The Love of God and Hell August 6, 2012
From time to time, someone will ask me about howa loving God can punish people in hell. Starting with this column and runningfor the next few weeks, I’ll sketch in my typical answer.
When we talk about the love of God, we have to begin atthe very foundation. God’s love,according to the Bible, burns brightest and strongest for Himself, not for His creatures in general or even for Hisredeemed children. Another way of saying this is to say that God’s greatestpassion is for His own glory—that is, Hisown infinite worth and supremacy. The priority that dominates the heart of God is tomagnify Himself (cf. Is. 48:9-11; Jn17:1-5).
Our understandingof God’s love will always be fuzzy and incoherent until we understand that Hisheart of love centers on Himself foremost. Without this understanding, it willalways feel incongruous to us that a loving God could punish people He loves,and we’ll certainly never believe He could punish them in hell forever.But once we understand that He loves His own glory and His Son above all else,we can begin to understand how God can love people and yet still send them tohell for rejecting His Son. He has a higher priority than His love for people,and when that higher priority “comes into conflict” with His love for Hiscreatures, the higher priority wins. His very nature sets Him on a course tomaximize His own glory above all else, and heaven and hell are merelyexpressions of this preeminent priority in God’s mysterious heart.
Coming at thequestion from a different angle (but arriving at the same conclusion), it’sworth asking WHY God loves people to begin with. The answer, according to theBible, is that people bear His own image. (Can you find any biblical indicationthat God loves demons? …even angels? Only humans bear the divine image.) Inother words, God loves us because of what He sees of Himself in us. Once again,we see that His highest love is reserved for Himself. Even His love for us is a direct result of His prior andgreater love for His own glory. God loves us, not because He’s just a “lovingkind of guy” or because we are loveable sorts of objects, but precisely becauseHe loves Himself and we bear His likeness.