Many people wonder, how can God at the same time be loving and allow hell to exist? Does God have to punish sin? Can’t He let it go?
How can a loving God send people to hell?
Well here are three reasons why God must punish sin?
1. Because God IS love
Often people say "God is loving, so how could He punish people. It goes against love!" But the problem with this is that they are failing to understand love.
When people say God is loving, they often mean that God is accepting and tolerant. They are saying that He should just be merciful to everyone and sweep sin under the rug.
But God’s love isn’t like this. 1 John 4:16 says “God IS love”. God defines love and what it is. And love is most clearly seen in Jesus. 1 John 4:10 says, “this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Love is God sending His Son to die. Love is God setting sinners free, by Jesus sacrificing His life in the place of these rebels. This is where God's love is wonderfully seen.
And this love is not God tolerating sin, but God dealing with sin Himself and facing all it deserves, so that some go free. This is how we need to understand God’s love! His Son being sacrificed so that sinners racing to hell could be snatched from it.
But why did God have to send His Son in our place. Why couldn't He brush sin under the rug and forget about it, so that we could be saved and His Son wouldn't be killed? Why does God have to punish sin?
2. Because God isn’t only love
We need to see all of God’s character, not just His love. God is holy and just and this is why hell exists.
God is holy and pure. This means He loves what is right, and therefore sin angers him. Also, God is just and must punish sin. Colossians 2:13-14 says there is a record of debt against us. We owe something great, and God has to deal with it. He can’t just let it go.
Psalm 7:11 says “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.” A just judge must deal with a criminal and execute a right punishment for their crimes. God too must do the same for us. His justice and holiness demands it!
We need to realise that God isn’t sending good people to hell. No He is sending wicked people there and we all deserve it! In a sense we send ourselves to hell by how we rebel against God. Those who reject the life and salvation in Jesus, spend eternity without the life, light, joy and goodness found only in him. They have rejected this and chosen its opposite, hell!
But some people go too far with this and just say that people send themselves to hell. They claim that God doesn't send people to hell, trying to take God off the hook in an attempt to preserve His love. Yes there is truth that our sin sends us to hell, but this isn't the full answer. As we have seen, God sends people to hell because of who He is. He must deal with sin because He is just and holy.
God doesn't need to be taken off the hook to preserve His love. In fact, God's love requires the reality of hell. This is the final reason why God must deal with sin.
3. Because true love demands hate and anger
For God to truly be loving, He must deal with sin. God is love, and therefore He must hate and be angry at what is evil. If I don’t discipline my kids for doing something wrong and dangerous, how unloving. They might run onto the road and get hit by a car! And if governments don’t punish evil, how unloving to those families of the victim and to the rest of society if they let that criminal go.
God loves what is right and good, so He must hate and be angry at what is unjust and evil. I love my children and so if someone seeks to attack them or abuses them, this love demands that I am outraged, and see their evil dealt with.
For God to love His children, He must hate and deal with all that is against His children. God’s love, justice and anger cannot be separated. They go together and they must for each of them to be genuine.
Imagine if you said you love all people, but weren’t outraged when people are beaten because of the colour of their skin. Or if you said you love children, but don’t feel anger and hatred when people start shooting them.
Why do we get angry at slavery, genocide, the holocaust, and innocent people being mistreated? Why do we hate these things? The reason is because of love and justice. Because we love people and the rights they deserve. And we burn with anger when this does not happen. True love demands anger and hatred toward certain things.
And God’s justice and love is infinitely greater than ours. Our burning for justice is a drop compared to the ocean of God’s love and justice. He cannot let a single sin be unpunished and He won’t. Hell is right for those who have revolted against God’s goodness. Romans 2:5 says, “but because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” God’s wrath in hell must come upon sin, for it is the just and righteous punishment for the crimes done against the eternal God.
The only way for love and justice
There is only one way God can lovingly save us, and be just, not letting a single sin go unpunished. That way is Jesus! He had to appease His anger by punishing sin in Jesus so that he could lovingly set some free (Romans 3:23-26). This is why Jesus is needed. The three reasons above show why we need Jesus. God should have immediately sent us all to hell. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Come and see how good and loving God is. He desires for us to be reunited to him and have eternal life, so much so, He sent is Son. Who lived the life you should have lived. Who died the death you should have died. Who paid the punishment you should have paid. Through Jesus, love and justice unite.
Hell does not need to be your destiny. The loving gift of salvation and God's anger being satisfied can come to all who bank all their hope on Jesus. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him" (John 3:36). “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). Come to Jesus who satisfies with loving salvation and satisfies God's wrath. Come and follow the one who unites love for sinners, and justice upon sin.