Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

How can a loving God put people into hell?!

May be you should have asked: “Why should a holy God allow people into heaven?” God is righteous, and if people insist on rebelling against Him, there is no other appropriate place for them (but hell). As Creator and Sustainer of everyone and everything, He has the right to judge. What is the appropriate punishment for lying, lusting, and hating people once in a while? Surely not hell! Well, we’re not the ones making the rules; God is, and His rules are in conformity with His standards of holiness, not ours. Sin against an infinitely holy God is infinitely serious, and hence calls for infinite punishment. Finite beings like us can bear infinite punishment only by suffering for an infinite time in hell. God is love, and so He’s graciously made a way for you to escape hell. It’s up to you to avail of it (on his terms!).
 
"Don't say that a loving God is going to send you to hell. He's not. The thing that's going to send you to hell is that you're a sinner and you don't want to admit it."  – J. Vernon McGee
 
Further reading:
  • Benton, John. 1995. How can a God of love send People to Hell? Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed
  • Morey, Robert 1984. Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House
  • Hart-Davies, D. E. 1946. The Severity of God. London. Pickering and Inglis
  • Peterson, Robert A. 1995. Hell on Trial. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co.

What about reincarnation?

The Bible is absolutely clear that there is no reincarnation:-

“It is appointed for men once to die, and then face judgment” – Hebrews 9:27

Isn’t it obvious? If reincarnation was true, and it was a fair and just God’s intention for us to make amends for what we did in our past lives, everyone would remember their past lives – which they don’t!

Can't I get purification from my sins by dipping myself in some river or some other ritual?

According to the Bible you cannot. In God’s scheme of things, the price for sin is death. Justice has to be served! You have to die eternally, or someone else needs to be willing to die instead of you. Rituals can at best serve as symbols – they don't mete justice, and therefore cannot deal with the problem of sin that separates you from God. Thinking that taking a dip in a river can cleanse you of your sin is like telling the traffic cop: "I admit I jumped the signal. Now is it okay if I take a dip in a holy river? Or bow down to the office of the traffic department?" - it does not work. In ancient times, God himself instituted animal sacrifices as symbols of the great solution that He has provided for sin.

Can we compensate for our sins by doing good deeds?

There are several problems with this idea:-

Good deeds planned by one party do not bring reconciliation: The very fact that you want to do good deeds shows that you acknowledge your guilt - your offense is not against the molecules that make up this universe - but against God - a person. Reconciliation is therefore what is needed. For reconciliation, it is not enough that you think of something nice and do it - you need to find out what God requires! Analogy: If I broke your watch, it would be appropriate for me to ask you: "What would you like me to do? Shall I get it repaired? Or shall I buy you a new one?" - it would not be appropriate for me to think: "Okay, since I've done something bad I'll make amends by doing something good - fix dinner for him maybe".

Good deeds cannot "balance" the bad we've done because they are our duty anyway - not something "extra" (see Mark 12:28-31). It works the same way in civil law. If you’re on trial for murder, you cannot argue saying, “What about all the people I’ve been nice to? I’ve murdered one person, but have been nice to more than one person, so I should be set free!”.  When Indian actor Sanjay Dutt (see image) was on trial for illegally possessing arms in a case linked to the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai, he argued for a reduction in his sentence citing his charitable activities. The judge did not comply. Do you think God will reduce your sentence because you have done some good deeds? When the laws of an infinitely holy God confront sinful people like you and me, there is only one result: awful curse and condemnation (Galatians 3:10).

Our good deeds are not good enough: When we sin, the breach between us and God (who is infinitely holy), is infinite, and it cannot be bridged by our finite good deeds. Thus, even if it were possible for us to do something really good - something out of the way or "extra", it would still not be enough. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) - infinite suffering and separation from God - not community service. Analogy: Imagine you wake up to find yourself naked in the president's office. What will you do? The "atheist" approach is to deny the existence of the president and the shamefulness of nudity. The "religious" approach is to prepare for the arrival of the president - hold a newspaper around yourself. Unfortunately, newspaper clad persons will get kicked out by the security guards just like nude persons will! Our good deeds are as pathetic as that newspaper wrap! But just imagine the president's son shows up and offers you a designer suit - purchased at great cost but free for you - yours if you accept your helpless condition and submit to the president! This is akin to what God has done for you.

God does not find our good deeds "good": Think of a person who has a sore in his hand from which pus and blood is oozing out. He offers you food held in his hands. How does it look? That's how your good deeds look to God - as sinners we are like rotting lepers in His sight. Our best deeds are filthy rags in God's sight (Isaiah 64:6). There’s no way we can win His approval. In spite of all this (tears fill my eyes as I write this - how merciful of God to even bother about sinners like us!!), God has still made it possible for us to reach Him

Conclusion: Your good deeds do not change the logical outcome of the fact that you have sinned against an infinitely holy God! There is only one way out!

God is all knowing, so then why did he create man in spite of knowing that man would sin?

God created man because He wanted fellowship. He created everything good and perfect (Genesis 1:31). Our first parents messed things up (see Genesis 3:1-24 or details here). There are some who say that it would be “better” if God did not create man – then so many people going to hell could have been avoided. We need to realize that God is sovereign. He will not allow Himself to be constrained by any possibility. If you are going to choose to sin and suffer the consequences, you can’t demand that God does not create you! I’m quite happy that God has created me – it’s because He’s made me that I have the privilege of knowing Him and enjoying eternity with Him – why should all of us (God and those people who choose to submit to Him) miss out on all the fun for eternity because some people insist on rejecting God and going to hell? Also consider the following question: Why have you brought children into the world (or intend to) if you know that there is suffering in this world?

It seems like all of us are being unnecessarily punished for Adam’s mistake!

First of all, let's clear one thing: We are not punished for the specific sins that Adam and Eve committed. It is just that we have inherited a sinful nature from them. It’s true that in a way, we’re all helpless – we have a sinful nature to start with, and thus a propensity to sin. We don’t really have a “clean slate” to begin with, like Adam and Eve did. So then, what if there’s someone who commits very few sins? Is he much better than Hitler, Pol Pot and so on? By how much? These are questions for God to bother about, not us. If we were in place of Adam and Eve, would we do better? That is unknown and irrelevant. What we do know is that we’re all sinners, not only by nature, but even our actions. You can be sure that God is going to treat you fairly when He judges you. He will factor in everything that needs to be factored. But His standards of justice are higher than ours, and if you are at the receiving end of His judgment, you will spend eternity in regret. The wiser thing to do is to avail of the offer He has made.