Photo By Gianni Zanato
As we have just taken a look into how suffering and evil can exist in a world created by a loving and all powerful God, there still lies a proverbial elephant in the room. What about hell? How can a place like hell, which God has created, come into existence by a loving God? I have met many people, including myself, who wrestled with the notion of hell. As an atheist it was impossible for me to make sense of the fact that an all loving God would send the people he supposedly loves to a place of eternal torment. I know many people to this very day who hold this same view, but is that view accurate? What does the bible actually say about hell, its purpose and intention. Was hell originally created for human beings, or others? It amazes me that for so many years I held to my own beliefs and views based upon things I had heard or thought I knew. I never actually took the time to research and look these things up for myself. I suppose it was primarily because I did not believe the bible to be true and therefore neither God. Once I became a Christian I then took the time to find the answers to my questions and my assumptions, and to no surprise, I was quite wrong.
In Matthew 25:41, Jesus gives account for the creation of hell, “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:” (NKJV) So clearly hell was not created for human beings, rather it was prepared for the devil and his angels. I found this verse to be sobering. I assumed that hell was created for sinful people, that it was originally intended for human beings. So if we know that hell was prepared for satan and his angels and not human beings, then why was it prepared for satan in the first place? We still do not have an explanation for the existence of hell.
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! 13 For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ 15 Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the Pit. (Isaiah 14:12-15 NIV)
“For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;” (2 Peter 2:4 NKJV)
In these verses we discover that satan was at one time in heaven but has since fallen. Satan was cast out of heaven because of pride. Just read the verses in Isaiah one more time. Notice how many times the word “I” is used. Satan ultimately wanted to be superior to God, he desired that his creator be inferior to him. Apparently satan also had followers who desired this as well for we read in Revelation 12:9 “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (NKJV)
It appears to me that hell is a place created and reserved for satan and his fallen angels. Since God is holy and just he cannot be in the presence of sin, therefore sin must be separated from Him. Hell is a place where rebellion against God ends up. Before Adam and Eve betrayed God, satan did first. Therefore hell was originally created for satan and his fallen angels because they betrayed God.
Now that we understand the origin of hell, why then is it possible for human beings to end up there? You see, sin first entered into the world when Adam and Eve were deceived by the serpent, satan, in the garden of Eden. Man rebelled against God by directly disobeying his command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). This then allowed sin to enter into the world. Since sin is now in the world and the first human beings are guilty of it, it is therefore passed down through their offspring. This may seem unfair to most, as you and I did not make that decision so why should we have to pay the consequences for it? We may not have, however you and I are guilty of many other things that are in direct rebellion with God’s ways. Therefore all human beings are born into sin. The bible refers to this as ‘original sin’. Since God is holy and just, sin must be dealt with. God deals with sin by sending it to a place called hell. Since sin is now apart of us, unless it is dealt with, our final destination is the the same as satan’s; because hell is where sin and rebellion against God end up. Now at first glance this seems incredulous, what are we to do with this sin we are born into to avoid hell. At this point most atheists stop the argument full stop. However, the central claim of the teachings of Jesus Christ is to offer us salvation from such an eternal destination. You see God in his immense love for us, was willing to enter into human flesh, suffer and die an excruciating death, to keep you and I, his enemies, out of hell. Even though Adam and Eve rebelled against God, and even though human beings ever since have been committing some of the most heinous acts against one another and God Himself, He still chose to come and die in our place.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NKJV)
Why did God do it? He has every right to send each and everyone one of us to hell, because that is the consequence for our actions. If you and I break a law we face prison or potentially capital punishment do we not? Therefore, since we have all broken the laws of God, we too must face the consequences. The miraculous thing however is that God has provided an escape. The most beautiful part of it all is that it is free, it cannot be earned. This is one of the most exclusive claims of Christianity when compared to other major world religions. In most other religions, paradise or heaven is obtained by your good deeds out weighing your bad deeds, or by having multiple re-births to pay for your previous life of evil. However, at the heart of the Gospel, salvation is offered as a free gift to those who believe and accept it.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Having explored all of this it is now clear that human beings end up in hell by their own will. Jesus Christ has offered you and I and every single human being a way out, for free. Therefore, the unfortunate one’s who ultimately end in hell are there by their own choosing. Hell is ultimately a place that is separate from God. God does not dwell there, that is where all things opposed to Him go. What is remarkable is that God loves you and I so much that He even allows us to reject Him. If we truly desire to live our lives apart from God both in this life and the next, the sobering thing is that we can. He will allow that, because that is what we want. You see God is not trying to control us or condemn us at all. He sent his very own son to die for us! God paid the price for you and I, and through such an immeasurable act of love and forgiveness upon the cross, Jesus still allows us to reject Him, even after all He has done. I find this to be remarkable while at the same time utterly terrifying. God’s love is so great that He allows us to walk away even after He has given his own life so that we might not be apart from Him. Let that sink in for a moment.
So when people ask does God send people to hell, the simple answer is no. We choose to go there ourselves. When people ask why doesn’t God rid the world of all its evil and suffering? My question to them is then, “what if God decided to start with you and me”? Would you and I be so passionate about ridding the world of its evil if we knew that in doing do, it would lead to our own demise? That is something to think about, and in doing so, we might not want the question to be answered.
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
God is patiently waiting for you and I to make a decision. We have our entire lives to make it too. One single decision that has drastic consequences for an infinite amount of time. In light of all of this, are you really willing to reject Christ’s offer? I am not.