“How can a ‘loving God‘ condemn people to hell?”
That’s one of those questions that people searching for a lifeline against being “sucked in” to Christianity grasp at when looking for an excuse not to put their faith in Christ. (Better to call it a “death-line”, in this situation!) “If your God is so loving, how come there’s a hell at ALL? And why doesn’t He allow everyone into Heaven?”
The easy answer is to go back to Adam and Eve and original sin and “there are none who are good, not one”. And that’s true, as far as it goes. The essence of any good answer to that illiterate question is to turn it on its head – “It’s not that God condemns people to hell. It’s that we are already condemned to hell, and through His Son’s sacrificial death He paid our penalty if we choose to accept His payment to get us OUT of going to hell. He IS a loving God, and He suffered the wrath of punishment Himself for our sinful nature, just so we could go to Heaven when we die. If YOU choose to go to hell instead of accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior, that’s on YOU, not Him.”
(And the pedantic answer to the first part of that question is that hell was created not for humans but for the fallen angels who rebelled with Lucifer to try to take over Heaven. The idea that any humans would equate with those heinous, angelic sins is horrible – but there is no other place besides Heaven or hell after we die. There’s no “limbo”. There’s no “purgatory”. There’s no reincarnation. It’s an either-or situation.)
But there’s something deeper going on here that makes His Grace even more amazing.
God is at one time both a loving God and a just God. He must be both or else deny who He Is. It’s to this dichotomy that we’ve credited His plan of accepting the wrath of punishment on His Son as payment for our sins – “the only way to be both just and gracious”, we say.
But read Proverbs 17:15.
15 Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—
the Lord detests them both.
So, if the Lord detests acquitting the guilty…how can He possibly allow any salvation of the wicked to take place at all? It was “Radical” author David Platt who first pointed this verse out to me, through his connection with Arnie Cole’s Back To The Bible.
The answer comes from the apostle Paul, writing to the Roman faithful, in Romans 3:22-26. Some consider this paragraph to be the very heart of the Gospel – while I wouldn’t go that far, it’s important to understand how this solves the dichotomatic dilemma of God’s two countenances – just and loving.
22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
As is often the case, the ESV is clear without losing the meaning of the original Greek writing. “He did this (punishing Jesus in our stead) to demonstrate HIS righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand go unpunished.” It’s not that He didn’t punish people before the appearance of His Son on earth, but He put off punishing sins until now, knowing He would be paying the penalty eventually Himself. (I’m not sure how those who lived before Christ could worship Christ, but I presume loving “God” as they knew Him was satisfactory, just as those who have never heard the Gospel are judged by what they know of the glory of God through His Creation.)
“He did it to demonstrate His righteousness…so as to be JUST…”
God the Father required punishment for the sins committed. Remember, the basic result of the original sin was to cut ourselves off from God Himself – we no longer walked in the “cool of the evening with Him” as we did in the Garden of Eden. Sending us to Hell or otherwise collecting payment from any of us would be insufficient to pay for any other one of us, and it wouldn’t solve that basic and original problem! It had to be someone else – Someone Else – Who had not committed sins. Since no human being born of sinful man would ever be able to fulfill that requirement, God the Father had to send Himself to do the job. More specifically, He had to send Jesus down in human form – specifically born not of man – fully human but fully deity – able to withstand sinful desires with God’s strength – to fulfill that requirement.
Could He have simply punished all of us and been just? Yes. But He found a more loving way to have the punishment served and still address the original issue; so much more loving as to be beyond human belief, in fact. Imagine your father working off your bail money off. Imagine him hurting himself to teach you a lesson. And yet that’s exactly what God did for us. God took the punishment Himself.
But here’s the kicker – for you to receive the benefit of that, you have to accept the restoration of the relationship with Him. THAT is why He went to such a convoluted method of payment that allowed us to remain free of His direct punishment, yet acknowledge our sins and the payment for them: so we could by OUR choice come back to Him and reinstate that relationship with Him, debt paid, and come spend eternity with God as He originally intended.
We must accept our sinful nature, accept that Jesus paid the debt that comes with that sinfulness, and accept God within us (in the form of the Holy Spirit) “walking with us in the cool of the day” and always in this world, guiding us to become more like His Son through our walk with Him.
Jesus paid the debt for our future sins as well, but ONLY as the payment for sins made in the attempt to walk like Christ. They knew we would fail as long as we were wearing these sinful flesh garments, but God the Father could overlook errors made in honest attempt as long as they’re clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
If we’re abusing His grace, God’s justice demands that our punishment remain in force – we haven’t accepted Jesus’ payment as being for OUR sins, since we choose to continue committing those sins as if payment had never been made.
The point of God’s GRACE is to not only better serve His JUSTICE, but to reinstate the situation before the original sin: our oneness with Him.
If we choose not to reunite with Him… our punishment remains in place. Simple as that.