Does God Send People to Hell?

I’ve been having some great dialog lately, both personally and on-line, with people from all over the country, believers and non-believers alike.  I’ve appreciated each and every opportunity and as I told one such person, “Throughout our exchanges you’ve given me a lot of great ideas, and sent me into a lot of research and soul-searching (for lack of a better term) about my beliefs and faith.”

At one point, I flat out asked someone who I guess you would call highly skeptical, even atheistic, what it was about Jesus’ teachings that is the sticking point?  I mean, pretty much every person far from God, even those who claim not to believe in Him, say, “I’m a good person. I try to be fair, be honest.  I’m good to those around me. I try not to hurt anybody and leave the world a better place than when I came into it.  And that’s good enough for me.”  Well, you’ve just described a majority of Christ’s teachings . . . what’s the hang-up?

Here’s a consensus of the answers I received:

“If there is one thing about Jesus’ teachings that turns people off, I’d have to say it’s Hell.  You don’t really find Hell in the OT — Jesus is the first to bring that on the scene …”

Along with:

“…and in the NT, he supposedly sends non-believers to an eternal torture chamber.”

These are excellent points, and I’ve written what I personally think about hell (“On Hell”) in my “A Little More Thought” area, but I’ll take these one at a time and expand a little bit here.

“If there is one thing about Jesus’ teachings that turns people off, I’d have to say it’s Hell.  You don’t really find Hell in the OT — Jesus is the first to bring that on the scene …”

Unfortunately that is not true.  Hell in the Old Testament was referred to as “Sheol”.  An online research led me to these definitions:

“- – The concept ‘sheol’   conveys is the ‘the underworld’. The abode of the dead. A place:
of no return; where there is no praise of God; where the wicked were sent for punishment. A place of exile from God. The righteous are not abandoned to it.”

She’ol, translated as “grave”, “pit”, or “abode of the dead”, is the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible’s underworld, a place of darkness to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life, a place of stillness and darkness cut off from God. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in ancient Alexandria around 200 BC the word “Hades” (underworld) was substituted for Sheol, and this is reflected in the New Testament where Hades is both the underworld of the dead and the personification of the evil it represents.”

“Heb., “the all-demanding world” = Gr. Hades, “the unknown region”), the invisible world of departed souls. (See HELL)”

A quick count shows there are at least sixty-three times in the Old Testament where Sheol is mentioned. King James, in his infinite wisdom (or those of his priests anyway), chose to substitute the word “hell” in many of these instances, and the NIV translates it as “the grave” or “death” or “the depths”. *(see below)

Next is:

“…and in the NT, he supposedly sends non-believers to an eternal torture chamber.”

A fine point of splitting-hairs here, but this point is incorrect as well.

If you believe in an eternal life, there are two doors open to you.  God does not shove you through either one.  You get to pick. God simply defers to your choice.  He wants all of his children (which means everyone on earth) to come to him and spend eternity with him.  But if you do not believe in him, do not like him, do not think he even exists, why would he “force” you to spend infinite time with him any more than he would “force” anyone away from him to an “eternal torture chamber”.

Could hell be a place of fire, brimstone and torture?  Possibly.  But God doesn’t “send” anyone there.  Again, call it splitting hairs, call it gullibility or a weak argument, but it is what it is.  God is simply trying to call you out of where you already are!

There is going to come a separation one day.  God is going to call his people home.  Those who know him will follow and he will take everything he is with him when he goes.

Think about that for a moment.  If God truly is who he says he is, and what he says he is, then all of “who and what he is” will one day be separated with him, taken with those who believe.  And those who are left will be left without “who and what he is”: Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control . . . all gone.

A world without love? Without peace? Kindness? Self-control?

Sounds a lot like hell to me.  Could there be fire, brimstone and torture in a world such as this?  You tell me, Mr. Atheist.

If I’m wrong, we all end up as dust. No harm, no foul.  Ultimately, no point.

But, good sir, what if I’m right?

*(We’ll just take Job as a brief example: Job 14:13, 17:13, 21:13, 24:19, 26:6.  Try the Amplified version.)

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14 thoughts on “Does God Send People to Hell?”

  1. “But God doesn’t “send” anyone there. Again, call it splitting hairs, call it gullibility or a weak argument, but it is what it is. God is simply trying to call you out of where you already are!”

    Did God create Hell? Did he create the rules that govern who goes there and who doesn’t?

    If the answers are yes, then indeed, he sends people there.

    “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control . . . all gone.”

    So your implication is that atheists can’t have these things independent of the deity you believe in?

    “If I’m wrong, we all end up as dust. No harm, no foul. ”

    No. If we atheists are right, we all end up as dust.

    If the Muslims are right, I imagine you might be in more trouble than we are.

    1. Thank you for the great questions. I’ll try to explain my understandings as best I know them . . .

      “Did God create Hell?”
      ~ From what I know of biblical history, no. God created Heaven, God created the earth, God created beings (both angelic and human) with free will. A mass of the angelic beings thought they either knew better or could do better than God and rebelled. The rebellion was defeated and the angels (Lucifer among them) were cast out. Where did they go? What was the “world” they created? And why? My answer was they either didn’t understand, didn’t care, or no longer respected God and the world, and yes boundaries, he created. Why would those of us on earth who believe or think the same way deserve to, or even want to, go anywhere else?

      “So your implication is that ahteists can’t have these things independent of the deity you believe in?”
      ~I believe everyone has all of these things because the deity I believe in IS still here. I have no idea if anyone (regardless of belief) can live independently of them or not.

      “If I’m wrong, we all end up as dust. No harm, no foul.”
      ~ My implication was in saying that if you (atheists) are right….we all end up as dust. If Muslims are right, you’ve lived a pretty good life, I’ve lived a pretty good life, neither of us would probably change anything about our living or our faith, and we will both have to live with any eternal consequence. My bet is still on the table of Christianity. 🙂

      Thanks again for the great comments and questions. Have a great rest of the week!

      ~ Kent

  2. As a Christian, I have a problem with Pascal’s wager. There is everything to lose by being wrong and being a Christian. If we’re wrong, we lose the opportunity to live the only life we have in accordance with our own judgement of what is good and right and in accordance with the truth.

    When we buy Christianity, we buy a human, fallible system (yes, yes, we really buy a relationship with God, but that relationship is structured by the habits, culture, beliefs, and expectations of our society–a society shaped by a Christian, human, community). It comes with, among other things, a series of prohibitions and prescriptions about culturally acceptable behavior that shape us. We either behave in accordance with or react against these things, but either way we are shaped by them. I can think of a laundry list of things I’d choose not to do if I didn’t believe that I do because I do believe.

    Ultimately, we’re staking freedom to make different decisions about the only life we have here, against heaven, and while I get Pascal’s (and your) claim, that seems a lot to risk if we only get 80 years. I’ve stopped using this gambit, because, I think, ultimately, people who don’t believe don’t buy the eternity vs. nothing calculus–it’s eternity vs. something dreadfully important!

    I’m glad you’re writing regularly, it’s an inspiration to me–and nice to stay connected to my old, now formerly B&N, friends.

    1. Wow! So much to unpack here, Dave.

      “If we’re wrong, we lose the opportunity to live the only life we have in accordance with our own judgement of what is good and right and in accordance with the truth.”
      “I can think of a laundry list of things I’d choose not to do if I didn’t believe that I do because I do believe.”
      “I’ve stopped using this gambit, because, I think, ultimately, people who don’t believe don’t buy the eternity vs. nothing calculus–it’s eternity vs. something dreadfully important!”
      ~ It sounds like you’ve made your Christianity into this repressing burden of chains and walls. That was never the intent.

      Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

      Your beliefs, your faith, if you choose to have any, should line up with living the “life we have in accordance with our own judgement of what is good and right and in accordance with the truth.” That’s kind of the point…no matter who or what you choose to follow, or not follow. God will meet you where you’re at. Stop trying to make it this “good enough” thing of works and does and don’ts. Stop trying to make it about the “habits, culture, beliefs, and expectations of our society” It’s truly not about that. Society is screwed up–none more so than the one that claims to be conservative and Christian. It’s about a relationship. One on one. You and God. He’ll take you where you’re at and prompt you where to go from there…and it will always seem “good and right and in accordance with the truth.” It’s really not that hard!

  3. It’s interesting that you would use sheol as evidence that Hell can be found in the old testament. There is a considerable difference between its description and the hellfire and brimstone that people normally associate with christian Hell. Your defense of Hell would leave an awful lot of Christian talk about outside the ramparts, so to speak.

    In any event, I think it is a little misleading to think of this as the primary reason for disbelief in God (if there is even such a thing). At best this is a response to a particular construction of a supernatural world. As an argument in favor of an unbelieving world, this is highly subtopical.

    1. Thank you for the comments, and thanks for stopping by.

      “There is a considerable difference between its description and the hellfire and brimstone that people normally associate with christian Hell. Your defense of Hell would leave an awful lot of Christian talk about outside the ramparts, so to speak.”
      ~ I agree. I’m speaking solely from my own understanding and beliefs both in my posts and replies, but from what I’ve been able to garner, there’s still a lot of speculation as to what “Hell” really even is. The pendulum swings from one extreme: fire and brimstone; to the other: the absence of God. It’s also quite possible that both of these are correct. The “lake of fire” that John speaks of in Revelation may be an actual lake of fire or it may be (as other descriptions in Revelation are) the use of imagery and metaphor….I don’t know. I do know that I don’t care to find out! 🙂

      “In any event, I think it is a little misleading to think of this as the primary reason for disbelief in God…”
      ~ I don’t know if its a “primary” but one of possibly many. I have heard this repeatedly though, and thought it worth addressing. I do think it unfortunate that someone would base a decision of belief solely on the perceived (or misconceived) “consequences” of unbelief–and that goes for Christians who base their belief simply as a “get out of Hell free” pass. In either case, and I believe I’m agreeing with you here, there is so much more than this.

  4. For me, Hell is a consideration, but it’s not the reason I don’t believe Jesus was a deity. I was a staunch believer for over 20 years, and I hated Hell the whole time. It was part of the motivation that kept me on the “straight and narrow.” So it’s not one of the reasons I stopped believing.

    The real reason atheists don’t follow Jesus is because we just don’t believe the claims about him. There are many reasons for this, but they essentially boil down to a position that we just don’t have enough evidence to convince us that Christianity is true. That’s it.

    In fact, I’ve said before that most of Jesus’ teachings are pretty admirable. The only big teaching of his that is objectionable is the doctrine of Hell — but that’s not the reason I don’t believe in him.

    1. Hey Nate. As always, I enjoy our dialogs on faith and belief (even the passionate ones 🙂 )
      “The real reason atheists don’t follow Jesus is because we just don’t believe the claims about him. There are many reasons for this, but they essentially boil down to a position that we just don’t have enough evidence to convince us that Christianity is true. That’s it.”
      ~ I totally get this, I really do. Mostly because I feel the same way…in the opposite direction. I have too much evidence in the conviction that Christianity is true. The only problem is, it’s 90% personal, life experience-type evidence. We can doctrine each other to death and have plenty of evidence to support our positions. What I can’t do is adequately tell you (or anyone for that matter) of the personal experiences of God’s prompting and/or God’s provision in my life that I have no other explanation for–the relationships we’ve (my wife and I) made, the support we’ve been given, the directions our lives have taken, especially over these last six months. I simply can’t deny it. There is something there (the timing, adequacy, what-have-you), in all these situations that I can’t explain. It could be coincidence, karma, kismet, alignment of the universe, or anything. However, within my faith I believe it to be God.

      That’s the one thing that is so frustrating in our discussions. My faith and belief goes so far beyond “doctrine” that I can’t adequately put it into words. It encompasses not only the teachings of written scripture, but life events, experiences, feelings, emotions….I don’t know; it’s just such a “package” deal that I wish I could break it down, but I’m not that good a writer. 😛

  5. I also want to point out that Daniel Wall’s comment is right on. Sheol in the OT is very different from Hell in the NT. The 2nd definition you quoted for Sheol illustrates that. Jacob and Job both talked about going to Sheol in a way that showed they didn’t view it as a negative thing — just something that happened when you die.

    And NotAScientist makes another good point. If God set up the rules deciding who goes to Heaven or Hell, then it is definitely he that sends people there. Remember that Matthew 25:41 says that the unbelievers will be sent into “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” I doubt Satan would have prepared that for himself… who else could have? I think it’s obvious that God created it.

    The entire plan is a little ridiculous, in my opinion. God loves us all and wants us all to come to him through Christ? Then why are so many born into different religions. Sure, a few convert to Christianity, just like a few Christians convert to other religions. But the vast majority of people die within the same (or very similar) religion they were born into. Yet God is no respecter of persons? He wants us all to know him, but he doesn’t have a real relationship with any of us? Most people I know don’t claim to have ever been spoken to by God — they certainly haven’t seen him. What kind of a relationship is that? The fact that many of us can genuinely ask if he even exists shows how hidden he is. He’s the ultimate at hide-and-seek, yet he’s going to punish us if we don’t find him? He communicates to us via a fallible text in an age in which superstition is fading away. Yet when people were more superstitious (but had no real way of preserving history accurately) he spoke to them directly or performed miracles to convince them of what he said. How convenient that he only did that at a time when “false religions” claimed the same things about their gods. To simultaneously say that this is how God operates, yet he wants us all to know him, and he’ll punish us if we don’t (yet this is still somehow our fault) just drives me crazy.

    As a Christian, think of the kind of evidence it would require to make you doubt Christianity. Obviously, immoral commands in the OT (slavery, genocide) isn’t enough to make one doubt. Historical discrepancies aren’t enough. Failed prophecies and contradictory passages aren’t enough. A harsh judgement system won’t cut it either. Now imagine you’re a Muslim. What level of evidence would get you to question Islam and come to the “true” religion of Christianity? Would a flawed religious text make you question it? Would immoral commands (like killing the infidel) cause you to question it? Would a harsh system of judgement cause you to question it? Then how in the world could a righteous being condemn a Muslim who’s unable to leave their faith despite the issues, but reward a Christian who has approached his faith no differently? How much sense does that really make?

  6. Love your post. I too believe that there is a Hell that is not the typical “fire and brimstone” idea. I believe that Hell is simply life without God, without love, without responsibility. Because God gives us free will, we have the choice to ignore Him, to reject Him; because who wants to have a party guest who doesn’t want to be present?

  7. My last comment might have come off too strongly. Please overlook that if I stepped over the line at all. I’d had a long day at work and didn’t read through my response as carefully as I normally would.

    As always, I enjoy your posts, Kent. Even when we don’t agree. 🙂

    Talk to you soon, brother.

    Nate

  8. Kent,
    I too know Christ as only a believer can. Christ is real and present, constant and personal with me.
    The Bible says, “His Spirit bares witness with our spirit that we are sons of God. ”
    How can we tell others in words anything beyond that?
    These things will come off as foolish to them!
    Thus the required Humility to find God.
    The answer is personal to the believer and we would die for it, as did all the Apostles.
    Blessings,
    C. C. T.

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