Patheos answers the question:
Why is There a Hell if God is All-Loving?

The question of how an all-loving God could send anyone to hell is a question that has plagued Christians for centuries. Nearly every Christian has confronted the question at some point, and there are a variety of different answers. These answers may vary based on denomination, age, culture, and individual opinion. In short, there is no single satisfactory answer to the question of how a loving God could consign anyone to a realm of eternal and unending punishment.

Many Christians point out that hell is the reason that Jesus died on the cross. Because God is just and holy, he cannot simply forgive sin; human guilt must be made right, not just overlooked. Without Jesus, we would all be sent to the hell we deserve. Instead, however, anyone who is willing to accept the salvation of Christ will be spared from punishment. Those who refuse to accept Jesus also refuse their chance to enter heaven. Hell, then, is not so much a sentence handed down by God but a choice the individual makes. C.S. Lewis famously said that “the gates of hell are locked from the inside,” arguing that the person who ends up in hell would rather be there than in the presence of God.

The idea that accepting Jesus is required to escape hell does not sit well with everyone, nor does the thought that a good person who happened to be Jewish or Hindu would be consigned to hell simply because they were raised in another faith. Some Christians therefore think that hell is reserved only for the worst of the worst. Good people, sincere people, devout or loving people will of course be included in God’s heaven.

Still other Christians believe that hell is not the place of punishment that most assume it to be, but it is the complete annihilation of the person who has died. Rather than suffering for eternity, those who will not enter heaven simply will cease to exist after death. In other words, there are two things that can happen to a person after death. They can be raised up to heaven to live in eternal gladness, or they will simply remain dead or cease to exist.

Some suggest that those who are consigned to hell are not doomed to suffer there for eternity. They believe that all the souls in hell will eventually be saved and unified with the saints in heaven. Rather than being a place of eternal damnation, hell is the place where sinners face their just punishment and are refined into righteous souls. In this theory, hell is a temporary stop on the way to heaven. It is a deeply unpleasant and extremely long stop, but those who end up there are not doomed to spend eternity in torment.

There are any number of answers to how an all-loving God could send anyone to hell, but none of them is going to satisfy every Christian. Some people do not feel that there is an acceptable answer and so argue that hell simply does not exist. This idea, obviously, brings its own set of theological questions because scripture talks a great deal about eternal punishment, but that has not stopped it from being a popular answer to the question of hell.

Roman Catholicism teaches that there is a third possibility after death—purgatory. Read about that here.


2/5/2021 8:35:01 PM
About Kathleen Mulhern, Ph.D.
Kathleen Mulhern is a writer, editor, historian, speaker, and professor. She teaches courses in world history, European history, and history of Christianity. She has taught at Colorado School of Mines and Regis University, and is currently an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary in the areas of Church History and Spiritual Formation. Kathleen graduated with a B.A. from Wheaton College, earned an M.A. in French Literature from the University of Denver, an M.A. degree in Church History from Denver Seminary, and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Colorado.