Question: Why did God make a hell?
Answer: Why did God make a hell? Well… he had to… that’s right; I said he had to.
But wait—God doesn’t have to do anything, does he? Yes. God must stay true to his nature—and this means that he must always act logically. Since part of God’s design for creation was that angels and humans should have free will, situational logic demands that there be a hell.
People think about hell a lot—and they should. Hell is a place of final, yet ongoing, destruction. And since this is every person’s greatest peril, it deserves the Bible’s strongest warnings. This is why God used an image that people just can’t get out of their minds: unending-torment-by-fire—the worst physical horror imaginable!
But the image of hell was too successful for God’s own good. Many people insist that any God who would build such a place as hell cannot be good… and, therefore, such a God does not exist! Furthermore, they shake their heads at people like us; people wonder why we would have anything to do with a God like that.
But we know that God’s word is true and that it teaches the existence of hell. So the thing we have to figure out is if God is all about love and forgiveness, how can a place like hell even exist? Well, the answer is simple enough. As I said before, logic demands that hell exists. Let’s look at the reasons.
Love and forgiveness are meaningless in a system where sin is ignored because love and forgiveness are tied to God’s mercy. But the concept of mercy is meaningless without the concept of justice—and hell is merely one of the structures necessary for justice. Hell was not built because God is mean-spirited; it was built because some of his creatures were mean-spirited. Now, we Christians sin plenty… but the angels sinned first—and hell was created for Satan and his angels, not for us.
“'Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41, NIV, emphasis mine)
Although hell was not created for us, it can (and will) contain us. You see, after Adam sinned—and after the gate of Eden closed behind him (Gen. 3:24)—the gates of hell were opened before him. From that moment on (and until the final judgment) hell became the default destination for all humankind. (This is the “bad news” part of the “Good News”)
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—” (Romans 5:12, NIV)
But we who know the gospel understand that just as one man’s sin condemned every person to death, so one man’s sacrifice freed every person from that same death… every person, that is, who has trusted Jesus Christ
“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:17, NIV)
So, when assaulted by those who hate God because he created hell, you can remind them of two things: First, God did not create hell for us; he created it for Satan and his angels. (We are just a bunch of saps that were talked into going there.) Second, tell them to stop complaining and start taking care of business… because the fix for hell is at hand! God has made salvation available to every person everywhere—and at no cost! (Save for the Lord). Therefore, since the remedy is universally available and priced to sell, we cannot say that God will send anyone to hell; they send themselves—either by rebellion or by indolence. And since hell will not disappear as an aid to people who do not subscribe to it, we are all stuck with it.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31, NIV)
Now that we’ve covered the gospel dynamics (which is the most important answer to any question about hell), let us move from the theological to the philosophical imperatives. Because, in any world where people have a free will, there is a philosophical necessity for a hell.
It would have been senseless for God to create people who had no free wills—I mean, why would he even bother? Such people would be no more able to give God glory than would a pile of lumber (…and God doesn’t need any lumber). But instead, he created people who could choose to worship him… or choose not to!
In this (our current) world, glory can be given or withheld—and our experience tells that there are plenty of people who hate God (…or hate the idea of God). Knowing this, would it make any sense to take people who have hated God all their lives (and with such a determined hate as to risk eternal damnation) and force them to live in God’s presence through all eternity? No. That would either be mean, beg a spiritual lobotomy or violate their free will.
Since being mean would violate God’s nature, and since changing a person’s essence through a spiritual lobotomy would be tantamount to creating lumber, and since violating the free will of humans would violate his purpose in creation, hell is as necessary as creation itself—and the only humans who go there are the ones who refuse to climb into the lifeboat… and that is their choice. So, what is hell? Hell is the voluntary destruction of one’s self. The only people who are “sent” to hell are the ones who volunteer to go.
To summarize, if we have no free wills, then hell is absurd or mean-spirited. But if we do have free wills, then hell is necessary. Just as God created a variety of support systems for our physical and emotional lives like families, the sun, oxygen and rain, so he created hell as a necessary structure for our essential and spiritual lives. The existence of a hell supports and proves our volitional natures. It is also an essential part of the Christian worldview, which is the best explanation for the evil we see. The fact that a real hell exists shows us that God has a plan to deal with that evil.