This is another common objection to the Gospel. It goes something like this: God is good, and he only does what is good. But someone going to hell for all eternity is very bad. So how can a good God do such a thing? It's not just unbelievers who struggle with this either, as Libbie has recently observed, some believers struggle with it too.
So how do we square a God of love with a God who sends people to hell? Well consider the following scenario: Imagine you are in court at the trial of a notorious killer. Everyone is expecting he will get a hefty prison term. However when the judge comes out, he recognises that the accused is actually his estranged son. Moved with compassion he dismisses all charges and lets the killer go free. What would you think of such a judge? Is he a good man because he acted in love? Is that justice? Not at all! Such a judge would be flung out for corruption and abuse of his office.
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 17:15)
This is what we must understand about God. He is not just our loving Father, he is also the just Judge of all the world. And even though the office is self-appointed, he takes this position so seriously that he cannot abuse it. No matter how much he loves us (and he does love us more than any earthy father loves his most precious child) he cannot just "let us off". He must treat us according to what we have done.
Well, you might think, that's ok for the notorious killer, but I haven't done anything that bad. Why would God send me to hell? This is where we are guilty of making God in our own image (idolatry), we assume that just because we consider some misdemeanours as not very serious, God must feel the same way.
You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother's son.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
~ Psalm 50:19-21
But God is not like us, and his view of sin is often very different from our own! He is not just a God of love, but a God of hate too. He loves all that is good, but hates all that is evil. He is a holy God. He cannot tolerate any wickedness, no matter how small. If he were to do so, he would no longer be good. The standard of what is "good enough" is not ours to set, the standard is God's. It is a standard that all alike have fallen short of.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
And what is the penalty for our sin?
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
This is why Jesus had to come and die. God could not just overlook our sins and still be the just Judge. But nor would his consuming Father's heart of love allow him to just sit back and watch his children die and suffer eternal separation. So he sent his son, Jesus, to take the punishment in our place. Through him God reveals himself to be both a God of love and a God of justice.
It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:26)
We don't often talk about hell. But Jesus warns us that it is a real place of great anguish, a place we should do all we can to avoid going to!
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)
There are many things that can prevent someone coming to Jesus. It may just be pride and stubbornness. It may be a relationship or a lifestyle choice that you know you would have to end if you received Jesus as Lord. It might be something that is so much a part of you that you think - "Well, that's just the way I am." It may seem as much a part of you as your right eye. But Jesus' words cause us to stop and pause for thought. Whatever it is - is it worth going to hell for?