportunity to choose their own destiny.
Keeping the doorway image alluded to earlier, Lewis adds to his thoughts on Hell in The Problem of Pain. “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of Hell are locked on the inside” (130).
It would seem that our eternal judgement, good or bad, only serves to solidify our heart’s inner yearnings. For Christians, the Kingdom of God lodged within their souls is fully realized upon death. For those who are not followers of Jesus, their rejection of God is merely allowed to run its course. Throughout their life, individuals who reject the message of Jesus are constantly telling God to leave them alone, only to wake up one day to find that he has.
Despite this rejection, God still grieves the loss of those who choose to separate themselves from him. God doesn’t get excited or throw a party when someone is sent to Hell. He isn’t sharpening a lightning bolt with your name on it. Stop and think for a moment on this. God grieves when individuals reject his grace and forge their own path to Hell.
It breaks his heart.
So to answer my initial question, “How Can a Good God Send People to Hell?” He doesn’t. Humanity does that all by themselves.
This is the second blog of a three section series on Hell. Check out the Introduction, Part I, and Part III.