A good God could not send people to Hell. Therefore, Christianity is not true.
Or something like that. This is one of the most common objections I hear amongst students today when it comes to Christianity. And I can’t say it ever catches me by surprise. I wrestle with the concept of an eternal place of punishment too. Does anybody ever really want to believe in such a horrific place? I don’t.
Still, I can’t help but think that it’s mere emotion and pride that keeps many of us from accepting the possibility of a Hell, or that all of us deserve to go there. The claim is that a good God would not send people to Hell. There are a few major problems with this line of reasoning.
First, this is an incredibly audacious claim. In effect, we are saying that God would be morally corrupt if he sent people to Hell. Why? Because we say so. And therein lies the problem. We are saying that we know better than God, and that his morality is subject to ours. In other words, we have made ourselves God with this very statement. We have claimed that our perception of morality is perfect and God’s morality must conform to ours. This is a very troubling claim given the mess we have made of this world. It must be recognized that a morally imperfect being should be expected to disagree with a morally perfect being. Surely any disagreement therein, however, cannot be blamed on the morally perfect being.
It is worth noting here that it would be impossible for there to be a God who is anything other than good. Since our existence depends upon God, our concepts of good and evil completely and utterly rely on him as well. His very being is the standard by which we can assess what is right and what is wrong (see previous post). This means that the concept of an evil God is literally impossible. His very existence (and our existence being contingent upon him) make him the standard of good. Morality would not otherwise have anything to be compared to. Therefore, we could never be in a position to challenge his goodness.
Second, the real reason why we cannot fathom the concept of God and Hell existing simultaneously is because we do not believe we deserve to go there. Why? Because we are not murderers or rapists (most of us). In other words, because we are not as bad as other people. We are not evil compared to other humans. This is problematic because we are not being compared with other humans when we talk about Hell. We are being compared with God himself. Do you think you fall short when compared with perfection?
Of course, nobody wants to believe that they deserve Hell. But wanting something to be true by no means makes it so. After I have done something unmistakably wrong, I don’t find it so hard to believe that I deserve to face God’s justice. We don’t like the idea of Hell because we want to justify ourselves.
Third, if God did not punish evil, he could not be God. Many people object that a God of love would forgive freely. However, this is placing one of God’s attributes above others because it ignores God’s justice and righteousness. It is inconsistent and incredibly biased to put the emphasis on God’s love when it benefits us, but to conveniently ignore his justice. Another common objection is that Hell is overkill. But how could we, beings whose entire existence depends upon God, determine what is overkill? The inmates shall not run the asylum. Yet another objection is that Hell is like God’s torture chamber. As noted above, however, God himself is the standard by which our entire existence is measured and is thus the only one who rightly judges and punishes right and wrong. If a human ran Hell, it would be torture because humans do not have the authority to ultimately judge right and wrong. If God is perfect and I have disobeyed him, however, then I should not expect to be rewarded for my efforts. Likewise, If Heaven involves living in perfect relationship with God for all eternity, it seems perfectly logical that Hell would be precisely the opposite. And if I have a problem with that, all this shows me is that I don’t take my evil as seriously as God does.
Fourth, even though all humans deserve to face God’s justice, in Christianity, he offers freedom from this punishment. What is unjust is not that we pay for our evil choices. What is unjust is God paying for what we deserve. In Jesus, we see perfect harmony between God’s love and his justice. God does not send people to Hell. He goes completely out of his way, with no obligation, to suffer and die by crucifixion, offering us free forgiveness that we do not deserve. It would seem from this perspective that in fact people choose Hell for themselves by rejecting God’s free gift. But what about the person who grows up in a culture or geographic region where they do not have the ability to hear about Jesus? For one, neither they nor we deserve to be forgiven in the first place. There is no such obligation for an undeserved gift to be accessible to anyone, let alone everyone. Secondly, it seems reasonable that an all-powerful God could make a way for his free gift to be accessible even to those in such conditions. Third, this should only increase the urgency by which one takes this message to the ends of the earth rather than disqualifying it out of dislike.
Hell is justifiably a horrific concept. It should be. This fact, however, does not mean that Hell’s existence is evil. It merely means we don’t want us or anybody else to go there. According to Christianity, neither does God. Does disliking the idea of Hell mean it’s not real?
Why does Hell really bother you?