It feels wrong to put “God is love” and “hell” in the same sentence.  And yet, our outrageously loving Jesus continually preached about the reality of hell.  The word is mentioned twelve times in the Gospels, and that doesn’t include his other references to “eternal punishment,” “eternal fire,” “outer darkness,” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

So difficult is it to wrap our minds around hell, some respected church leaders have suggested that judgment of the unsaved will end in annihilation (end of existence) or universalism (all will be saved in the end).  We stumble over hell, especially when we consider our deceased loved ones who showed no evidence of salvation and new life in Christ.  Reading the story of Lazarus and the rich man is nearly more than we can bear, if it is true that our unsaved loved ones are experiencing the same torment and suffering as that of the rich man (Luke 16:19-31).

Reconciling the love of God and his creation of hell is admittedly beyond our earthly understanding.  It is one of those “inscrutable” and “unsearchable” realities we must leave with God.  This is not a cop-out, but is to humbly acknowledge that as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways and his thoughts than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

Therefore, I camp on what I do know:  God does not wish any to perish, but that all should come to repentance, (2 Peter 3:9).  Condemning anyone to hell is heart-wrenching to him.

So then, why does hell exist?  In a word, God created hell because he is just and righteous.  Hell is where God deals with evil.  All rebellion against God will be confined to an inescapable prison.  His justice makes hell a necessity.  While God loves all people, his justice requires him to confront evil and sin.

Romans 5:8 states that God sent his own Son to bear the penalty for sin that transgressors might be saved.  Salvation, the Bible says, is offered to everyone as a gift, to be received by faith in Christ.

Simply put, if we cast ourselves upon the mercy of God and turn in faith to Jesus as Savior and Lord of our lives, we will be saved.  To refuse his one way of salvation is to suffer condemnation.  His love cannot excuse sin, even as his holiness and justice cannot be swept aside.

Questions about hell will always remain until what we know in part becomes fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).  That future day awaits us in heaven.  What can be known is this:  God’s love paid an infinite cost to save us from hell.   One only need watch the sorrow and distress of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to realize how great a burden it was for him to bear the guilt of our imputed sin.  It was laid upon him as a scapegoat.

Perhaps the better question is, “How could a perfect and just God allow anyone into heaven?”