Why Would A Loving God Send People to Hell?

Bible Book: Matthew  25
Subject: Judgment; Hell; God, Loving

Matthew 25:31-34, 41, 46

31 – “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory.

32 – All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

33 – He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.

34 – Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’

41 – Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’

46 – Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

When I was a chaplain in the National Guard—back in the late 80’s—another chaplain told me there is a school deep in the desert southwest where American soldiers train for war. It’s set up to appear to be very real but instead of bullets they have guns like those used in laser tag. Even the tanks use those kinds of harmless weapons—so no one gets hurt unless they get bit by a rattlesnake or something. But, once you are “tagged” by the enemy—once you are declared dead—you are told to go to a special roped off area—and wait under a tarp they’ve put there for that purpose. Since these soldiers are “dead” and since the dessert is very HOT, this tarped area is referred to as “HELL.” This chaplain said that HELL is a great place to talk to soldiers about their eternal destiny. He said that soldiers are very receptive to the Gospel message in this “fake Hell” because they know they might die on a REAL battlefield someday and end up in the REAL Hell.

Well, the fact is civilians tend to not be as open to talking about Hell as these soldiers. In fact, even the existence of Hell is a stumbling block for many. Its existence is their excuse for NOT choosing to believe in God. The late Chuck Templeton, former evangelist—turned atheist—once said, “I couldn’t hold someone’s hand to a fire for a moment. Not an instant! How could a loving God, just because you don’t obey Him and do what He wants, torture you forever—not allowing you to die, but forcing you to continue in that pain for eternity? There is no criminal who would do this!”

And Templeton is not the only one who has embraced this attitude. Many people deal with this. They wonder, “Why would a loving God send people to a horrible place like that? Doesn’t it seem cruel and unfair that God would sentence people to an eternal damnation?”

This morning I’m beginning a series of sermons that seek to answer questions like this one—questions many people have about God and faith. The goal of this first message is to deal with this question that many people have about Hell. So let’s get to it by looking at what the Bible teaches about this “hot topic.”

I. Hell is a Real Place

All kidding aside, the first thing I would say is that God’s Word tells us that Hell is indeed a REAL place.

Hell is NOT a myth. It’s not a place invented by film directors to spice up their horror movies—or a story created by parents to scare their children into obedience. No—THROUGHOUT God’s Word, we are taught that Hell does indeed exist. Psalm 9:17 says, “The wicked shall be turned into Hell, and all the nations that forget God.” Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Revelation 20:15 says, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the Lake of Fire.”

Another thing—many people may not realize it but the truth is, Jesus had MORE to say about Hell than all the other Biblical writers combined. The great preacher, Vance Havner once told of a time he preached on the subject of Hell and after his sermon one of his listeners criticized his message by saying, “Rev. Havner, I don’t think you should preach any more fire and brimstone. You should preach about the meek and mild Jesus.” Havner replied, “But, He’s the one Who gave me all the information about Hell in the first place!” And Havner is right. Most of what we know about Hell comes from the lips of our Lord. Jesus REPEATEDLY warned people not to go to this horrible, place where in Matthew 8:12 He says, “…there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” So, according to this Book of Truth, there is no doubt about it. Hell is an ACTUAL place.

Several years ago a traffic officer gave a ticket to a woman in Brooklyn. And when the officer handed it to her through the window, she snapped it out of his hands and said, “You can go straight to Hell!” Well, because of her behavior the officer took the woman to court. A few days later they both appeared before the judge and he dismissed the officer’s complaint about her language. The judge said, and I quote, “It wasn’t a COMMAND, or a WISH, but a statement of FACT, for going to Hell is a possibility.”

Now, I think this woman deserved punishment for the way she disrespected the officer but the judge was correct. Going straight to Hell is a possibility—you CAN go there—because it is a REAL place. Paul Powell writes, “It is sobering to consider that every person who has ever lived, every person now living, and every person who will ever live shall continue to live throughout all eternity either in Heaven or Hell.”

And you know—I think that deep inside most people BELIEVE that Hell is real. This is one reason Hell is such a popular CURSE WORD. I mean—think about it. Why not say, “What the JAIL are you doing?” or “I sure as SCHOOL will!” And why didn’t that angry woman say to the cop, “You can go straight—to DERWOOD!”

No—we use the word, “Hell” instead—because the words, “jail,” “school,” and “Derwood,” have no real STING. When it comes right down to it, in the English language, Hell is the strongest expletive available, because inside we all know that it is a real place of ultimate deprivation, devastation, fear, torment, punishment, suffering, and loss. I mean, it’s the BEST word to use when wishing the WORST possible fate on another person.

II. Hell is an Eternal Place

A second thing the Bible teaches—is that Hell is an ETERNAL place.

In other words, there is no second chance once you get there. There are no exit doors in Hell. As we read in our text, “Then they [meaning those who have REJECTED Jesus] will go away to ETERNAL punishment, but the righteous [those who have ACCEPTED Jesus] to ETERNAL life.” (Matthew 25:46)

Do your remember Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus? The rich man discovered that between Heaven and Hell “…a great chasm has been FIXED…” so that those who want to leave cannot do so. (Luke 16:26) The word “fixed” here, tells us that in Hell everything is permanent—immovable. There is no growth, no change, and worst of all, there is no HOPE. As Proverbs 11:7 says, “When a wicked man dies, his HOPE perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing.”

This is because THIS LIFE—the one we are living now—has an END but eternity lasts FOREVER—which is why they call it “ETERNITY!” Death marks the final separation between time and eternity so, it’s not what happens AFTER you die but what happens BEFORE that makes all the difference. By their very nature, ETERNAL destinies cannot be changed. Once in Hell, always in Hell. Once in Heaven, always in Heaven. As M. R. DeHaan put it, “Once we have passed through the door of death, we can’t pick up our suitcase and move out because we don’t like the accommodations.”

Of course some people feel that God SHOULD let people do that. He should give the people in Hell—people who have experienced its horrors—a second chance. In his book, The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel asked Dr. J. P. Moreland, about this. Moreland said that God values our FREE WILL too much to give us a second chance once we have seen Hell. He says that any decision someone in Hell would make would not be a genuinely FREE choice. It would be coerced. It would be like holding a paddle over one of our children and saying, “You will say you’re sorry for hitting your brother!” Any apology under those circumstances would not be a real apology. It would be just avoidance. PLUS—people who would “choose” a second chance would not really be choosing God, His kingdom, or His ways. No—they’d be making a prudent “choice” to avoid judgement only—not a choice to follow God. As the saying goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
(3) So, Hell, is a REAL place—an ETERNAL place—and third, the Bible teaches that Hell is a place of SUFFERING and DESPAIR.

Let me try to describe—as accurately as possible—the anguish that people in Hell experience.

A. First, they suffer EMOTIONALLY.

The word, “gehenna” is often used in Scripture to give us a PICTURE of Hell and it is a word that referred to a deep valley outside the city of Jerusalem. In Jesus’ day it was a GARBAGE DUMP that smoldered 24 hours a day, year after year. And—I think one thing Jesus was telling us when He used this word is that people in Hell will realize they threw their lives away. They’ll know they invested their days in GARBAGE. As I mentioned earlier Jesus said that in Hell there will be, “weeping and GNASHING of teeth.”

Bill Hybels says that “gnashing of teeth” is much like what we do when we say, “Arrrgh!” It’s a sound of REGRET—like I make when I get see the flash in my rear view mirror and realize I just got nabbed by one of those speed cameras. I say, “Arrrgh! I forgot that was there! That’s 40 bucks down the drain!” Then I weep my teeth all the way home. Well, in Hell people will constantly be thinking and saying, “Arrrgh! I blew it! I blew it! I messed up! How could I have been so stupid!?” And in Hell this kind of feeling will never stop. ERWIN LUTZER says that, “…Hell is the place of unquenchable, raging, unmet emotional needs, without painkillers or sedation. Hell is a place of ETERNAL REGRET.” Lutzer is right. Hell will be—Hell IS even now—a place of constant EMOTIONAL agony. Do you remember how the rich man in Jesus’ parable REGRETTED his life?

B. The Bible also tells us that Hell will be a place where people endure PHYSICAL agony.

In the story of Lazarus and the Rich man, you may remember that in Hell the rich man asked Lazarus about the possibility of receiving the treasured relief—of a single drop of water. He didn’t ask for a barrel or a jar or a thermos or a cup or a gulp. He says that just a drop would be precious beyond description. And the Bible says this kind of physical anguish will go on and on and on because nothing stops in eternity. You know, sometimes when I experience physical pain, I can discipline myself. When I run and get a pain in my side or the pain of a shin splint, I can discipline myself such that I no longer feel the pain. I breathe differently—I change my pace—and the pain goes away. But pain doesn’t go away in Hell—ever. As Erwin Lutzer points out, “The most sobering thought that could ever cross our minds is the fact that the rich man in Hell has not yet received the drop of water for which he so desperately longed.”

Now, I know what many of you are thinking right now—because I’m thinking the same thing. I struggle with the existence of a place of literal fire and eternal physical pain.

And—many Christian scholars who are just as conservative as I am do as well. They say that when Jesus described Hell as a place, “…where the WORM does not die and the FIRE is not quenched…” (Mark 9:48)—well, they say that our Lord was being SYMBOLIC. And they may be right—but understand—even if they are, they aren’t saying that Hell is NOT as bad as a literal lake of fire where you burn in agony for all eternity. No—by believing these words are symbolic they are saying Hell is WORSE than that. That’s the way it is with SYMBOLS.

Take my wedding ring as an example. It’s a symbol of my marriage to Sue. It’s gold reminds me how precious my marriage is. It’s carved to look like woven bonds to symbolize the strength of our commitment. It’s even worn smooth which shows that I’ve been wearing it now for 36 wonderful years. But with all this—my ring doesn’t come close to the REALITY of my marriage. Symbols never do. So if Jesus was using FIRE and WORMS as symbols—then the real thing is FAR WORSE.

I’ve heard people like billionaire Ted Turner and rock star Marilyn Manson say they prefer to go to Hell because they’ll be more comfortable there—after all that’s where their friends will be. Well—no one is comfortable in Hell. It is indeed a place of eternal agony.

C. But the worst kind of agony in Hell will not be emotional or even physical. It will be SPIRITUAL.

You see, God’s presence won’t be felt there. Now—think of that for a moment. Right now, the most ungodly, insensitive of all sinners still benefits from living in an age where God’s grace shines on the just and the unjust. The worst sinners still look out—even through prison bars—at a blue sky and the glory of the fall leaves. In this age that we live in, God is still restraining evil and working miracles in people’s lives. He’s still monitoring the flow of History. He’s still working out His purposes. But in Hell, God doesn’t intervene any more. And perhaps this is why the Bible pictures Hell as a place of “…utter darkness.” Maybe this is why it’s called “a bottomless pit” — to say that every moment you fall further and further away from the only Source of goodness and help and truth and love.

The poet CATHERINE DANGELL describes Hell like this:

“Hell! The prison house of despair. Here are some things that won’t be there;

No flowers will bloom on the banks of Hell, no beauties of nature we love so well;

No comforts of home, music, and song, No friendship of joy will be found in that throng;

No children to brighten the long, weary night; No love, nor peace, nor one ray of light!

No blood-washed soul with face beaming bright, No loving smile in that region of night;

No mercy, no pity, pardon, nor grace, No water; O God, what a terrible place!

The pangs of the lost no human can tell, Not one moment’s ease—there is no rest in Hell”

Mrs. Dangell’s poem is right on the money because James 1:6 tells us that God is the Author of EVERY good and perfect gift—and to be eternally separated from His presence—is to be eternally separated from all things good and beautiful and comforting.

III. Hell is a Necessary Place

So, Hell is a real place, an eternal place, a place of suffering and despair—but Hell is also a NECESSARY place.

It is a place that makes sense because you see, TRUE justice demands there be a Hell. I mean, there HAS to be a reward for good behavior and a punishment for evil behavior or the moral compass of the universe would be turned upside down. The rich man in Jesus’ parable knew himself well enough to know that what he was experiencing in Hell was fair and just. Remember? He said nothing about how UN-fair it was for him to be there. He complained about the pain but he didn’t even hint that he felt it was unjust for him to end up in that horrible place. Plus—he asked Abraham to warn his brothers to change the way they were living because if they didn’t they would DESERVE the same fate as he.

And—I think all people realize this—we are wired by our holy and JUST God to know that wrong must be punished. I once read an interview with a woman whose daughter had been brutally raped and then murdered. The perpetrator was blatantly unrepentant. He even laughed at the woman whose little girl he had tortured. After the trial the mother told the reporters she didn’t want the death penalty because she wanted the knowledge that every single hour of every single day for the rest of his miserable life—his horrible man would pay for his crime. For her, JUSTICE demanded a lifetime of incarceration and retribution.

We are all like this woman. We want a God of justice. We don’t want a God who will let people who get rich by starving children go unpunished. Mark Buchannan writes, “Who would worship a God Who could look out at the world’s callous brutality and simply say, ‘Oh well, boys will be boys. Six-year-old children are being taken from their families and forced into a live of slavery in Ghana. Ten-year-old girls are being sold into prostitution in Bangkok. Oh well.’

Who wants a “god” like that?” Well, he’s right. No one does! We all want a God of justice. We yearn for Him to right ALL the wrongs of ALL time and that’s one reason a place like Hell is necessary. Plus—as I said earlier—there has to be a place where God is NOT for people to go who have said they want nothing to do with Him.

Okay—quickly, how should we respond to the Bible’s teaching about Hell?

Well, as Christians, it should give us a passion to share our faith. The reality of Hell should compel us to take every opportunity to share our experience of what God has done in our lives and what He waits to do in the lives of all who will accept Him. British evangelist Rico Tice tells about a time he was in Australia to visit a friend. He says,“My friend took me to a beach on Botany Bay, so I decided I had to go for a swim. I was just taking off my shirt when he said: ‘What are you doing.’ I said: ‘I’m going for a swim.’ He said: ‘What about those signs?’ And he pointed me to some signs I’d not really noticed—signs that said, ‘Danger: Sharks!’ With all the confidence of an Englishman abroad, I said: ‘Don’t be ridiculous— I’ll be fine.’ He said: ‘Listen mate, 200 Australians have died in shark attacks—you’ve got to decide whether those shark signs are there to save you or to ruin your fun. You’re of age—you decide.’ I decided not to go for a swim. The reason Jesus died was so that people wouldn’t have to go there. The only way to get to Hell is to trample over another ‘sign’ — the cross of Jesus.”

He’s right! Knowing how horrible a place Hell is should make us RUN to the lost to share our faith. We should EAGERLY accept invitations to serve in open light basketball in the ROC. We should JUMP at ANY opportunity to build relationships with lost people so we can tell them about Jesus. I mean, the thought that someone would spend eternity in this place should break our hearts. Robert Dale once said, “The only man I can listen to preach on Hell is D. L. Moody, because I have never heard him talk of it without breaking down and weeping.” Have you ever wept for a family member or spouse or co-worker or friend who is rejecting God?

Now—you’ve probably noticed that I still haven’t answered the question of the day so let’s get to it. How can a loving God send people to this horrible, eternal place known as Hell?

Well, when someone asks that QUESTION they are starting out with the wrong ASSUMPTION. You see, Hell is not a place that God created out of anger or frustration with man. It is not a place where a sadistic omnipotent tyrant takes out his frustration on helpless creatures. No—Hell is a place where people are allowed to live with the consequences of their own choices—dire as they may be.

IV. Hell is a Place of Choice

You see the most important thing for people to understand about Hell is that it is a place where people go as a result of THEIR willful CHOICE—not God’s.

I once read of a time when Vice President Calvin Coolidge was presiding over the Senate and one senator angrily told another senator to go, “straight to Hell.” The offended senator complained to Coolidge as presiding officer and the Vice President looked up from the book he had been leafing through while listening to the debate and wittily replied, “I’ve been looking through the rule Book and it says you don’t have to go there.” Well, Coolidge is right. No one has to go to Hell. It is their choice. As Isaiah 59:2 says, “It is our sin—not God—that separates us from Him.” Listen. God hates HELL. The only thing He hates more is for people to choose to go there. GOD doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell—which is why He sent Jesus to die for our sin. On the cross Jesus took on Himself the punishment due to US for our sinful choices.

One reason we share communion is to remind us of this truth. As we do, let me invite all Christians present to partake with us. After all, even if you are not a member of this church, if you are a Christian, if you are His, this is Yours.

C. S. Lewis has said that in the end there are just two kinds of people—those who say to God, “Thy will be done.” and enter into the joy of the Lord—and those to whom God says with tears, “Thy will be done,” and lets them walk into the dark.

Listen. The decision to enter Heaven or Hell is ours to make. That is how seriously God takes our personal freedom. That’s how much He loves us. You see, precisely because God is love—not in spite of it—Hell is possible. Those in Hell are there because they refused or ignored God’s love; they are solely responsible for their condition. God does not send man to Hell. Sin does. And man sends himself in choosing sin. As Lewis also said, “If the doors of Hell are locked, they are locked from the inside.” You see, Hell is more than a PUNISHMENT. It is the end of a path that we choose to take when we reject the salvation and forgiveness that Jesus offers us and, in that choice, continue to live our lives apart from God. This means that non-Christian people are HEADED for Hell even while living because they are already experiencing separation from God.

I’m reminded of the story I read once about a man who fell down the elevator shaft of a very tall building. About half way down a friend shouted, “How’s it going?” And the man replied, “So far so good!” People are so busy with life in this fallen world of ours that they don’t realize that even now they are falling. It’s just that they haven’t hit bottom yet. You see, we are all born in sin. We are born damned—on our way down to death and destruction. God is not cruel. He is merciful and we know this because He offers us a most amazing merciful deal while we are still alive and falling. Those who face Hell do so because they reject this deal. They say “No thanks” to the salvation offered through Jesus Christ.


So—as I said—the answer to today’s question is NO. God does not send people to Hell. Men and women send themselves there. Hell is a place for people who, in their decision to reject Christ, say they would prefer to spend eternity away from God. Well, what about you? Where are you headed at this moment? Are you still falling further and further from God? If so—then listen. At this very moment Jesus is reaching out to save you—to forgive you of your sin and bring you into close relationship with God. So accept Jesus’ offer. Remember—God will forgive any sin that we ask Him to…but He will not forgive our sinful choice to reject His Son—the Christ. And please understand—this is not a choice you can avoid. Refusing to choose is the same thing as choosing to say “NO” to God. So—don’t put this off. Decide now to reach out to Jesus. Ask Him to come into your heart and life as Lord and Savior and in that decision stop falling and begin even now to experience a taste of Heaven. And then, if you are a Christian here this morning, you may see your need to go to a friend or family member—someone who is not a Christian…and is headed for this horrible place. You may want to come forward and ask me to pray with you for this person. If you are looking for a church home—a place where you can deepen your closeness to God, and if you feel so led, come and join us. However God leads, won’t you come as we stand and sing?