Hell and the Love of God

Question

I’m sharing the gospel with a nonbeliever in the midst of COVID-19. He os older and has many comorbidity factors. I’m personally convinced that hell exists. It has to exist as there must be a place where evil is ultimately and fully punished. But he is asking how do we reconcile hell’s existence with God’s nature of love?

Answer

This answer is being written in the midst of a worldwide pandemic called COVID-19. As of this date, the World Health Organization (WHO) is stating that so far only 10% of the world has been infected with this coronavirus, and there have been well over one million (1,050,000) reported deaths worldwide. There is no known viable vaccine currently available. It’s an understatement to say it’s a worrisome time.

However, another pandemic existed well before 2019. It’s called sin. Some refer to it as the fall of mankind or the fall of Adam. It has a 100% infection rate with a 100% death rate and a death that is consigned to Hell. [1] Again, it’s an understatement to say it’s a worrisome time.

So, how could a loving God who created everything make a place like Hell? This is an important question. And it requires at least some understanding about God’s love, holiness, justice, and the very nature of Hell itself.

God’s Nature: Love

In 1 John 4:7-10 four essential aspects of God’s love are described: (1) God’s nature is love (1 John 4:7-8, 16); (2) the sinner must be born again in order to fully experience every aspect God’s love (1 John 4:7); (3) God’s love is expressed in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation (1 John 4:9); and (4) God’s love is manifested through wrath (1 John 4:10).

First off, God is love (1 John 4:7-8, 16). While God’s love is beyond full comprehension and expression, love is part and parcel of who he is. It’s his very nature. God is the ultimate expression of love. He initiates love and he defines love. And in Jesus Christ, God expressed his greatest love to us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8) — "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

The second characteristic of love is that the sinner must be born again in order to fully experience every aspect of God’s love (1 John 4:7). While someone can experience some of God’s love in a general way (i.e., the beauty and majesty of creation, good friendships, new discoveries, etc.) the fullness of God’s love may only be experienced by someone who has been born of God (John 3:1-8). We are not born into an automatic positive relationship with God. Rather, we are born as lost, depraved sinners and need to be born again to experience all that God has to offer. So, if we truly desire to understand and express the love of God, we need to honestly understand that without Christ we are hopeless, helpless and hell-bound.

The third indispensable lesson from this passage about God’s love is that love is fully expressed in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. John tells us, "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him" (1 John 4:9). If there is no Jesus there is no real life, no complete love. Luke wrote, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the only way, truth and life by which we may come to God the Father (John 14:6).

The final characteristic in 1 John 4:7-10 is God's love is manifest through wrath. God loves his people and has sent his Son to be the propitiation for their sins (1 John 4:10). The word "propitiation" means that while on the cross Jesus took the full wrath of God against our sin; he acted as our substitute. God’s wrath towards the believer's sins was fully satisfied at Calvary. In Christ, the believer is at peace with God (Rom. 5:1).

God’s Nature: Holy and Just

It's important to not misunderstand God’s love because sinners will be punished for their lack of repentance. In Exodus 34:6-7 we read "the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." So, God is merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving, loving, kind, and patient. But don’t miss the fact that he will “by no means clear the guilty.”

Because God is holy and just, he must judge sin. The main idea behind holiness is separation, as in being set apart, undefiled. God’s character is one of flawless moral perfection. He can’t do any wrong and he always does what is right. His very name is holy (Isa. 57:15; Rev. 15:4). He is unique in his holiness (1 Sam. 2:2). He takes no pleasure in evil and can’t dwell in/with wickedness (Psa. 5:4). As Creator, he rightly commands us to be holy (Lev. 11:44-45; 1 Pet. 1:15).

But we sin and our iniquities separate us from God (Isa. 59:2). And because God is also just, he is the righteous judge (Deut. 10:17). "His work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he" (Deut. 32:4). He must judge sin or logically he couldn’t and wouldn’t be holy. Therefore all sin must and will be judged (Rev. 20:11-15).

Again, God's love doesn't mean he will wink at sin. Our sins will either be judged in Christ or in ourselves. Either Jesus was judged for our sins or we will stand guilty for all of them. But remember, it is within the other characteristics of God's love that "propitiation" was provided for believers.

The Nature of Hell

Below are several items that address the nature of Hell. Please refer to those regarding these points: (1) Hell exists; (2) it was made for unrepentant souls; (3) it is a horrible real place; and (4) Hell is forever.

An Answer

You opened your question by saying you are sharing the gospel with an aged person who is at high morbid risk should he get the COVID-19 virus. Using this as an example, would it be loving to force an older person with high morbid risk factors to live with someone who has COVID-19? This just wouldn't be loving, holy, just, moral or ethical would it?

In a similar manner, how could God be loving, holy, just, moral or ethical if he didn’t eternally separate the unrepentant from the repentant, the righteous from the unrighteous, the sheep from the goats, or the wheat from the tares? God must separate those diseased with their unrepentant sin from those that are righteous in Christ. God’s eternal love is consistent with his eternal wrath. God is love and he must punish the "virus" of sin. The fact that Hell exists proves not only that God exists, but his love does as well.

But good news! There is a vaccine for this "sin virus." It is not certified as safe by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) but by a greater Administration, the FSS (Father, Son, and Spirit). By the design of the Father, centuries ago Jesus came and died on the cross. His sinless blood is the pure serum. Jesus’ transforming blood is spiritually injected by the Holy Spirit into a sinner and then eternally converts their life.The believer is saved not only by Jesus' death but by his life as well. Jesus life and death is 100% effective against the "sin virus" and there need be no fear of eternal consequences.

Have you been born again? (John 3:1-8; Rom 10:9-10).

Footnotes

[1] Hell is capitalized as it is a real place. It is an eternal place and state of torment.

Related Topics

When was Hell created?
Wasn't hell made for the devil and his angels and not real people?
Hell isn't forever, is it?
An Eternal Hell is for Real - The Heresy of Annihilationism?
How can God exact infinite punishment for a finite sin?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).