Hell is probably the most unpalatable teaching of Christianity. This doctrine states that God punishes those who do not believe in Jesus by sending them to a place of fire and anguish where they will suffer for eternity.
Non-Christians recoil at this idea. Some claim not to be a Christian because of it! This teaching causes many Christians to stumble as well. Doesn’t the Bible say God is love? Then how can He send people to hell?
Getting God off the Hook
It is tempting to evade what the Bible teaches on difficult points. The fact that God sends people to hell is one of its clearest, most consistent teachings. Yet many Christians avoid this fact and try to defend God’s honor by getting Him off the hook.
It is commonly taught that God doesn’t send people to hell; people send themselves to hell. By choosing to reject Him during life, they choose to reject Him in the afterlife as well. God simply gives them what they want.
Putting God on the Hook
This argument nicely sidesteps the question at hand. But it isn’t what the Bible teaches. The Bible says God sends people to hell. He may send them there as a result of their choices, but that doesn’t mean they send themselves there.
Imagine a courtroom. The judge finds the accused guilty as charged and sentences them to prison. Would you argue the accused person sentenced themselves? No, the judge sentenced them. They chose to commit a crime, but they did not choose to go to prison. That sentence was pronounced upon them by the judge.
God does send people to hell on the basis of their choices. Paul says He “will give to each person according to what he has done” (Romans 2:6). But the fact remains that people don’t send themselves to hell; God sends them to hell.
God Sends People to Hell
Jesus says, “The subjects of the kingdom of heaven will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). On Judgment Day He will say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
Does Jesus give the impression people send themselves to hell? No. Rather, He throws and banishes them there.
Paul reassures a church that Jesus “will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
Does Paul give the impression people send themselves to hell? No. Rather, Jesus punishes them by destroying and shutting them out.
Peter reasons, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell…if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people…if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes…then the Lord knows how to…hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment” (2 Peter 2:4-9).
Does Peter give the impression people send themselves to hell? No. Rather, God sends them there just as He has always sent the wicked to hell.
John foresees the final judgment. He says, “The beast and false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur…And the devil…was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur…If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 15).
Does John give the impression people send themselves to hell? No. Rather, they are thrown there against their will.
Judging the Judge
God is sometimes accused of being a torturer. People imagine Him sadistically roasting sinners in hell like marshmallows over a fire. This surely takes what the Bible says too far. God is not a torturer; but He is a judge. And as a judge, He is satisfied when justice is served.
One of the hardest verses in the Bible to read is Revelation 14:10. It says, “If anyone worships the beast and his image…he will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.” This seems to suggest Jesus presides over the punishment of sinners in hell.
Can you worship Him for this? Can you praise Him for His justice? Or will you deny this aspect of His character? If you deny it, why do you feel entitled to judge the Judge?
How do you feel about the fact that God sends people to hell? Share your thoughts with a comment below!