(This is the third in a four part series of posts dealing with the age-old question “How can a loving God send someone to hell?” This answer was originally developed as a reply to an email I received. Today’s post deals with the wording of the actual question from the email, which was “If God is good then why would he send good people to hell?”)
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” -Ephesians 2.1-3
I believe that in order to properly deal with the question of “Does anyone get sent to hell (for eternity)?”, I must first return to what the actual text of the original question you posed says: “If God is good then why would he send good people to hell?” The word I want to point out, and what I think affects our whole perspective on this thing, is the word ‘good.’ How could God send good people to hell? This is certainly a fair question if our conception of ‘good’ is the same as God’s, that we have Christ’s imputed righteousness in us, cleansing our sins so that we may be declared not guilty by God (2 Corinthians 5.21, Romans 3.23-26). If indeed we are ‘good’ because we have received Christ’s blood by faith and been justified by God the Father, then it God would not be good/loving in sending us to hell because he would have no grounds for doing so and would thus be in conflict with his perfect justice.
However, I think very few people have this conception of ‘good’ in mind when posing such a question. Instead, what I believe is commonly meant to be a ‘good person’ is someone who does things which are nice and which appear ‘good’ to men. Yet what is it that God says about man’s inherent ‘goodness’? Isaiah 64.6, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Our ‘goodness’ is no more than “a polluted garment” to God (literally, in modern language, a used tampon). But, isn’t God pleased when we do things that it says are good in the Bible, even if we don’t have faith in him? Hebrews 11.6, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Thus, we must see that what we esteem as ‘good’ is of no value to God, and so it is no matter if we think a person is good or not, what matters is whether they have been justified by the blood of Christ.