How Can A Loving God Send People To Hell? Answering Requires Knowing What Love Is
Posted by Job on March 12, 2011
Many people reject the doctrine of eternal damnation, opting instead for universalism and annihilationism, using the logic: “how can a loving God act in an unloving manner?” To answer this question, we have to deal with love itself. To that end, notes from a sermon on love preached by Stanley Jordan are below.
Key verse: 1 John 4:7-11 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
Once we come to know Jesus Christ, He desires for us to live a live full of love.
Real love is promoting the good of someone or something for its own sake.
Love is not desire, because we can desire something without even wishing it well.
Desire is the essence of lust.
In our fallen world, love constantly falls prey to lust.
However, love is the deepest essence of God.
It is impossible for God not to love.
Pride is thinking all your desires should be met.
Lust and pride lead to a world of fear.
Jesus Christ came to show us the ultimate love and to take away fear so we can live lives full of love.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the climax of love on earth.
Based on those sermon notes, we can plainly see that love is not a transaction. It is not conditional. It is not “give and take”, it is not “I’ll scratch your back, you’ll scratch mine. Legitimate Christianity is based on an unconditional love for God. See the book of Job. Much of modern Christianity, such as the prosperity/Word of Faith doctrines, is based on the transactional model, where love is where you do things that someone else want in order to get something that you want in return. For many Christians, that is what salvation is: a transaction. I “give Jesus Christ my heart” and obey to live according to certain religious, moral and ethical rules, and in return God gives me heaven! That is not salvation, and it is not love. Contrast that with Paul’s amazing statement in Romans 9:3, when he stated that his love for his Jewish people was so much that he wished that he could trade his own salvation in return for that of the Jewish people! Paul was willing to spend eternity in the lake of fire so that Israel could be saved! Needless to say, you haven’t heard very many sermons preached on Romans 9:3 have you? Let me give the pastor who preaches from Romans 9:3 some advice … pass the offering plate before the sermon! But let it be said that the person who wrote Romans 9:3 understood true love, because he received love and the revelation of the meaning of love from Jesus Christ and from the Holy Spirit.
So, what we understand as love today is actually a corrupt perversion of the concept. Now I am not a fan of the Buddhist Tina Turner, but she was absolutely 100% right in “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” The way that the fallen world portrays love, it is just a secondary emotion. Fallen, worldly carnal love is just a manifestation of human desire; a personal attraction towards the things that make you feel good. It is not noble or praiseworthy, because it often comes without any concept of sacrifice, commitment or responsibility.
A woman can fall in love with a man, pledge herself to marry him, and then leave him standing at the altar while she runs off with the best man because she loves him too! And that man ten years later can walk out on that woman and the four small children that they have had together for another woman – or in these wicked times, another man! – that he has allegedly fallen in love with. And that jilted woman can use her feelings of anger and rejection over this event as an excuse to abuse her children, and when the state comes to take her children away to save them from the abuse, she will protest by claiming that she wants and deserves to keep her children because they are hers and she loves them! This is the result of seeing love as giving and getting in order to meet your emotional needs and desires. It is precisely this fallen notion of love that causes so many parents to spoil, neglect, deprive, become co-dependent on, or otherwise abuse their children. In the church, we absolutely positively cannot continue to take the fallen, carnal love that is mostly based on temporal feelings and fleshly desires for the pure, eternal love that is part of God by way of His attribute and character.
Now this is hard to do because human culture exalts fallen, carnal love. Look at love songs, and it does not matter the genre of the music. Most of them are simply about pleasure, desire and emotion. And it is not just contemporary culture either. Take classic literature: look at Romeo and Juliet. It’s about two “lovers” committing suicide! Much of the so-called love literature throughout the ages has been about adultery and other illicit romances! (For those who bash Hollywood, contemporary movies and TV shows are actually more moral than classic literature.) Fairy tales? Most of it is desire and infatuation. A prince wants to marry a woman that he has never seen before merely because she is beautiful, and it was “a dream” for a woman merely because she got to be a princess and live in a castle.
The love depicted in entertainment and literature often more resembles the selfish, irrational passion-driven behavior of false gods of Greek, Roman, Norse or eastern mythology than the God of the Bible who sent His only begotten Son to save sinners. Despite what man-centered thinking and theology, this was not only a huge sacrifice, but a one way sacrifice. Tell me the way, shape or fashion that sending Jesus Christ to die on a cross was to the advantage or benefit to God the Father? How did God the Father gain from that transaction? Realize that where all false religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, modern Judaism, Islam, Catholicism, Scientology, the mythology systems, you name it – are transaction based (based on trading and transacting between the worshiper and the object of worship) legitimate Christianity is the only one based on what the sovereign God did with no expectation of any gain or advantage for or to Himself, and demands that its adherents follow after God’s example (see 1 Peter 1:16) by also acting righteously not because we expect to be rewarded, but because our love for God causes us to.
We need to stop mistaking love for desire, for where the former leads us to Godliness, the latter leads us to be more like Satan. Carnal desire leads to pride, and pride is what precipitated the fall of not only Satan, but of Adam. Adam’s fall was due to the lust of the eyes (desire for what one sees), lust of the flesh (desire to fill one’s wants or appetites) and the pride of life. Adam’s fall happened because he traded Godly love for carnal love. As a result, carnal love is primarily what those who are in Adam know for themselves and desire for themselves.
Where perfect love, Godly love, casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), carnal love can only result in fear. The reason is that where perfect love causes one to deny himself and seek that which is not to his own benefit, carnal love is obsessed with getting what you want, holding onto it, and getting still more. The fear comes from the dread of being denied what you want, losing what you have, and also even the thought that getting what you want may not even make you happy. One only need to peruse the despair of Solomon in Ecclesiastes, which was the result of his trading Godly love for carnal affections, to see this dread and fear.
So, when the issue is applied to eternal damnation in the lake of fire, we must remember 3 things.
1.God does love humans, but He does not only love humans! It is narcissist for us to believe that our considerations must come first, or that our treatment must outweigh all. This is not a surprise, because fallen, want and desire based “love”, the second hand emotion, is inherently narcissistic because it values meeting one’s own desires above all. The truth is that in addition to loving humans, God by His own character is also required to love holiness, justice, righteousness and order. These are God’s attributes – part of God – and yes God does love God (see John 3:35, which says God the Father loves God the Son). For God to put His love for humans first would make humanity into a god that Jehovah must serve! And further, as humanity is limited in power, knowledge and morality and therefore sinful, the love required to put humanity first would have to be an imperfect love, a love that is more akin to the fallen carnal love common to humanity that is clearly distinct from and inferior to perfect divine love. By possessing and acting according to such a love, God would be in contradiction with Himself, contain imperfection and unrighteousness – or sin – within Himself, and not be God at all. Therefore, God must balance His love for humanity with His love for such things as holiness, justice and righteousness, and with His love for God. This is done by mercifully saving some humans from the punishment that they deserve by grace through the actions of Jesus Christ, and giving the rest of humanity the punishment that sin requires.
2.Why must the punishment be eternal? This is because in order to be a just punishment, it must be in proportion to the offense. God is eternal, not temporal. Sin is an offense against an eternal Deity, and thus has eternal consequences. The eternal consequences of sin were such that it required the death of God’s eternal Son on the cross! So, in order for the punishment to fit the crime, the eternal consequences of sin require an eternal punishment. Annihilationism rejects the eternal consequences of sin, and in effects treats the consequences of sin to be temporal. Yet, annihilationism inconsistently accepts the payment of sin by Jesus Christ to be eternal and not temporal! For annihilationism to be consistent, there cannot be an eternal reward for those that Jesus Christ redeemed. Or at the very least, the death of Jesus Christ was a payment that vastly exceeded the nature of the crime! If sin were temporal and not eternal, why would not the sacrifice of a temporal being that is not charged with sin, such as a bull or goat, adequately deal with it?
3.Be not deceived: God does love those who are going to hell! Claiming otherwise is treating love as a transaction, where God’s love is determined merely by the treatment that He metes out, and in the context of how we perceive it – how we want to be treated and think that we should be treated – in particular. It is only fallen, carnal love based on fulfilling our desires and seeking our own interests for our own sakes that makes it difficult to fathom how God can love someone that He sends to the lake of fire. Instead, of viewing love as a transaction as the world does, Christians should strive to see love as an attribute inherent to God’s nature. Love is God, love is part of God, love is defined by God, and it does not and cannot exist in the absence of God. Love is not this independent attribute that is part of creation (a naturalist view), nor is it this impersonal energy or force (like the karma and similar in eastern religions). We would like to define love on these terms because it suits our own agendas. And this notion of love according to our own desires is what allows us to declare God unloving and unrighteous because He does not conform to it. We either do this out of hand (in the case of atheists) or we reject Biblical truths and doctrines that transgress our view of love while accepting only those that fit our self-styled and self-serving ethics and morality (far more common than atheism, but just as dangerous).
So, true perfect love is part of God. It is given to humanity in part as a gift of the Holy Spirit through common grace, and man due to his fallen nature misunderstands, corrupts and to a degree rejects even this part (see Romans 1:18-32). But it is given to Christians in a more full and perfect measure as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. However, a great many Christians, particularly those who are spiritually immature, do not reach their potential in fully understanding or comprehending this fruit, as this pure perfect love is acted against by our flesh (our fallen nature) and is even denied by some less than ideal Christian doctrines and practices. But the duty of the Christian is to better know God so that we may better know and understand His love. This can be achieved by A. loving God ourselves through the keeping of His commandments (see Titus 1:16) and seeking a better, fuller revelation of God through B. studying and meditating on the Bible, C. through legitimate worship and praise that is with reverence and Godly fear, and D. by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, which we are more open and receptive through by our faithfully and diligently pursuing A., B., and C. Where a human cannot understand how God can love those that He sends to hell (or more accurately the lake of fire), God’s ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). We cannot understand God’s ways in full, but our duty is to become closer to God and more like God, to submit ourselves to being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ, so that our knowledge of God and His ways, though partial, is greater and more accurate.
Ultimately, these things are not for the world’s consumption. The fallen mind is going to go after fallen things. The duty of the Christian is not to get fallen man to accept Christian doctrines, or to declare them to be “acceptable” or “reasonable.” The Bible tells us that the fallen world is going to find these things foolishness and contemptible, and ill-treat Christians as a result. Indeed, this has happened ever since wicked Cain slew righteous Abel, and will happen until Jesus Christ returns to save His church from the same world that rejected and slew Him on a cross. (And yes, many of the same people who claim that a loving God would never send people to hell also claim that a loving God would never send His Son to die on the cross as payment for the sins of others … even some so-called Christians refer to this as “cosmic child abuse”, as they too see love as a transaction and not as a Divine attribute within the Divine and therefore defined by the Divine).
The idea that “love is defined by God” may seem to be nothing more than an invalid debate tactic on the part of a Christian caught in an unresolvable trap or conundrum created by his own doctrines and interpretation of scripture. But the fact that “love is defined by God” is one that is consistent with God’s own revelation of Himself through His Name in the Bible. The Name of Himself that God revealed to Moses: “I AM THAT I AM”. That Name reveals God’s self-existence, and self-existence inherently means self-definition. And being the only self-existing entity, God’s self-definition is the only valid definition. And by virtue of being Creator, God is free to impose His self-definition on His creation, to demand that His creation acknowledge and respond to it, and to judge and punish His creation for their refusal or otherwise failure to do so. Make no mistake, “I AM THAT I AM” means “love is a Divine attribute that is defined by God”, and this means that humans must accept, respect and honor God’s self-definition of His actions as loving and make the appropriate response. And the only acceptable response that a sinner is capable of making is submitting to the loving act of God as represented by Jesus Christ on the cross, and acknowledging its meaning.
If you have not yet done so, do not delay. Respond to the love of God today by: