What if No One Goes to Hell?
We are continuing to answer the question, why do people go to Hell? Yet what if we took a moment and asked another question on the way toward an answer? What if no one goes to Hell?
In a previous post (Four Views of Hell) I touched on the idea of universalism, that Hell may or may not exist, and if it does, no one, or almost no one, goes to Hell. A modification of universalism is that people may go to Hell, but no one stays there. The selling point on this idea is that it makes God more loving and forgiving by eliminating any sense of penalty or harsh judgment. A truly loving God would never condemn His creatures to eternal torment. To do so would be unjust. In the end all will be redeemed and be blessed.
So what if universalism is correct and we held that if Hell exists at all, then no one goes there, or even that if people go there no one stays?
1. The narrative of Scripture crumbles into meaninglessness. Universalists claim that Hell is incompatible with the love of God, but universalism is incompatible with the narrative of Scripture. As I have noted in previous posts, indeed the Bible describes Hell and says that people are there and that in the future more people will join them. Universalism ultimately calls into question the integrity of Scripture by insinuating that it does not say what it means. Universalism demands a selective reading of the Bible and a twisted hermeneutic. Passages that are compatible with the love of God and the universal blessing of humanity are selected out of context and used as the interpretive key for all others. Passages that speak of condemnation are categorically ignored, misconstrued, or dismissed. Yet if we do not trust what the Bible says about Hell, what grounds do we have to trust what it says about Heaven?
2. The promises of God are nullified. One of the closing promises of Scripture is God’s promise to make all things new (Rev. 21:5ff). Part of that promise is not only to secure the redeemed as sons (21:7) but also to damn the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, the murderers, the sexual immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars to the lake of fire. God has promised to not only seal those who are redeemed, but to condemn those who are not. We cannot ignore the fact that the promises of God contain both blessing and curse. We should consider both the goodness and severity of God (Rom. 11:22). God will not fail to perform His promises (Heb. 10:23), even those that pertain to Hell.
3. The character of God is called into question. If no one, or very few go to Hell, then why would God tell us about it and insinuate that lots of people will go there? If in the end love wins then God is nothing more than a psychologically abusive father at worst or a liar at best. If we cannot trust that God is telling us the truth about the awfulness of Hell how then can we be sure that He is faithfully revealing to us the blessedness of Heaven? If God is so dishonest, how can we be assured that all of this is not just some horrible trick?
4. The cross was senseless. If no one goes to Hell then we have to seriously question the cross. What was the death of Jesus all about? The Bible explains Jesus’ death to be an atoning one. He did not just die, He died for us. Jesus becomes the atoning lamb of the Old Testament and post-resurrection every New Testament writer confirms this to be the case. The New Testament epistles affirm that it is Christ alone that secures our salvation and a constant theme of Scripture from Moses, to Abraham, to Jesus, to Paul is that there must be response by faith. If no one goes to Hell then Paul grossly misunderstood the cross and Jesus was misled about exactly what God was calling Him to do in sacrifice. Furthermore, the cross demonstrates the love of God more fully than simply dismissing Hell ever would (Rom. 5:8). Because God loves us He is moved to act in such a way that the problem of sin is resolved, not simply ignored. If no one went to Hell it would be as Tim Keller has described it, the work of a sentimental God, not a loving one.
5. The universal cry for justice is left unanswered. If no one goes to Hell then one of the most basic cries of our heart falls on deaf ears. We desire justice. Throughout the book of Revelation there is rejoicing as God levies His judgments against the unjust. A foremost example is that as Babylon falls the response is an eruption of praise to God for His salvation (Rev. 18-19). As God judges sin no one seems perplexed in the end wondering, “But I thought you were a God of love.” The judgments of God, as horrible as they may be, in the end become a testimony to His love and affirm His righteousness.
The argument is that if no one goes to Hell or stays in Hell, that in the end love wins. Atheists would take the argument to its logical conclusion and say that if there is a Hell there cannot be a God and if there is a God there cannot be a Hell, so there must be neither (reason that one out in your head; in circles you shall go). But from a strictly Biblical standpoint if no one goes to Hell, or stays in Hell, then God lied, He is unjust, and cannot be trusted. It may sound strange to the secular ear, but if no one goes to Hell then God is not great, He is not just, and love loses. There is a sense in which we can say that people go to Hell because God is who He says He is and He does what He says He will do. The Bible does not apologize for Hell or try to absolve God of His responsibility as judge. Universalism argues that based on the character of God there can be no one in Hell, yet Scripture reveals that based on the character of God Hell will not be vacant.
Is it unjust and unloving for God to condemn someone to Hell? In Ezekiel 33:17 God uses the prophet to level a glaring accusation, “Your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.” To insinuate that there is some version of judgment in which no one goes to Hell or stays there is not a win but rather a catastrophic loss for justice, love, and atonement. Why do people go to Hell? People go to Hell because God is love, His Word is true, and He is just. The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but many will, even still God is faithful and loving (2 Peter 3:9). The way of the Lord, with judgment, Hell and everyone in it, is love, justice, and mercy. Ezekiel further develops the argument:
And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
“And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.
“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just. When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by this. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”
Initially it seems better than the current state of affairs to theorize that no one goes to Hell. But if no one goes to Hell we end with serious doubts about the Bible and ultimately serious doubts about God. If no one goes to Hell love, justice, and mercy are not exalted, instead they each collapse into an empty mirage. If no one goes to Hell the problem of sin is not solved. All things are not new. Sin cannot be dismissed, it must be atoned. If no one goes to Hell, love does not win. Love loses.