Monday, April 30, 2007

How can a loving God send somebody to Hell?


The problem of Hell is one of the most emotional issues for Christians sharing their faith.
This is a very unpleasant thing that many people do not want to hear, but sometimes the most loving thing is to tell a person something unpleasant so that they can avoid it. It is unpleasant for a physician to tell his patient that he has cancer; but it is the most loving thing to be honest and tell the patient that he has cancer, so that his cancer can be treated and possibly cured. Likewise, a person may not want to hear about Hell, but the most loving thing is not to avoid the subject but to honestly answer it.
Several times I have seen Larry King interview Christians, and ask them, “Do you believe that a person who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ is going to Hell?” Being asked that question almost feels like being asked, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Any simple answer will make you sound bad, and many ministers have squirmed under that question. Joel Osteen answered it very poorly.
Here is a portion of the transcript interview between Larry King and Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas, which aired June 20, 2005, on CNN...
[Read the rest of this sermon in the first comment below:]

4 comments:

Brother Bob said...

"The Problem of Hell: How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?"
(John 3:36)

INTRODUCTION: The problem of Hell is one of the most emotional issues for Christians sharing their faith.

This is a very unpleasant thing that many people do not want to hear, but sometimes the most loving thing is to tell a person something unpleasant so that they can avoid it. It is unpleasant for a physician to tell his patient that he has cancer; but it is the most loving thing to be honest and tell the patient that he has cancer, so that his cancer can be treated and possibly cured. Likewise, a person may not want to hear about Hell, but the most loving thing is not to avoid the subject but to honestly answer it.

Several times I have seen Larry King interview Christians, and ask them, “Do you believe that a person who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ is going to Hell?” Being asked that question almost feels like being asked, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Any simple answer will make you sound bad, and many ministers have squirmed under that question. Joel Osteen answered it very poorly.

Here is a portion of the transcript interview between Larry King and Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas, which aired June 20, 2005, on CNN:

KING: What if you're Jewish or Muslim, you don't accept Christ at all?

OSTEEN: You know, I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know ...

KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They're wrong, aren't they?

OSTEEN: Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God with judge a person's heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don't know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don't know. I've seen their sincerity. So I don't know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus. (CNN LARRY KING LIVE, Interview With Joel Osteen, Aired June 20, 2005 - 21:00 ET. Transcript available online: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0506/20/lkl.01.html)

How can a loving God send people to Hell? Five times Joel Osteen told Larry King, “I don’t know.” But according to the Bible, you can know.
There are several answers to this question, but it’s not a simple answer, so stay with me for the whole answer. I promise I won’t waffle like Joel Osteen.



I. Hell was made for the devil and his angels



In Matthew 25, Jesus makes a tells a parable about separating sheep who go to Heaven from goats who go to Hell, and in verse 41 Jesus makes a very important statement about Hell:
"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.” [italics mine] (Matthew 25:41)

Notice that Hell was not made for people; it was prepared for the devil and his angels. God does is not a vengeful God who wants to send people to Hell. Ezekiel 33:11: "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they should turn from their ways and live...."

This idea that God is a vengeful God who wants to get His pound of flesh is a total misunderstanding of the heart of God. Not at all!

Recently the front page of the Savannah newspaper reported that the Catholic pope was reconsidering the idea of unbaptized babies going into limbo rather than heaven. (“Pope: unbaptized babies may go to heaven, not limbo,” Savannah Morning News, April 21, 2007.) We should be clear that the Bible tells us that infants who die go to heaven. When King David’s baby died, David said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:22-23) Clearly David understood, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that his child went to Heaven.

When Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem, He looked over the city and wept, for He knew they would reject Him, and Jesus said that the days would come when their enemies would build an embankment against the city and destroy everyone in the city. In the year A.D. 70, over a million Jews died when the Romans besieged the rebellious city of Jerusalem. (Luke 19:41-44)

God is not a cruel God who wants to send people to Hell. However, when the devil rebelled against God and was cast out of Heaven, God prepared a place for him and his demons to go. We call that place Hell. So Hell is a place for those who rebel against God.

II. We all deserve Hell, but God has made a way to escape Hell

Although Hell was made for the devil and the demons, the fact is that all of us deserve to go to Hell, too, because we have all sinned.

Even people who say they don't believe in Hell don't expect Adolf Hitler or the 9/11 terrorists to be in Heaven with them. If God allowed such unrepentant murderers into Heaven, we would cry out against God that He was unjust. Thus, most of us agree that at least some people must be destroyed because of their sin. Those awful murderers deserve Hell, we say. What about those who murdered somebody in a sudden fit of temper? Do they deserve Hell the same as premeditated murderers?
How about those awful child molesters and perverts? Don’t they deserve Hell, too? What about those bad parents who beat their children? What about parents who curse their children like that actor, Alec Baldwin, who was recently recorded on tape ranting at his daughter? When is the sin not bad enough to deserve Hell? Where do we draw the line?

In 2004, when John Kerry was running for president, he said that Saddam Hussein deserved a “special place in hell.” Kerry was right. But he stopped short. President Bush deserves a special place in hell, along with every Republican in Congress. Not only that, but every Democrat, even John Kerry himself, deserves a special place in hell. You see, we ALL deserve to go to hell. (Samuel Smith, “Kerry’s ‘special place in hell,’” Baptist Press, September 29, 2004.)

We tend to think that some people’s sins are so bad that they deserve Hell. But we think our own sin and the sins of people like us are not so bad, so we tend to think that if God sends us to Hell, God is not being loving. We cannot have it both ways. If we expect God to be just with murderers and child molesters, then we must expect God to be just with us, as well. And the fact is that we have sinned, and justice demands our punishment. 2 Chronicles 6:36 says, “There is no one who does not sin.” Romans 3:10 says, “There is none righteous; no, not one.” Romans 3:23 reminds us, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And God cannot ignore sin, and we have greatly underestimated the seriousness of our own sin. All sin is revolting to God. Isaiah 59:2 says that our iniquity separates us from our God. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
God takes sin seriously, and so should you and I. Hanging on to just a little bit is dangerous. Someone here may be hanging on to a sin, thinking it will be okay. God warns you that it is serious, and should be rooted out. Jesus said, "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out 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." (Matthew 5:29)

We all deserve to go to Hell because we are sinners, but God has made a way to escape Hell by His Son, Jesus Christ.
It is precisely because God cannot ignore sin that he sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay for our sins. Jesus' perfect sacrifice satisfied God's holiness and justice, and at the same time expressed God's love and mercy.
God in His justice cannot ignore sin, but in His mercy, He has provided a way to be forgiven through faith in Christ.

When a sorry tax collector named Zacchaeus repented and made restitution, Jesus said with joy that salvation had come to his house. If we will repent, God will show us mercy.
In Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice, a Jew named Shylock insists on getting justice, and Portia replies:
"Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy!"
(William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene i, lines 197-200.)
How about you? Do you pray for mercy? Jesus said, "Unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Luke 13:3)

III. God does not send anybody to Hell; people choose Hell when they reject Christ



“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36, NIV)

John Milton, in his classic epic, Paradise Lost, has Satan say, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." In other words, Satan made the choice that He would rather have his own way and go to Hell than obey God and go to Heaven. And those who decide to reject Christ have made the same choice.

The Bible does not support Calvinistic doctrine of double-edged predestination, a doctrine that even many Calvinists do not hold. This doctrine says that some people are already predetermined to go to Heaven and some predetermined to go to Hell before they are born. Listen! This contradicts scripture, for God made Hell for Satan, and does not desire that any human go there.

2 Peter 3:9: "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:14: “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Anybody who goes to Hell has decided to go there. Few if any have consciously said, “I want to go to Hell.” But they have said, “I want to be happy on my own terms—not on God’s terms.” This is simply not possible. And by rejecting Christ, they have chosen the only alternative—Hell.

Moses reminded them in Deuteronomy 30:15, 19: "See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction...I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life..."

Now the choice is ours whether or not to avoid the wrath of God upon sin.

The famous Actress, Katharine Hepburn, died in 2003, at the age of 96. She had won four Academy Awards, but she was totally unconcerned about her eternal reward. In a 1990 interview, Hepburn told The Associated Press: "I'm what is known as gradually disintegrating. I don't fear the next world, or anything. I don't fear hell, and I don't look forward to heaven.'' (iafrica.com, 6-30-03; and ctnow.com, 7-1-03)

C.S. Lewis wrote a book that described this kind of attitude, called The Great Divorce. It is not about divorce in marriage; it is about the divorce, or separation, between Heaven and Hell. It is an imaginary tale of a group of people who took a round trip tour bus ride from Hell to Heaven and back. In the book, some of the people chose Hell because they didn't like the values of Heaven. The Teacher says in the book, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it." ( C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, p. 72)
God is both loving and just. Because God is loving, He does not wish for anybody to be destroyed. But because He is just, He must destroy sin. God is patient, waiting for mankind to repent and turn to Christ, but those who reject Christ have chosen Hell.
God does not send anybody to Hell; people choose Hell when they reject Christ.

CONCLUSION: I recently read a book called 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese. Mr. Wiese claims that God took him from his bed in the wee hours of the morning on November 23, 1998 and put him in Hell for 23 minutes, and then brought him back to his bed. He woke up screaming and told his wife what he experienced.

Wiese said he was thrown in a rough stone prison cell fifteen by fifteen feet, and there he came face to face with four enormous beasts with scales and enormous claws. He was completely naked and totally vulnerable. Then the cell went completely dark, and he knew the beasts were in the room with him, but he could not see them. The beasts threw him against the wall like a rag doll, and then ripped his flesh out of his chest until it hung like ribbons. He experienced excruciating pain, yet death would not come.

Next Bill he found himself next to an enormous pit with an open cavern, as flames leaped up from the pit and pitiful screams came up with the flames. Fire and burning rock were raining down on the pit, and smoke was rising from the pit. The heat was unbearable. He saw the forms of humans in the flames, and he realized that some were experiencing varying degrees of punishment, with some worse than others, but there was no place of comfort or relief.

He looked up and saw a cave above him, with hideous four-legged creatures like gorillas, but grotesque and disfigured, with flesh decomposing. Gigantic rats, spiders, snakes and worms were everywhere. The cave was like a tunnel with an entrance. Suddenly he ascended the tunnel and went out of Hell, and met Christ face to face. Then it was restored to his mind that he was a Christian. Before he could ask the question, Christ told him that he had this experience because many people do not believe in Hell, and Bill was told to warn them. (Bill Wiese. 23 Minutes in Hell. Lake Mary, Florida: Charisma House, 2006.)

I don’t know if Bill Wiese really experienced Hell or if it was a vision or what he experienced, but I do know that the Bible is clear that Hell is real, and every bit as dreadful has he described; that it is a place of fire and burning sulphur, that it is a lake of fire, that it is a prison of darkness, and that it is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

When I was a teenager, one day I was visiting my Grandfather Rogers, and I saw a TV preacher who was really letting people have it. I was enjoying the sermon, but I could tell that my granddaddy, who was a devout Baptist deacon, did not care for the preacher. Finally he said, “I believe that preacher enjoys telling people they’re going to Hell.” Then he looked at me and said, “A man who preaches about Hell should preach with tears in his eyes.”

And it is with tears in my eyes that I plead with you to avoid that place.

Hell was created for Satan and his angels. God wants us to go to Heaven, but if we reject Christ we have chosen to join Satan in Hell. God has made every provision for us to go to Heaven.

That is why John 3:16 says "whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." But John 3:18 says, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."
But here is the good news! All who have repented, God has saved. He will do the same for you. Think of God's justice as being like a traffic light. The red light is a warning to you. You may not like it. You may be in a hurry, wanting to go your own way when it says "stop." But it can spare your life, especially if a Mack Truck is coming the other direction with a green light. God does not desire for you to suffer, and if you will heed his warning, you can be saved. The choice is yours. What will you do?

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

I jump up and down thanking you for not using the phrase 'free will'. :)

Brother Bob said...

Maybe I didn't use the phrase, but I discussed the subject of free will. Go back and read section III above.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments. I enjoy you perspective very much.