Why do people go to hell?

It’s not right that people would go to hell just for not believing in the right God.  We all know a good and moral God would’t condemn people to hell just for not believing in him, would he?  I hear this a lot, and it demonstrates a  misunderstanding of the reason people are condemned in the first place.

It seems reasonable at first.  But it makes two fundamental mistakes.  First, no one goes to hell just because they believe in the wrong God according to the Christian worldview.  According to the Bible, people go to hell for breaking the laws of God.  God requires moral perfection for someone to spend eternity in his presence; anything short of moral perfection requires an eternal punishment.  It’s a person’s sin which relegates him to hell, not wrong belief.  For example, if a person lives a morally perfect life, they would not be condemned to hell even if they hadn’t heard of Jesus since they committed no sin.

I’ve offered an analogy in the past which may be helpful.  You are walking down the street and a robber sticks a gun in your face and demands your wallet.  After you surrender your belongings, the gunman steps back and shoots you in the chest and you die on the street.  Did you die for lack of a surgeon or medical care?  No, you died of a gunshot wound to the chest.  The surgeon and emergency medical care would have been the remedy, not the cause of your death.  In the same way, trusting in Christ is the remedy, it’s what saves you from hell, not the reason you go there.  What causes someone to spend eternity in hell is their sin.  Don’t confuse the lack of remedy with cause.

What else is wrong with this objection?  Wouldn’t it be far more unloving and unjust for God to simply allow everyone an escape from the punishment they deserve?  Reflect a moment.  We have all committed moral wrongs against both God and our fellow-man.  We’ve even violated our own conscience, our own moral standards.  Most of these moral wrongs go undetected.  Think of all the lies you’ve never been caught telling.  All the hours of pay stolen at work by way of slacking off or extra time on breaks.  Remember it’s not just rape and murder which count as moral wrongs against God.  But what about all the unsolved murders, and child molesters who have never been caught.  Without hell, they get away with it.  How loving would God be to let evil such as that to go unpunished?

Why do people need Jesus in the first place?  It’s only because they sin.  If a person were to live their life completely free of sin, and also had never heard of Jesus, that person would not go to hell.  Understand what that entails.  No sin.  People only need Jesus if they’ve broken God’s law.  I don’t think an explanation of what is wrong with this objection will prevent skeptics from using it.  It’s rhetorically powerful and emotionally compelling.  But it’s grounded in a fundamental misunderstanding of the doctrinal details concerning hell and why people end up there.

Comments

  1. The answer is quite simple:

    1. Hell doesn’t exist.
    2. God doesn’t exist.
    3. Jesus doesn’t save anyone, not even himself (as he should have done so on the cross, as demanded by Jesus’ persecutors).
    4. All religion is a lie, and as such is sometimes beneficial but mostly harmful.
    5. The Bible is a book filled with lies, errors and absurdities that has motivated some of the most abhorrent behavior among humans.

    You don’t need to hope for Heaven nor should you waste any time thinking about Hell because when you die you will cease to exist just as Jesus ceased to exist when he died. There is no afterlife, no judgement, no reward and no punishment. Humans are very much like all the other animals in this regard.

  2. R. Nash says:

    John,
    Care to flesh out the premise that people who had never heard of your particular god could go to heaven? That is to say, how the billions who have lived without ever knowing of your god could enter heaven by living by your gods laws? How could they live by those laws in central Peru 3500 years ago? The countless beings who were never offered, by this god, an opportunity to know of his existence, how do they get to heaven by worshiping other gods, in spite of living what they thought was a moral life?

    If the answer is still that they are in hell for not living by your gods laws, that still sounds not just non-sensical, and unjust, it sounds absurd.

    • Nash

      Why doesnt it make sense? Arent you responsible for following the law when youre in another state or country? Since when is ignorance of the law exemption from the law?

      • R. Nash says:

        Huh,
        So the people who had absolutely zero affiliation with this law, lived and died before the life of jesus in another hemisphere, are responsible for following the law?

        Nope, doesn’t make sense.

        Maybe you could explain how you, yourself, would have lived by this law 5k years ago in Polynesia, in spite of the glaringly obvious fact that there was no way for you to know about the law.

        • Nash

          The bible mentions that even if you dont know about Gods law, that even if you are judged by your own standard, by the standards you hold other people to, and your own conscience, you would be guilty.

          I’m not seeing a problem. Even on the most lax standards: you’re own idea of right and wrong, you’ll fail. It just sounds to me like you done like the idea. But thats not an argument. there also isnt anything illogical. At most you could say toy think its unfair.

          • So to be sparkling clear, the billions of people who lived before any mention of jesus are in fact in hell?

            And this makes sense to you?

            Your god places people all over the planet for eons before making his presence known, they live the best they can with what they have and automatically go to hell?

            I guess if I had drunk the kool aid this would make perfect sense.

            Where is the justice, the omniscience and perfection, or morality?

            • Nash

              Have you ever read the bible? People were saved before Jesus’ time. It’s spoken of in the Old Testament.

              • R. Nash says:

                Please enlighten us, how were the peoples of the rest of the world outside that sliver of flea infested desert saved John? How? Be specific about the people of Peru.

                What mechanism allowed for them to be saved 5k years ago or more?

                BTW I showed this thread to a pastor who lives across the street from me who considers your interpretation to be sad and misguided. How would you respond?

              • R. Nash says:

                Are you still saying that the peoples of Peru, Polynesia, and the Arctic circle, who would have no way of knowing about the OT practices because they lived 10k miles away, and died before the advent of OT practices, went to hell?

                What mechanisms would have introduced people to these laws that came after they died?

                BTW I showed this thread to a conservative pastor who lives across the street from me. He finds your interpretation both bizarre and sad. How do you respond?

              • Unless I know his rationale, how could I respond to this hypothetical conservative pastor?

                I your question was essentially, how were people before Jesus saved? The answer is trusting God that he would someday send the Messiah to save his people, the nation of Israel…which outsiders could be a part of.

              • R. Nash says:

                And the people of Peru would or could know about jesus the messiah and the future state of Israel how? How could they trust this god, that they never heard of?
                That is still my question, essentially?

                Be precise.

              • Nash, again, bottom line, they still knew right from wrong even by their own standard, by their own conscience and still violated even their own.

              • John,
                Your being evasive. Why?

                How could they know the pre biblical christian ideas on right and wrong? You spend copious amounts of time on this very blog telling all of us that the only standard for morality is your god. How could their morality be the same? How could their standards qualify? They sacrificed goats to other gods. They worshiped the sun and trees etc. How could they know.

                Are you now saying that if they knew right from wrong, and were conscientious about attempting to live morally they could get to heaven?

                And how exactly do you think that a conversation, in real time, between two people (judge/criminal) existing on the same plane of existence, at the same time, speaking the same language, equates to indigenous billions, not having any contact with your god, his laws or the future state of Israel, and possible laws and ideas regarding morality?

                You may want to invent another analogy, this one is filled with holes.

              • Nash

                Im not sure whats so difficult here. Even if judged by their oen conscience, youd fail.

              • Nash

                Why dont you find it unjust that judges in courts dont offer criminals a pardon before sentencing them to jail?

  3. John,
    Here’s a simple yes/no question for you: Is it possible to live a morally perfect life?

    • Z

      I dont think its possible in practice, but it is logically possible since you arent required to sin.

      • Oh, like folding a piece of paper in half in perpetuity – great in theory, impossible in practice. So I see we can dismiss any real possibility of avoiding hell because a sinless life is impossible in practice.

        What I find interesting is that Christians believe that the ONLY way to heaven is through Jesus, regardless of behavior. Best of intentions or reprehensible actions are irrelevant – child molesters are welcomed with open arms so long as they believe that Jesus died for their sins.

  4. John,
    You write: “Since when is ignorance of the law exemption from the law?”

    How about John 16:22: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.”

    • Tumeyn

      That is in reference to the original handing down of the law. If there was never a law, then no one is guilty.

      Can you check that reference? When I look up John 16:22, I see something different.

      • Sorry, John 15:22 – not 16:22. And your statement is completely false. The statement is plain as day: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.”
        It is clearly talking about JESUS not the Law. (see the rest of verses 18-25 – he is very clearly talking about himself – not about “the law”)

        • Tumeyn

          Ill have to check it later, im at work now

        • paynehollow says:

          John 15, in context (Jesus teaching)…

          “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me [Jesus] before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.

          Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.

          If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.

          He who hates Me hates My Father also.

          ~Dan

  5. Do you think you’ll be sad when you’re in heaven knowing that there are family members and loved ones in hell for not believing in Jesus?

    • Z

      I dont think ill be sad. Revelations says theres no tears, so I have to assume either ill know and understand that anyone who isnt there is so because its just. Thinking now its difficult to think its possible knowing my father or mother isnt there, but thats what I have to go on.

  6. paynehollow says:

    John…

    According to the Bible, people go to hell for breaking the laws of God.

    If I may just respectfully offer an opinion on your titular question, why do people go to hell?

    …Some believers would say that “the Bible teaches” we go to hell for breaking the laws of God. Even just one, they say. One small lie would be penalized by an eternity condemned to torment and pain. They say. That is the opinion of some Bible believers.

    Others would question the whole notion of the rather modern concept of “hell” as being not especially biblical.

    And others would say that God does not send people to hell, it is something people choose for themselves, sadly. That God, according to the Bible, “is not willing that any should perish.” That God, according to the Bible, “came to seek and save the lost.” That God, according to the Bible, opened the invitation to the great feast to be shared by all, that God invited the wretched and least to join in the feast.

    But, they would point out, God does not force God’s Self or salvation on anyone and any can make a hell of their lives if that’s their choice and God won’t stop them, but that God stands ready to accept us into the Feast, into Communion, into Heaven (and away from Hell) when we are ready.

    And, sadly, we see too often those who have embraced hell, at least for a time, and rejected the Beloved Community. Like the rich man in one of Jesus’ stories, who walked away sad, not ready to give up his wealth to join the Community. And Jesus’ wept, but did not stop him.

    Perhaps one day, he changed his mind.

    This, too, is a biblical interpretation of why people go to hell. From another camp.

    Respectfully,

    Dan

    • Dan, this was C.S. Lewis’s view of Hell. He viewed the gate’s of Hell as being “locked from the inside”. God doesn’t condemn people to Hell – Hell is a freely chosen identity apart from Christ. (these are Tim Keller’s paraphrase) Unlike some of the later comments, I don’t find this view to be unbiblical at all.

      John, you really should Google “Christian Inclusivism” and read up on it. There is a very strong case to be made that we will share Heaven with “People of every nation” (Revelation 7:9). I take this verse quite literally. I think that there will be Aztecs, Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Jews, Aboriginals, and Americans before God’s throne. I don’t know the basis that God will use for judging all those people. But I’m confident that the mechanism of salvation will be Christ’s death. I’m not a universalist. The Bible is very, very clear that some people will end up in Hell. But I think it is sheer arrogance on our part to try to figure out exactly who those people will be. See Romans 2:16.

      • Tumeyn

        Of every nation is a terminology used to indicate other nations not Israel. Essentially gentiles. That isnt an issue.

      • paynehollow says:

        I think that, if people were plopped down in, say, the 3rd or 12th or 15th centuries, they might be surprised to learn how our ideas of “hell” have evolved over the years, with our current views being pretty modern. I think once you have learned and heard repeated enough “It is biblical! It is the ONE correct understanding of what the Bible says…” it becomes hard to hear or see anything else. I suspect that, for all generations, our ideas of what the Bible says have much more to do with our culture than the Bible.

        Just a guess.

        Thanks,

        Dan

  7. “Do you think you’ll be sad when you’re in heaven knowing that there are family members and loved ones in hell for not believing in Jesus?”

    This assumes that we would even think of anything or anyone else whilst in the presence of the splendor and glory of God. It ain’t likely to be like just another dude’s crib.

  8. Dan,

    You’re an asswipe and your views are expressly unbiblical – as usual.

    • Terrance, please tell us exactly what you think was unbiblical in Dan’s post. I’m not seeing it. These are classical Christian views of mainstream Christians like C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, and even William Lane Craig. (although only Lewis believed in “post-mortem salvation)

      • It’s not necessarily anything in this particular thread, but generally. Dan has a long history of passing off unbiblical views as “just another interpretation.”

  9. I like ya on Facebook, Dan. I really do. I love your art and your photographs. But damn if you ain’t just a pain in the ass on the blogs. You are. You dish out absolute unblblical beliefs as though they’re candy coated salvation or something…

    Well, they’re not. They’re completely unbibilical and therefore dangerous. You put people’s eternity at risk with these false teachings, Dan.

  10. paynehollow says:

    They are, as always, Terrance, one man’s opinion. I do not believe them to be unbiblical or dangerous. It is simply an opinion about an unprovable supposition, one that I find to be biblical, moral and rational. Feel free to disagree.

    Dan

    • Whatever you say, Dan. It’s like you’re asking people, “Who you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes,” especially since everyone can read the Bible for themselves and see, quite clearly, that many things which you claim to be morally benign are in fact immoral sins.

      • paynehollow says:

        I always advocate people reading the Bible for themselves, deciding for themselves what is best and right. And, in that process, people will reach different conclusions about a given behavior’s sinfulness or not. Such is life.

        ~Dan

        • Dan

          What role to the original languages and definitions and figures of speech play in your method of “interpretation”? I remember when you outlined your system of interpretation, nothing was said about taking the words for what tjey actually meant, rather what they ment according to your personal common sense.

        • paynehollow says:

          In my system of interpretation, I clearly have said that it is important to strive to understand the original words and context of the text in question. That is one of the criteria in good textual analysis.

          But, for an example, that a pre-scientific people may have accepted at face value a myth and that they may have thought “Oh, the world was created in six literal days? that must mean it was six literal days…” or, “Oh, the world is on the back of a giant turtle? that must mean that the world is literally on the back of a giant turtle…” is not evidence that the world was created in six literal days or lies on the back of a turtle. A pre-scientific people would have no reason to conceive of “billions of years” (“Billions” as a concept, was not “invented” yet) and so they might accept it as a literal six days, but that does not mean that Truth demands we accept six literal days (or a world on the back of a giant turtle).

          Thanks for asking. Does that answer your question?

          How about you, John? You asked me to provide my criteria for textual analysis and I have. What is yours?

          Thanks,

          Dan

        • paynehollow says:

          John had asked…

          What role to the original languages and definitions and figures of speech play in your method of “interpretation”?

          Presumably (possibly) in response to my comment…

          I always advocate people reading the Bible for themselves, deciding for themselves what is best and right.

          I thought an explanation and clarification might be in order. The point of my comment is not that people just randomly and whimsically make up a moral system out of thin air. “I like eating puppies raw, I like the taste of them, therefore, that is a good thing. I dislike the idea that I can’t drive while intoxicated, so, that is a bad thing – it is GOOD for me to drive intoxicated…”

          I do not advocate that and that’s not the purpose of my comment.

          The purpose of my comment is the presumption that most of us – religious or not, Christian or not – are moral creatures, desiring, as a rule, to see the Right Thing done. I, therefore, trust people to seek the Good and Right the best they know how – in seeking what holy texts have said, what wise people have said, what works best on a day-to-day basis for promoting the Good and Right. So, I support people reading the Bible (and any and all other texts and sources) and striving for themselves to understand morality.

          That is to say, in other words, I support religious and moral liberty.

          Just to clarify.

          Dan

  11. John,
    I get the distinct impression that you have a strong feeling about accountability for one’s actions. (I’ve heard many Christians on this blog say that atheists just deny God so they can just do as they please with no sense of consequence for their behavior)

    So with that in mind, I ask this:

    If you believe that faith in Jesus is the ONLY path to heaven, regardless of behavior, how is there any accountability for your actions? You could be the most morally repugnant person on the planet and yet your faith in Jesus could still walk you in to heaven. How do you reconcile that?

    • Z

      Well, the bad deeds are punished, thats what Jesus did. But more to your point I think, when someone is saved (the christian term) their behavior does change. It is a response to being coming to Christ.

      So in a certain sense a christian could sin all they want, they just dont want to. Of course they still will, but a true believer doesnt want to sin amd when they do, there is regret and a feeling of repentance.

      The fact that people are saved and dont have to bear the penalty for their own sins is an act of geace and mercy by God. We do deserve punishment. It isnt “fair” that believers arent. But thats the grace of God for those who trust Him and not themselves.

      • So it seems that your position is all about guilt. The fact is that the believer could act as they please with no fear of consequence as long as they believe in Jesus. You say believers don’t really want to act that way and they might regret their action, but there is no real punishment for their transgression.

        “Fairness” doesn’t enter into it. That’s just a convenient way to excuse abhorrent behavior.

  12. “..deciding for themselves what is best and right….”

    I could be wrong but it seems as though there are two different things here.

    Best is subjective, right is objective. I’m not sure anyone has the ability to decide what is right.

  13. paynehollow says:

    Again, there may be a Perfect Right that is, I think, Objective.

    However, our opinions about whether this or that is Right is subjective. Undemonstrable. Not provable.

    The definition of “objective” includes “based on fact.” What fact do we have on which to base an opinion on hell or drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana or tobacco or any other moral topic? We don’t. We have opinions and interpretations, but not facts. Not that I know of.

    Thus, we all have the responsibility to form opinions about what is right, but our opinions will be subjective.

    Just to clarify.

    ~Dan

  14. Dan,
    Just because you “can’t” identify an objective right or wrong doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Of course we can have opinions, however just because my opinion is that it’s ok to stand in front of a bus, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

  15. paynehollow says:

    Craig…

    Just because you “can’t” identify an objective right or wrong doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Agreed. I think, for instance, that my positions on Christians and war and Christians and marriage are morally correct, objectively speaking. But I absolutely cannot prove them to be. Thus, my opinions on the topics are opinions that can’t be proven, as are yours.

    They are our unprovable opinions.

    And I absolutely agree that it’s a bad idea to stand in front of a bus, whether you can prove it or not. As I think it is a morally bad idea to oppose marriage for gay folk, or to suggest that God “sends people to hell” out of a sense of a need to “punish” even just one little white lie. I think these are both morally bad ideas – objectively so – but I can not prove them to be so, any more than you can prove yours.

    Agreed?

    Dan

  16. Objecting to marriage for “gay folk” is “objectively” a morally bad idea? Not in any way YOU could defend.

  17. paynehollow says:

    John, I believe that some in your camp would suggest that IF someone had lived a perfect life (say a child who had not had much chance to sin yet) and only told one little lie (“No, Mommy, I did not take that cookie…” – when they know they did), that this person would “deserve” an eternity in a suffering, torturous hell. I don’t find that to be a biblically or morally or rationally compelling case. That was the reference to the “white lie.”

    I am quite certain that there have been children who died young who, at some point, realized that it was wrong to tell a lie and managed to tell that lie before they died and, presumably, that was all the sin (ie, a knowing transgression, deliberately acted upon) they did before they died. Do you think that it is biblically, morally and/or rationally compelling that a good God would punish that child by “sending” that child to an eternity in hell?

    Thanks,

    Dan

    • The bible explicitly says if youre guilty of one, you might as well have committed them all.

      As someone who has dont “serious” sstudy, I’m surprised you didmt know that. Or maybe that’s just metaphor or some othe bs.

  18. paynehollow says:

    I know that there are verses that some people take that way, John. But as you and I agree, not every verse is to be taken literally.

    I know, for instance, that one verse that some people might interpret as you suggest is in James 2, in a passage that is talking about favoritism (how we should not show favor specifically to the rich). That passage begins…

    did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

    That passage literally says that God chose the poor of the world to be heirs of the Kingdom. Do you take that passage literally, John?

    It goes on to say that it is “the rich” (not some particular rich, just “the rich,” period.) who are oppressing the church and blaspheming God. Do you take that passage literally, John?

    It then gets to the cherry pick verse for “break one sin and break them all…”

    For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

    And the point being made, in context, is that we can’t really claim to be perfect or not sinners because, if we sin even with one sin, we are sinners. It’s not really literally saying, if you tell a white lie, you are guilty of murder. It’s hyperbole, in context, to push the point that all have sinned, which is observable enough. And it does not say that the child, for instance, who sinned even one time, God will send to hell, though, right?

    So, to clarify what point you’re actually making, I’ll ask again…

    Do you think that it is biblically, morally and/or rationally compelling that a good God would punish that child (who sinned one time) by “sending” that child to an eternity in hell for that one sin?

    Thanks,

    Dan

  19. paynehollow says:

    re…

    As someone who has dont “serious” sstudy, I’m surprised you didmt know that.

    James is my favorite book in the Bible, by the way. I’m well familiar with that passage. It doesn’t say what you think it says, I don’t think. But you tell me.

    ~Dan

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