Searching for Light, In a World of Darkness #7
How Can A Loving God Send People to Hell?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,
When was the last time you heard anything about hell? Other than in church, it was
probably part of a joke. There are a lot of jokes out there about our subject for today, but
I’m not going to tell you any of them. There a number of good reasons why not. First of
all, if hell is real, it’s not a joking matter. We often tell jokes about the things we fear,
and if hell is real, it is certainly something to be feared.
Secondly, if the Bible is true, hell is real. I believe that the Bible is true in everything it
says, and I think you do too. It so happens that Jesus actually talked more about hell than
he did about heaven. There are many people who would wish that Jesus didn’t say what
he did. Even if they believe that Jesus is real, they start thinking that portions of the
Bible are made up because they don’t want to accept the reality of a place of punishment.
One of the serious reasons why people have rejected the Bible is our very serious
question for today: “How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?” Have you ever
wondered about that? You might say, yes, sin deserves God’s punishment, but flames
and fire for all eternity, with no end and no way of getting out, isn’t that a bit extreme? Is
it fair that someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus would suffer that forever? What if they
never had a chance to hear the Gospel? And what about the children? All those
questions are good and valid questions, and we’re going to let the Word of God give us
some answers today.
First of all, I would like to switch the question around a bit. The Lord is a loving God
and full of compassion and mercy for all the people of the whole world. That is true. But
should he let people just get away with sin and wickedness? What I would propose this:
If God is also holy and just, how can He NOT send some people to hell?
We have a human sense of justice, originally from God himself. It is part of our
conscience, God’s law written in our hearts. Does it sound right to you in a violent
crime, that the victim should suffer and the criminal get off scot-free? When the
terrorists hijacked those planes on 9/11, perhaps they were dancing in glee when they
crashed them into the twin towers, but do you think God, the real God, would send them
to heaven? Just the opposite – I’m sure they’re experiencing what real flames are all
about. When people today do some terrible murders, or bloodthirsty leaders try to wipe
out whole populations, should God let them get away with it?
They may get away with it on earth, or in our court system, but finally, it settles my sense
of outrage to hear that I don’t have to try to take vengeance, because God will. Do not
take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is
mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. Romans 12:19. And so Isaiah also ends
his prophecy with a warning for those who would rebel against the true God. At the end
of the world, the believers will do this: And they will go out and look upon the dead
bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire
be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind. Isaiah 66:24.
I hope you’re saying with me, OK that makes sense. The fires of hell are for the wicked
and the terrible. But is every unbeliever going to get the same punishment? What about
all those people out there, who are not criminals, who are good, caring citizens and
perhaps believe in another religion, they just don’t believe in Christ? What about
innocent children? Are they going to suffer fire forever? That’s a good question, that
deserves a proper answer, and the simple answer to that is no, those kind of people will
not suffer fire forever. Now, I’m not denying that you need Jesus to be saved, you can’t
get to heaven without him. No one is truly innocent because we are all sinners, young
and old alike, and we need Jesus to be saved from sin, even little babies. Yet the truth of
the Bible is this: Not everyone is going to receive the same punishment.
To illustrate hell, people have taken a candle and say – how would it be if you stuck your
finger in this flame and kept it there? That’s how it will be for your whole body for all
eternity! I think that illustration is used to try to scare people into heaven. The simple
fact is that earthly flames are an illustration of the punishment of hell, but your body
could not continue to exist in such a flame. It’s just like when the Bible describes
heaven. God uses earthly terms we can understand to describe something that is beyond
our comprehension. So it is with hell. Jesus also describes it as complete blackness or
darkness: And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there
will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matt 25:30. Peter says of some false teachers:
Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 2 Peter 2:17. Above all, hell is a separation
from the God, a place of darkness far away from the Light. It’s a place where the
blessings of God are missing. And it won’t be the same for everyone.
When Jesus went into detail about the punishments that God will hand out, he explained:
"That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do
what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.  But the one who does
not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.”
Luke 12:47,48. For those who deliberately reject what God has told them, they have
called the Lord their master, and then they still go against his will and deliberately
disobey his commands, they can expect the worst. Jesus said that they will be beaten
with many blows. But those who don’t know any better, those who are ignorant or do not
know the truth or the true God, will be beaten with few blows – their punishment will be
I believe that Dante Alighieri had the right concept when he wrote his classic poem, The
Inferno, or hell. He pictured hell as having different levels of punishment. On the first
level were the virtuous heathen and unbaptized. The second level was the home for those
who were caught in the sin of lust. The third level was for gluttons, the fourth level was
for greedy, and so forth, until you got down to murderers and heretics and traitors. At the
very bottom is a monster who is Satan, frozen in ice, with Judas Iscariot in his mouth.
His details of course are not accurate, but the concept is right. Not everyone will be
punished the same.
So, we are ready to take a few points from our text for today, about the rich man who had
everything on earth and went to hell, and poor Lazarus who had nothing on earth except
faith and went to heaven. 22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels
carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In hell,
where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by
his side.  So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send
Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in
agony in this fire.' 25 "But Abraham replied, `Son, remember that in your lifetime
you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is
comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you
a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot,
nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
Point #1 – The rich man did not want to be there.
Matter of fact, he didn’t even ask to get out; he knew he could not. He just wanted
Lazarus to bring a little water for his tongue. The reason I make this point is that
sometimes people try to explain hell as filled with people who want to be there. In C.S.
Lewis’ classic book, “The Great Divorce” it pictures people in hell who can take a bus
ride to the edge of heaven, to see if they’d like to go there. But they decide they’d rather
be in hell, because they don’t want to give up their favorite sins.
Or take The Adventures of Huck Finn, the famous book by Mark Twain. Huck Finn
was talking with Miss Watson, a maid.
Miss Watson told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad
then, but I didn't mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a
change, I warn't particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn't say it
for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn't see no
advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn't try for it.
She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do
there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think
much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and
she not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be
You see, the only ones who think might be ok, or even fun to go to hell are those who are
still on this earth. . Jesus has the rich man sitting alone in flames. That doesn’t sound
like fun to me.
Point #2 - There is no escape or second chances.
Not only can’t the rich man get out, but Lazarus can’t come to visit either. Between us
and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you
cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. If there is are second chances
and choices, it’s right here and now. Now is the time to believe in God, now is the day of
salvation. The Lord wants us to believe and trust in him now. Once you die and see for
yourself the alternatives, it’s no longer a matter of faith. You already have proof that
heaven and hell are real.
Point #3 – The love of money receives some of the worst of punishments.
The rich man is suffering the worst kind of punishments in hell. He’s not a terrorist or a
murderer. He just had money as his god. The Lord wants us to see graphically that The
Love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It’s the worst because it becomes our god
instead of Him.
Point #4 The rich man didn’t want anyone he cared about to go there.
When he couldn’t get a drop of water, he had another idea: "He answered, `Then I beg
you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house,  for I have five brothers. Let him
warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” 29 "Abraham
replied, `They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 30 " `No,
father Abraham,' he said, `but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will
repent.' 31 "He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they
will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' " If only someone would
go back and warn my brothers. If they saw a miracle, they would believe. And Abraham
replied, they have Moses and the prophets, they have the Bible. If they won’t believe that,
they won’t believe the evidence of a miracle either. Not even if Jesus himself rose from
And that brings us to the key part of the parable. You see the rich man didn’t want
anyone he loved to go there. But they needed to listen to the Word of God. Guess what:
GOD doesn’t want anyone to go to hell either! Think of how St. Paul explains it: God
our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1
Timothy 2:4. He wants everyone to come to heaven, and to have the truth about salvation
and believe it. Or as the Lord himself says in Ezekiel: As surely as I live, declares the
Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they
turn from their ways and live. 33:11.
The simple fact is this: God is love, he loves the whole world. He wants everyone to be
saved and come to heaven, no matter who they are or what they have done. He wants
them to turn from their wicked ways, repent and live with him forever. But if they don’t,
God’s justice demands that there be a place of punishment. But oh, how he wants to stop
people from getting there!
Take the man whose name has become infamous, Judas Iscariot. He was the disciple
who betrayed Jesus to his enemies for money. How many times did Jesus warn him
about there being a traitor in their midst? Many. The night before the betrayal, oh, how
Jesus reached out to him and washed his feet like the other disciples and let him know
that if he carried out his plan, it would be better if he had never been born. Jesus loved
him. He loved him so much he was trying to stop him. When Judas showed up in the
garden of Gethsemane with the soldiers, Jesus still called him “Friend.” Jesus did
everything he could to prevent him from going to hell. He was the only one standing in
the way of Judas’ terrible march to hell. But Judas wouldn’t listen.
And finally Jesus did the ultimate for him, and for you and me. He went to the cross. He
was saying: “I don’t want you to go to hell. I’m going to go there for you. “My God, my
God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s the ultimate description of hell – separation
from God forever. Jesus took hell for us. And for every soul that ever lived. We don’t
have to fear. That’s the message we need to get out to everyone, so that no one else will
go there either. Amen.