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.