Will a Loving God Condemn People to Hell?

It is a question that came my way recently: will God really condemn good people to hell? And the answer is yes. However, we need to approach the answer with some deliberate sensitivity. First, we need to assert three inviolable truths taught in Scripture:

(1) Hell exists. No matter how distasteful hell may be to think about and talk about, no one spoke about it more than Jesus. Hell, according to Jesus, is a state of eternal, destructive punishment, in which God's punishment is directly experienced. Some Scripture passages of Jesus' include references to hell as a place of weeping and grinding of teeth (Matt. 8:12), of incineration (Matt. 5:22), and torment (Luke 16:23). Appalling? Yes, and it is meant to have that effect upon us - striking with terror at the thought of what could lie ahead outside of God's forgiveness.

(2) Hell is certain for all who reject Jesus Christ. There must be no equivocation here, for Scripture is clear: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (Jn. 14:6); "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Speculations about what some call "anonymous Christianity" - that people are saved through Christ's work even if they have never heard of him - have no biblical basis whatsoever.

(3) Hell is a just punishment for sin. Low view of sin leads to questioning the appropriateness of such a drastic punishment as hell. "Good" people are sinners. On the scale of sinfulness, some are less sinful than others, nevertheless, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Truth is, we are all fit for hell unless God's mercy intervenes. We may find this truth harsh, and unremitting. It might offend our civility and sense of worth. But we tamper with Scripture's assessment of the human condition at our peril. To suggest otherwise seriously questions Jesus' competence (he was ignorant of human worth) or morality (knowing otherwise, he continued to frighten us by painting a darker picture than is the case). If Jesus is either of these, he is unworthy of our admiration let alone our faith.

This life's decisions are decisive. And our task as Christians is to proclaim the gospel to our fallen, guilty, hell-bent fellows. As Paul said, "I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish... I am eager to preach the gospel to you also ... For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:14-16). And again in Hebrews: "it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27).

It would be nice to think that hell does not exist, or that men and women may avoid it even if they do not have faith in Jesus Christ. But such thoughts are a delusion and, as J. I. Packer writes: "It is really a mercy to mankind that God in Scripture is so explicit about hell."