Q&A: God's Love, Hell, and Evil

God's Love, Hell, and Evil

Question

Why would a loving God create Hell? (And allow evil into the world?)

Answer

This is a very difficult issue to fully address. First, the question of hell is one that is easier to answer because it involves the just punishment of people who did and continue to do wrong. So, to divorce the question of hell from the question of evil, I would say that hell is God giving the people fair and just punishment for the wrongs they have committed, no more, no less. People in hell are where they belong (Acts 1:24-25 "Then they prayed, 'Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.")

On the problem of evil in the world, it is important to note a few things. By way of prelude, it is important to note that this problem is a problem for both the anti-theologian or atheist as well as for the Christian. This is because in a world with no God, there cannot be evil because there cannot be right and wrong without an ultimate personal judge to whom everyone is responsible. Thus the anti-theologian presupposes the ultimate Judge, God, when he asks the question in the first place.

It is also important to note, by way of prelude, the distinction between wicked acts of men, and what might be called a "natural disaster". The Holocaust was a clear example of the first category, whereas hurricane Andrew was a clear example of the second category. However, some seeming phenomena such as earthquakes where people die, or droughts where people starve are actually examples that fit more into the category of acts of human wickedness than into the category of natural disaster. For example, the city of Las Vegas contains millions of people living abundantly in the midst of a perennial drought. If, for some reason, a dictator came to power and put a siege around the city of Las Vegas, allowing no food in, and no people out, and the people starved as a result, you would not blame the starvation on the drought. Likewise, the failure of a government in an earthquake zone to enforce building standards for high rise apartments will result in many deaths when an earthquake comes, and it is ignorant to blame the earthquake for the magnitude of the loss of life. Similarly, on an individual level, if I hold my breath until I die, I am responsible for my own death.

Another important consideration, perhaps the most important consideration to be made in prelude to this discussion, is that God is not an impartial party on this question. He is not standing off in the distance as a calloused observer idly watching as evil causes someone else pain. He understands the gravity of the situation because He watched as His Son was born in a barn; laid in a feeding trough; exiled to Egypt under threat of death; raised in backwoods Nazareth; hungry at times; thirsty at times; frustrated at times; arrested under false pretense; cursed; beaten; mocked; and exonerated only to be crucified. The Father watched as all of this happened to His Son. Remember also that God the Son, who will judge the quick and the dead, also personally experienced these things. So God is not just an observer to the evil of other people's suffering, he is the victim of wicked acts and the One who himself suffered. He certainly feels the "existential weight" of the problem of evil. And he looks forward to the day when the solution to the problem has fully come.

That said, to the question of why the perfectly powerful and wise Lord of the universe does not rid that universe of evil right now, we have to say that it is because that would not be the best way for God to accomplish His perfect plan for creation. It is a mystery to us why this is the case, but it is not a mystery to God. To try and dispel the mystery, we point to what we know are different goals of God — goals such as furthering His Glory, saving sinners, and punishing the wicked — and we say that these goals would not be as perfectly accomplished if God had never allowed evil into the universe or if God had ended evil yesterday. Similarly, we affirm that we are not in a position to judge the Creator of the universe because, among other reasons, He knows all things and we do not. We must, therefore, have faith in God and His good purposes as we see evil in the universe.

Answer by Matt Gross

Matthew Gross received his masters degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, in 2004 and was the weekly editor of Reformed Perspectives Magazine.