Possible story to share with someone
You are not sure if you are dead or not, but you look around and you are in a beautiful place. The air is reviving, and the light seems to be everywhere bright but not hurtful. You see people walking and they seem to be walking on clouds which covers the ground.
Then you notice that the people walking seem to be heading in the direction of a single-file line. It is then that you notice two gates, one with white light and the other darkness. You begin to be drawn like the others to get in line. While standing in line, you see that some people go through the dark gate and others through the white gate. Getting closer you can hear what people are saying to the person in between the gates.
With two people in front of you, you are able to hear everything. “What is your name?...Oh yes, here is your entry. You murdered a family while they slept at home and were never caught. You go through that gate.” The gatekeeper points to the dark gate at which the man begins to whimper.
The person in front of you steps up. “Name please…Yes, your entry says that you swindled millions from multiple orphanages leaving hundreds of children to starve in the streets or go into sex-slavery. You go through the dark gate.”
You think, “Wow, they definitely deserve to go to that place. Those are horrible crimes. I will surely get to go to the white gate.”
You step up. “Name please….Your entry says here that you stole a pack of gum from a grocery store when you were ten and never returned it but enjoyed chewing every piece. You go to the dark gate.”
In shock, you ask, “for how long? “Eternity” comes the reply. That doesn’t make sense or seem fair. Why the same punishment for a murderer of a family and a kid whole stole a pack of gum?
(At the end you could ask: How does this story make you feel?)
A person, attending every single service in an evangelical church for two months straight, would have less than a 10% chance of hearing a phrase that included the words “hell” or “redemption,” two of the most distinctive words that characterize evangelicalism.
The Digital Pulpit: A Nationwide Analysis of Online Sermons, Pew Research Center, 2019
69% of churchgoers believe that everyone will go to heaven.
Baylor Religion Surveys, Baylor University, 2011
30% of all Americans believe after they die, God will give them a 2nd chance.
The State of American Theology, LifeWay Research 2014
Looking more closely at the question
Is it true that God is a loving God? Yes, God is love. 1John 4:7-9
Is Hell for real? Does the Bible refer to hell as being a real place that people go to at a certain point in time?
Yes. There are multiple places in the teachings of Jesus that refer to an event of judgment where people are separated into two groups and one groups goes to a place of eternal punishment and the other group goes to eternal life (Matthew 25:46).
Hell is a place of eternal punishment called the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15). This is the place that the devil is thrown into along with people who had died and were brought back to be judged.
Note: all of the instructions to followers of Jesus in the NT that come with warnings, are warnings because of the event of judgment and where one might end up for eternity. So, if Hell is not a real place, then these warnings and instructions do not make sense, for they are warnings about a place that does not actually exist.
If you were a pilot and planning a flight over the north pole, it would be an empty warning for me to say, “Be careful! Make sure you go slightly around the north Pole so that you do not crash into Santa’s Workshop.”
Many of you would laugh because the warning is meaningless given that there is no Santa’s workshop on the north pole. Others of you would laugh because you would think, “He doesn’t know that Santa built underground.”
So, if we accept the Bible as God’s authoritative word, then, yes, hell is a real place. There are explicit references to a place of punishment and there are many more statements that do not make sense if there is not such a place.
Sent: Is it the case that God sends people to the Lake of Fire?
Actually, “sent” is a nice word. Revelation 20:15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
But why would this be unfair?
If we threw someone in prison for any amount of time, what would make it unfair? Prison is a place for guilty people to go, not innocent. Hell is the place for guilty people to go. So, it is not unfair for God to send guilty people to hell.
The unfairness that is felt by the question seems to be: Are the temporary things we do in this life that make us guilty worthy of unending punishment in the next? Or to put it another way, How can stealing gum at a young and immature age receive the same ultimate punishment as an adult serial killer?
What if we are looking at it the wrong way?
There is one condition mentioned for those who are thrown into the lake of Fire: their names were not written in the book of life. Revelation 20:15
How do you not get your name in the Lamb’s book of life? By rejecting Jesus and the Father who sent him (1John 5:10-12).
If you reject something, it is because you did not want it.
This is the reality that God fully knew when he made mankind in His image: his creatures, whom he so desires to call children, has the ability to reject him. And God allows for humans, those whom he made specially to know Him and be in loving relationship, to reject him. God allows humans to have freedom to go their own way.
Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Romans 1:24 Therefore God gave them up…
Romans 1:26 For this reason God gave them up…
Romans 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up…
God allows people the freedom to reject him and live according to what they want, though God knows it will truly kill them.
“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” (”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)”
Why does God send people to hell? It is because they did not want God nor Jesus and they turned away from every opportunity, every signpost God gave them of his offer of love and life. No matter how long one’s life is, God has revealed himself to every person so that they are without an excuse.
If someone does not want God in this life, then God knows they will not want him in the next. So, he allows them, He gives them up, to their wants and desires knowing they have chosen death.
Question: Who should receive a greater punishment a boy who steals a pack of gum, or someone who steals the Mona Lisa?
The punishment for a crime is in proportion to the worth of an object. Therefore, if one rejects something of infinite worth, then it follows that there is an infinite punishment.
Having a Conversation with a neighbor (for followers of Jesus)
Here are some suggested questions to reply, if someone asks you “Why does a loving God send people to hell?” These questions are meant to spur conversation, not kill them, and help a person to think about what they are asking along with possible underlying assumptions.
1. What do you mean by “God sending”? What imagery comes to your mind?
A follow-up to this question is “Can someone be sent someplace they want to go?”
This question seeks to help them see that God sends them to a place that they wanted to go: away from Him.
2. Do you think hell is real?
If no, then you can ask sincerely, “Then why do you care about this question?”
If yes, then you can ask, “What troubles you most about God being just?”
3. What do you think is the reason why God sends anyone to hell in the first place?
This would reveal how much they know or have thought about this question.