- Would a Good God Really Send People to Hell?
- John 3:16-21
- Lyndol Loyd June 23, 2019
Sometimes we have questions – big questions – that bounce around inside our minds, but we feel hesitant to ask them. Maybe it is because many people have asked questions and been shut down, led to think that questioning is wrong? Some people see questions as a sign of a weak faith. They discourage the practice of asking questions and don’t create an atmosphere where wondering is invited.
Jesus still loves to hear our questions. Those who ponder, wonder about or even question things do not bother God. He is ready to help us grapple with our concerns and wants us to discover that there are answers.
When we can’t find neat and tidy answers, He wants us to know that it is still healthy to dialogue.
For the past few weeks here at LakeRidge we have taken on some “God Size Questions,” the kind of questions that many of us have, but often feel reluctant to ask out of fear of what others might think or how it might make us look. Questions like:
- Does God Answer My Prayers?
- Does God Heal People Today?
- Why Is There Suffering? – Brian Brownlow
- Is Christianity Just a Straight Jacket? – Phil Worrall
Answers to these kinds of questions are not simple or simplistic. Only God has the vantage point needed to help us. He has a perspective like none other. This morning we are going forward in our series, we are tackling “Would a good God really send people to hell?” Are there really some people who are lost? I’ll just give you a heads up, this is going to be a very serious message.
I want to begin by actually putting it more personally, should people be afraid of hell? Should I, should you be afraid of hell?
Pretend for a moment that you have a teenager in your house who just got his driver’s license. For a parent, that can be a scary moment to think about your child out driving alone on the open road.
Imagine you’re teenage driver came to you and said, “I’m not planning on using a seatbelt or observing speed limits. I’m confident I can drink and drive. I also find driving an excellent time to do some texting.” Would you be concerned?
Or imagine your child said, “I’ve discovered I love to smoke. From the start of the day until I go to sleep, I’m happiest inhaling nicotine deep into my lungs. People say it’s bad, but I’m young and healthy.” Would you let that slide?
For sure, if I see somebody I love going down a road toward self-destruction, I want to ring the alarm as loud as I can. That’s what Jesus does, I believe.
You have been given a soul. You didn’t make it, didn’t ask for it, can’t destroy it, but here you are. You have been given a will, this remarkable ability to be able to choose, and part of what that means is you cannot evade responsibility for your life.
Every day, little bit by little bit by little bit you and I are turning into something. Our lives have a moral, spiritual trajectory. We are acquiring a character, and by the way, that process, the formation of the character of a soul is the most important process going on in the world. You are an eternal being. You will never cease to exist.
Should people be concerned about hell? Yes. We should be more afraid of hell than anything else in the world.
We should be afraid of becoming a lost soul. We should be afraid of choosing or drifting or growing into becoming the wrong kind of person. This is a real possibility, and it will be a reality for countless people who are simply choosing not to think about it right now because we live in a world that just doesn’t think about it much.
Our text comes from John 3:16-21. Many of us will know v.16 well, but how well do we know what comes after it? “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
To even ask the question, “Would a Good God Really Send People to Hell?” makes two assumptions if only for the sake of argument—there is a hell, and it is a bad place. There is a distinction I would like to make about hell that is important for our question today: hell is a Godless place.
God is not there. You see, “How could a loving God send people to hell?” is a question about the character of God.
The Bible, and certainly Jesus Himself, points at the existence of hell repeatedly; so if you are a believer, to say that there is no hell is simply an act of denial.
We could assert that there is a hell but that no one goes there. But Jesus repeatedly points out those people that are in danger of hell or certain ways of living which are leading people toward hell.
In Matthew 5:30 Jesus says, “…if your hand—even your strong hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
That points at the reality of hell, that some people will go there and the seriousness with which we are to deal with choices that are leading us down that path.
If we assert that there is a hell and people do go there, we are only left with one question. What is the character of a God who would send people to hell?
Scripture points out to us that God is:
- Loving (1 John 4:8)
- Good (Psalm 145:9)
- Merciful (Ephesians 2:4)
- Patient (2 Peter 3:9)
- Redemptive (Romans 6:23)
This does not negate that God is also:
- Holy (1 Peter 1:16)
- Righteous (Psalm 145:17)
- Just (Psalm 36:5-6)
These are the reasons that someone might point to as to why God sends people to hell. But God has satisfied the demands of His holiness, righteousness, and justness by His loving, good, patient, redemptive plan. To satisfy the price of humanity’s unholiness, unrighteousness, and lawlessness—God who is loving, good, merciful, and patient paid the price for us.
There is one other action of God that points to His character that must be highlighted—the incarnation. God’s desire to be near us was so great He came to be with us. When we could not go to Him, He came to us, and He came to us to give His life for us.
If this is the nature and character of God, why create hell? Because even though God’s great love and desire is to be near us, and even though we were created to be near God, God does not force us or make us love Him back or even force us to be near Him.
Hell exists because just as some choose to be with God, some will choose to be without God.
God does not want it. In fact, because we were created to be with God, hell wasn’t even created for us. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus says that hell was created for the devil and his angels—those who wanted to be without God.
Do you know what this means? A loving, good, merciful, patient, redeeming God never intended for anyone to go to hell—it is not His desire or design.
So why do people go to hell? God’s light came into the world, but the people loved the darkness more than the light for their actions were evil. A loving, good, merciful, patient, redemptive God makes a way for people to come to Him and find life—but some prefer death. Some prefer darkness. Hell is not a place God sends us to, hell is something we choose. God, in His judgment, lets us have what we choose.
One of the simplest ways to understand this that I know is this: every thought, every action, every attitude of the heart that we experience is either life-giving or life-taking. God’s way is life-giving. The world’s way, our way, is life-taking. There really are no neutral thoughts, actions, or attitudes. They are either life-giving or life-taking.
At birth, I am predisposed to life-taking decisions. But God is already at work in my life from the moment of conception, calling me, loving me, caring for me, and providing for me, standing in the path of my life-taking decisions. We Wesleyans refer to this a prevenient grace.
At some point, I come face to face with Him, and I am, by His grace, reoriented and changed toward life-giving (God’s way) and I begin to choose life-giving. He becomes the center of my life; He is the priority; He is the King. It doesn’t mean that I never choose life-taking, but my life has been transformed by God, and I desire and pursue life-giving.
Or I decide I don’t want to be near God, to walk with God, walking in life-giving ways. I want to be life-taking. I want it to be about me. I want a life with me as the center, with me as the priority, and with me as the king. When we do this God says, “Have it your way.” But you need to understand you get all that comes with having it your way, and that choice is choosing hell.
A few years ago there was a hit TV show “Breaking Bad.” It was the story of Walter White, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who, after receiving a terminal diagnosis, turns to cooking crystal meth to provide for his family. As he develops a taste for the trade, Walt slowly turns into a bold, but degenerate thug.
But the show didn’t soft-peddle the consequences of sin. The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, said, “If there’s a larger lesson to ‘Breaking Bad,’ it’s that actions have consequences. I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something.”
In one particular scene from the show, the biblical implications of Gilligan’s vision become clear. Walt’s younger accomplice, Jesse Pinkman, commits murder and then attends a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in hopes of finding relief.
After Jesse shares a thinly veiled version of his crime, the group leader counsels self-acceptance, “We’re not here to sit in judgment,” he says, to which Jesse explodes: “Why not? Why not? If you just do stuff and nothing happens, what’s it all mean? What’s the point? So no matter what I do, hooray for me because I’m a great guy? It’s all good? No matter how many dogs I kill, I just—what, do an inventory, and accept?”
In an interview, Gilligan would go on to reflect on his own internal struggle saying, “I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.” Even a secular television show can reflect the internal struggle we as human beings have with the concepts of hell and judgment.
Be assured that hell does not exist because God is stomping His feet like a little child saying, “Do it my way or else!” God is the most generous, loving, wonderful Being in the cosmos.
2 Samuel 14:14 says this, “All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him.”
God devises ways. God stays up at night. God wracks His brains. God sends moments, people, the beauty of creation, the fear of pain, the mystery of what it is that you should be alive, the inevitability of the day coming when you’re going to die to wake us up.
God’s ultimate way, the ultimate way God has devised is Jesus. For Jesus to come and be human like you and me, and to live a life, and to teach these amazing teachings, and then to die sacrificially on a cross. Somehow on that cross, He expresses God’s desire to forgive. Somehow in His suffering on that cross, He bears the reality of hell, sin, and death so that you and I don’t have to.
If anybody wants another way, they can repent of their sin and ask for forgiveness and newness of life, and God loves to give it. It’s really, really simple, Jesus saves. This is old, old, old, wonderful news that was proclaimed 2,000 years ago. Against all odds, Jesus saves. If you’ve never asked, what a great time to ask now.
If you’re thinking, “I can’t stand to think about people I love – my children, my friends – spending an eternity like that.” You get a tiny little glimpse of why Jesus would come to this earth and die on a cross and a tiny little glimpse of why your life is so unbelievably important; why you matter so much.
We are all nudging people in small ways, or in large ones, a little closer to God or a little farther from Him. A little more into the light or a little more into the darkness.
We exist as a church not to serve ourselves, not to provide services or music or programs or traditions people inside churches happen to like. Not even just to do good things in our community. We are here because human beings have souls, because heaven and hell are realities, because eternity is at stake, and Jesus saves.
Would you pray with me? If you have never prayed this and you’re ready to right now, you can just pray,
“Heavenly Father, I want to confess my sin, and if You would help me, I want to repent. I want to turn my life over to You. I want to ask You to be my Savior and my Forgiver, my Friend, my Guide. I want to be redeemed. I want to be the man, I want to be the woman, You made me to be, and I want to be with You through all eternity. Lord, help each of us to make the life-giving choices to follow You and live for you. May we live in the light, as You are the light. We ask and pray all of these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.”