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Is God unjust for sending people to Hell?


Published: 27 July 2020 (GMT+10)

Recently, an article prompted many comments from readers saying that eternal conscious punishment in Hell would be unfair or unjust. One person said such a God would be unloving and not worthy of worship. Such a view believes that for the lost there is no eternal punishment and a person’s soul is ‘extinguished’. This view is known as annihilationism. Given that eternal conscious punishment is explicitly included in CMI’s statement of faith, it is appropriate to take a moment to consider these charges.

It is dangerous to say things like, “It would be wrong for God to … ” or “I could never worship a God who … ” if one isn’t very sure that God does not do that exact thing. No one can question God or say that He is doing anything wrong, because God Himself is the very basis for right and wrong. Murder is wrong because people are created in God’s image. Lying is wrong because God is the truth. Adultery is wrong because God is faithful.

Why does anyone go to Hell?

Hell is a place of judgment and torment prepared for Satan and the angels who rebelled with him (Matthew 25:41). But why do humans also go there?

Of course, anyone familiar with CMI’s materials knows that we go back to Genesis 1–3 to explain why there is sin and death in the world. God originally created the world ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31), and He created Adam and Eve, our first parents, to have a perfect relationship with them. When they sinned, their disobedience brought death and suffering not only to humanity, but all of creation. And God must judge sin in order to be perfectly righteous.

When unbelieving critics speak about Hell, they act like it will be full of innocent people, or people who only committed ‘minor sins’ that don’t deserve an eternity in Hell. However, this view fails to understand the serious nature of sin. Sin isn’t just a ‘mistake’ that good people make, people sin because they inherited Adam’s rebellious nature that is by nature opposed to God. The only reason anyone goes to Hell is because they are sinners. On judgment day, no one will be able to say that God has made an error. Everyone will know that they deserve judgment.

For more: see Why would a loving God send people to Hell?

How does anyone escape Hell?

Really, the question that should boggle our minds is not “How can God send people to Hell?” but “How can God save people from Hell?” God’s perfect justice demands that every sin be judged and paid for. So if He was going to forgive us, someone else had to pay the debt. That is why Jesus had to come to Earth, live a perfectly righteous and sinless life on earth, die the death that we deserve, suffering the full wrath of God for our sins, and die. His resurrection on the third day is the proof that God accepted His sacrifice.

The fact that Jesus sacrificed Himself to freely forgive anyone who will trust in Him means that no one can really accuse God for sending people to Hell. He made a way for anyone to be freely forgiven; and there simply is no other way if someone rejects it.

For more: see Good news!

What about people who have never heard?

We might be able to see the justice in someone overtly rejecting Christ, the only way of salvation, and subsequently experiencing judgment in Hell, but what about people who have never even heard of Jesus? There are people groups who for the last 2,000 years have never had the opportunity of hearing the Gospel. Some people argue there will be a post-death opportunity for these people to be saved, but Scripture indicates that there is only an opportunity for salvation in this life.

Is God unjust for sending those who have never heard of Christ to hell? No, because remember, people are sent to Hell as judgment for their sins. Romans 1 indicates all of us have basic innate knowledge of who God is. We also have a moral compass knowing that lying, stealing, etc. are wrong. Scripture also indicates that we are judged based on how much we know. Jesus said that Sodom was so sinful that God destroyed it in fire and brimstone (Matthew 11:23–24). Capernaum committed the worse sin. Jesus told Pilate that those who had handed Him over had committed “a greater sin” (John 19:11). So we could likewise say that someone who didn’t hear of Christ would be judged less severely than someone who sat in an American church pew every Sunday but never trusted in Christ.

Also, remember that God gave us the vital mission of taking the Gospel into the world. If you are really concerned about people dying without hearing about Christ, are you actively evangelizing those around you and participating in missions by giving and praying, and maybe even going?

For more: see What about those who have never heard the Gospel?

Is Hell eternal?

Some people acknowledge that Hell is necessary and just for those who have failed to trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. However, they object to the notion that Hell is eternal. They think that after a period of time the sin debt is paid and they are annihilated so they will not suffer anymore. However, Jesus says that the judgment of the wicked lasts as long as the eternal life of the righteous (Matthew 25:46). Revelation says that the smoke of the torment of those in judgment goes up forever and ever (Revelation 14:10–11).

Why is Hell eternal? Because God created our souls to be eternal, that is part of the image of God in us. We are not eternal like God is—we have a beginning and no end, while God has no beginning or end, but the fact that we have no end means a sinner’s judgment in Hell will also be eternal. The person in Hell never stops sinning, so the judgment is never completed, it goes on forever.

If this makes us uncomfortable to think about, it should, because every person outside Christ faces that penalty—statistically speaking, that also includes many reading this article right now. Those of us who are in Christ should therefore take our responsibility to evangelize very seriously because our work has eternal results.

What about you?

First and foremost, the Gospel confronts each one of us with our sin and need for redemption. Have you trusted in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross for your sins? And if you have, are you now actively sharing this good news with family, friends, and loved ones who have yet to receive the free gift of salvation?

Ultimately, our own sin condemns us to Hell, but the good news of the Gospel is that anyone who calls on Christ can escape this judgment and be saved.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Laura B.
I think that there are degrees of punishment in hell... That's why there is the Great White Throne Judgment. To give you a fair punishment since God is a God of justice. But this judgment is only for the lost. The saved Christian is exempt. We only have the Bema seat where we will get our rewards...
Les F.
I always struggled with the fate of the ignorant heathen, but David Platt helped me understand that helping them escape hell is not our mission. Instead, if we truly love God and desire that He be glorified, what better way to glorify God than adding to the multitude of worshippers? Hell is real, but avoiding it is not the best motivation for belief.
We need to realize that we are not condemned because of our "sins," but because of our sin. Our "sins" are symptoms of our sin. That sin is present in every human and ALL sin is subject to God's wrath including the sin of believers. How could I not give my life to Someone who was willing to subject Himself to God's wrath on the account of my sin?
Great article.
Darren B.
Without disagreeing with you, I don't recall reading that "a person in Hell never stops sinning". Interesting.
Lita Cosner
If a soul in Hell were able to stop sinning, that would indicate a form of sanctification apart from the work of the Spirit. Someone is not only sent to Hell because they've committed sins that have yet to be paid for--they are sent to Hell because they are sinners by nature. Having failed to trust in Christ, which is the only way to be saved (which includes the process of sanctification which is completed in the Resurrection), there is no other remedy for them.
Carolyn N.
The Bible must interpret itself. How do you reconcile texts that explicitly say that we are mortal and do not receive immortality until the return of Jesus?
1 Corinthians 15: 50-54 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and THIS MORTAL MUST PUT ON IMMORTALITY. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
1 Timothy 6: 12-16 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, WHO ALONE HAS IMMORTALITY, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.

God alone has immortality. The redeemed do not receive immortality until the return of Jesus. It is presumptuous to claim that we already have immortality. Just do a Bible search on the words mortal and immortality and see for yourself.
Lita Cosner
Immortal means literally 'undying'. We who believe in Christ receive eternal life. The existence of those who fail to believe in Christ in Hell is never called 'life', because they are forever severed from the only source of life.
Michael D.
As someone who spent 30 years of my life attempting to minister the gospel in countries where publicly accepting Christ would have resulted in ostracism at best, or martyrdom at worst, I have often struggled with this question. I know of many times when people gave us a "cup of cold water" in the name of disciple, or ministered to this "least of his brethren" in some way, knowing full well that we were Christians. Not all of them to my knowledge came to a full understanding of Christ's sacrifice for them, though some did, praise be to God. How does God view those who received us, though they may not have fully received Hm at that time? Does he judge them by their response to the amount of light they had, as imperfect as it was? At the end of the day I can only trust in our Lord's perfect justice and mercy towards all his creatures. And I for one am very glad that the judgment of each persons destiny rests with Him, not me. But knowing how blessed we are to fully understand the Lord's plan of salvation spurs me on the share the gospel with all I can while it is yet day. And bless CMI for all your wonderful labour in this harvest field.
Ronald W.
I have found that the biblical concept of hell is downplayed by cults in general. One example being H.W. Armstrong's "Worldwide Church of God" which was more prominent a few decades ago. Their teaching on hell being just the grave was something that drew the teenage me to them. They had a way of making one feel as though they provided knowledge that was being hidden from 'Christendom' in general. However, the other 'pieces' of this error soon followed (denial of the Trinity, Jesus being just a man, etc.). Thankfully, the Lord spared me the sad journey of joining this organisation and showed me the truth of his word. An extrabibilcal writing on the concept Hades that I find interesting is an extract from Josephus' discourse the the Greeks concerning Hades. Again, it is not from the Scriptures, but it shows that Jesus' audience would have been 'in tune' with his account of the rich man and Lazarus as found in Luke 16.
David C.
If a three month old baby, terminated in the womb, a three day old baby, three month or a three year old child all go to hell, at the point of death, then the complete afterlife package is a macabre practice...
Lita Cosner
We do not know what happens to babies in the womb because the Bible addresses what happens to people who have the capacity to hear and believe the Gospel. However, we do know that God is merciful and perfectly just. Whatever the destiny of a particular soul, no one will ever be able to judge God with wrongdoing. And if we feel compassion for a baby who has died, it is because God Himself gave us that instinct.
Ben N.
It should be kept in mind that Scripture speaks explicitly of the death/destruction of the soul (Ezekiel 18:4 and Matthew 10:28) and yet, at the same time, speaks of the eternal nature of (conscious!) punishment in Gehenna. At first glance these points seem to conflict. As diligent students of Scripture we shouldn't shy away from difficult passages, but seek doctrines that harmonize the full council of God.

I don't believe these two ideas (destruction of the soul and eternal conscious punishment) are mutually exclusive. We merely have to remember that we're body, soul, AND spirit. It's through the spirit that we're meant to have fellowship with God, but the spirit of the unbeliever is dead; that fellowship is broken. Thus eternal punishment appears to be eternal destruction from the presence of God and from the glory of His power. (2 Thessalonians 1:9). The unbeliever is wholly and completely alone. Forever.

It isn't good that man should be alone. But that is, sadly, the eternal fate many choose for themselves when they decide they're their own god. God, in His justice, gives them exactly what they wanted. To have no part in Him.
Michael K.
Someone I know denigrated God for allowing suffering. I could only ask, "Do you believe life arose spontaneously?"

I do believe that the creature has no right to correct its creator.
Lenny L.
This is not meant to be a contentious point I share, but just a philosophical thought made by another popular "teacher" in his lecture ministry. It is based on "God is Love" so why would Love compel you to believe something you didn't agree with? No matter what an individual believes Hell is or going to be, I think we could all agree without drilling down on the finer points of what anyone thinks about this "teacher's" opinion, the basic point he makes (with many more examples of the the Nature of our God which I believe we would all agree on) . . . is that forcing belief in this way would be unloving. Freedom of choice given by God is love and you can accept or reject it at will: you are with God or you are willingly separated from Him . . . by choice! And as we Christians can relate to here in this realm, we depend on mercy and prayers to soothe the "pain" of every day of every day existence. Imagine the hell of not having that option in the next life knowing you made the choice to be where you are! Nobody--like a loving God--forced you. That would be enough to "burn me up," so to speak, if I made that choice for eternity.

This is a simplified condensation, of course. People who say God is unjust simply don't want to believe there is no alternative and blame pain on Him, now or later.
Paul S.
Rom 2 is really the reference that should be used for those who not heard the gospel.
Lita Cosner
That is also a good passage.
Dee M.
I have always understood the punishment as compared to how GOD is relative to us. GOD is an eternal existential being that is out of time. We, right now, are non-eternal beings tied directly to time. To us, sin is a matter of existing in a specific period of time. We can say "sorry" in a moment and receive forgiveness right then for something that happened some time in the past. But, our sin is against GOD. GOD is outside of time and thus cannot be measured by time. Therefore, a sin against a being outside of time, must be punished by a judicial system that is also outside of time, or a system that is timeless. I have a strong feeling that those outside of time have no understanding of time. Therefore it would be correct to say our punishment for sin, or our reward for salvation, is for all eternity since there is no time in those places where we will be.
Lita Cosner
The idea that we will one day exist outside of time is a common misconception. As created beings, we are 'time-bound' because there was a time we began to exist. While we may experience time differently in the eternal state, we will still experience events one after another. Indeed, the descriptions of Heaven include time. When the redeemed sing hymns, it will be one note after another. Revelation says that the tree of life will yield twelve kinds of fruit, yielding fruit each month. That's not just time, that's a calendar. God is the only being who is outside of time, because He is the only one who has no beginning. And of course He understands time better than we do, because He created it and can step into time whenever He wants. See "Will we experience time?" in The new earth.
Douglas W.
I think the first three chapters of Romans give a more complex view of Divine judgment. The bottom line, indeed, is that God is perfect, and just.
Brian H.
Rev 20:11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
Rev 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
Rev 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Rev 20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. ( Note these are the Dead)

Rev 2:11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Rev 20:6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

Hell is the Second Death which is where the dead go after judgement

Born again Christians partake of the First Resurrection ie the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus
Alan B.
If, as you say, Scripture indicates that we are judged based on how much we know then why would those in Sodom have been destroyed just as resoundingly as those in Capernaum? It also seems that Pilate received the same judgement as those who had committed the greater sin. Although such an teaching of judgement based on “how much we know” could be pieced together, it would be a distinction without a difference. Cutting through all the baloney, Paul wrote, “For there is no difference; all have sinned and fall short…” (Rom 3:22,23). Personally, I find it difficult to understand why some are saved and some are not without considering the whole of Scripture, including the equally perplexing doctrine of election and predestination on which Paul writes at length in chapter 1 of Ephesians, as well as in many other places. These are themes that wind their way through the entirety of Scripture. Why am I saved and not someone else? I have no idea, except that it has nothing to do with me but with God’s eternal plan. Praise God!
David G.
Lita, it may be helpful to add that God will make distinctions in the nature of eternal punishment as Jesus states in Luke 12:47; so that the biblical imagery to describe hell should not be understood as the same for everyone. Satan and his hosts will be punished in far greater intensity than thousands of people who never heard the gospel and were raised, lived and died in idolatry or some other error. Also, Anselm’s argument in his work Cur Deus Homo or Why God Became Man is a biblically reasoned defense of why hell is eternal: God is the one most offended in every sin; God is an eternal being; sin is grievous and made worse by nature of the one it is committed against. We have all sinned, offended an eternal God and therefore deserve an eternal punishment. HOWEVER, because Jesus Christ is God the Son, and therefore an infinite, eternal and immutable being, he could endure in his human nature in suffering on the cross the full measure of the offended God’s infinite wrath and deliver believers from it. That is no doubt why Jesus said in John 16:9 that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin because “they do not believe in me”. So, as you wrote, how important to tell people the gospel and urge them not to reject the only way of salvation. Blessings on all your labors at CMI!
Alf F.
Surely the most telling issue, which you touched on, is that in a real sense its not God that sends us to Hell, we do it ourselves. Truth is, there is a God, we are beholden to Him. We can deny that, or unbelieve it, but its still the main fact of life. His Word holds us in existence at this very moment in time. When God made us, He had in consideration every objection that mankind could raise. He could have made us slaves, but we may have complained about that. Instead he made us like Himself, free spirits.
It is this ability to choose freely that makes us individuals, instead of clones, spiritually speaking. We can freely choose to love Him who is completely good, our own immortal loving father, though it ought to be the only natural thing to do. We had only one little law to keep in the beginning! We like to say that people ought not to judge us until they have walked a mile in our shoes. God has done just this. The Word, which is God, became flesh, Emmanuel, God with us. He entered into the stream of humanity by means of human birth through an earthly mother. He abdicated a greater dignity than any human mind can ever conceive of to do this. He bore our evil ways for 33 years, and did not complain once as we sentenced and murdered Him, our loving Father, who has freely shared all things with us. He poured His life's blood out onto the ground. He let His judgement fall upon Himself. That took total love. If we turn our back on what God has done for us through the human death of His own Son, there is no doubt that the lake of fire is a fitting destination forever. We have chosen it, and deserve it richly. We ourselves have rejected love, and can we now call God unloving? God's love cannot neglect true justice and still be a perfect love.
Donald W.
Thanks for this article! One very seldom hears this message within the church anymore! I don’t understand why not as our Lord Jesus spoke more often of hell than heaven! I’m so very thankful that Jesus took the punishment for my sin and endured the shame and pain of the cross for me! I know where I’m going after this life is over because of Him! And I want everyone to know that Christ’s sacrifice of love is for them ! But I want people also to know that God is perfectly just and there will be an eternal consequence for rejecting the Saviour!
S H.
Very helpful article thanks. I think the issue of hell reveals something within some Christians. What we believe is what God says and not what we say because God alone has and is truth. Life for many has become so dominated by what we think or feel, as if the world is all about us. But it's not, it's actually God's sorry (which he has amazingly invited us into) and our feelings shouldn't dictate our beliefs. Yes, there are some grey areas where outside of our core beliefs (including hell), God has left things open to interpretation (e.g. exactly what happens in the 'end times' etc). But God has made many things abundantly clear in the Bible (God's written counsel to us that he knows we need), such as the nature of hell. In all honesty I don't care what I think or what anyone else thinks. Someone feeling something or not is irrelevant to whether something is the truth! It's symptomatic of society where we can't say certain things in case people are offended, or we change words to make actions more palatable. It's like coating a rotten wood fence with a fresh coat of paint. But it doesn't change what lurks beneath or the nature of truth or what God says! One famous preacher says that some Christians "don't let the Bible get in the way of what they believe" and there is a sad truth to this. But actually it's God's truth that sets us free. And as so clearly stated above, the truth is that Jesus came to save us from hell and to set us free to live an abundant life. We should all care about injustice (as long as our view of justice is God's justice not man's justice). But none of us would think a judge fair or good who did nothing to punish a crime. The nature of hell reveals God's goodness. Why spend a life in jail when you can receive God's freedom?!
Rev Robert W.
It is a hard doctrine to accept if one has friends or near of kin who may be heading there, or have died and you are not sure of just where they stood: however, the teaching of the Holy Bible is very clear on this subject, and no matter how hard it is for us to contemplate it, it is something that we must fully accept. All the more reason to keep on sharing the gospel of Christ and His saving atoning work to save us from just judgement: for it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God, Hebrews 10: 31.
Derek K.
The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. Does "death" mean have eternal life in conscious torment?
Lita Cosner
The existence of those in Hell is never called life, because they are eternally cut off from God, the source of life.
Charles G.
Well said Lita
Grahame G.
It is sad that people think they can stand in judgement over God. We do not appreciate His holiness and goodness. To reject Him is to be condemned already. To even fail to have trusted Jesus Christ is to be condemned. Why did God need to come in human flesh to die a cruel death on the cross? Even more to bear our sins in His body! For God to crush Him. For Him to cry out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" Isaiah 53:4  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  5  But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  ESV And yet, according to those with a low view of God and holiness, and a weak view of sin and justice, God doesn't punish us with the same severity. It's a disgusting view that puts man and our desires at the centre, not God and His character and righteousness. 1 Peter 3:18  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. ESV 2 Cor 5:21  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ESV The eternal Son of God suffering all the sins of His people for a limited time. But according to annihilationists, created beings who rebel against Him don't deserve eternal punishment. And scripture has more to say on the topic. I encourage readers to study God's word on the topic and see God's nature and character and how evil sin is. Such that He needed to be executed and offer Himself up to rescue us from hell. Thank you for defending the truth, Lita.
Frank S.
Amen! God the Judge of all the earth will do what is right. Praise God that in his grace he has provided a way of salvation, at enormous cost to himself. Whoever comes to Jesus will not be cast out.
Leopold H.
Many Christians are realising after reading the relevant Bible passages that the Bible doesn't teach about hell, but that the word translated as hell simply means the grave. The righteous receive everlasting life, the wicked receive death. Hell would mean the wicked also live forever, which contradicts the scriptures.
Lita Cosner
The New Testament uses a couple words that are translated Hell. Hades is used somewhat generically, Gehenna is used when firey torment is in view, and Tartarus is used when Peter references the angels being kept in gloomy chains for judgment. None of these means simply 'grave'. Furthermore, the duration of the conscious suffering in Hell is compared with the duration of life for the resurrected. However, the existence of those in Hell is never called 'life'; rather, it is called the second death. This is because they are forever severed from God, the only source of life.

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