Did God Make Hell?

Did God Make Hell?

In recent newsletter articles we answered two questions asked by children at VBS: “Who made God?” and “How tall is God?” This month we answer another: “Did God make hell?”  That’s a big question, isn’t it? Just asking it changes the mood in the room. Lutheran theologian, professor, author, and former president of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod Francis Pieper captured the sobering nature of the question with these words, “the thought of a never-ending agony of rational beings, fully realizing their distressing plight, is so appalling that it exceeds comprehension” (Pieper, Christian Dogmatics Vol. III: 545). 

Nonetheless, the question must be answered (for Scripture answers it). In all its jarring brevity the answer to the question “Did God make hell?” is yes. Jesus, speaking of the fate of unrighteous people, offers that hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). Man, in his unbelieving wickedness, tragically, can be condemned to an eternity in hell. 

But such an answer only raises more questions, questions about the nature of God and the nature of hell, questions such as: How could a loving God sentence someone to eternal torment?  And Is hell really eternal? 

These are important questions, questions we will address momentarily, but we must point out in advance that these questions cannot be answered by appealing to what we think God should be like or to what we think is fair or just. We do not stand in judgment of God and we do not define justice. These questions can only be answered from Scripture, from what God has revealed. Apart from divine revelation, questions regarding hell can no more be answered than a cave be explored without a light. 

Before addressing these questions, however, we need first to define the variety of terms used in Scripture for hell and its related concepts.


Sheol occurs over 60 times in the Old Testament and it typically refers to the undifferentiated realm of the dead. For Old Testament writers, both righteous and unrighteous go to Sheol. They don’t often distinguish between fates of the dead (i.e. heaven or hell). Synonyms in English might be the hereafter or the afterlife, terms that don’t specify whether a person is in heaven or hell. Consider a few examples of Sheol in the Old Testament:

  • What man can live and never see death?
    Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol (Ps. 48)?
  • I (Jacob) shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning (Gen. 37:35).
  • As the cloud fades and vanishes,
    so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up (Job 7:9).

Even though the Old Testament doesn’t offer a sharp distinction between the fates of the dead, it does ascribe deep and abiding hope to the righteous in Sheol. The psalmist writes, “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Ps. 49:15). So while the Old Testament doesn’t typically conceptualize the afterlife in hard categories such as heaven or hell, it does highlight the joyful hope (ultimately revealed in Christ’s resurrection) the righteous in Sheol have (as opposed to the unrighteous). 


Hades is the basic equivalent to Sheol in the New Testament. It, too, essentially refers to the realm of the dead, although when it specifies the unrighteous dead, it describes the torments endured in Hades. And when the dead described are righteous, Hades (the realm of the dead) may be understood as paradise (i.e., a place of refreshment, what we typically conceptualize as Heaven where the redeemed await the resurrection of the body and the renewal of the earth). Consider how the New Testament speaks:  

  • For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One see corruption (Acts 2:27, quoting Ps. 16).
  • [David] (in Ps. 16) foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades… (Acts 2:31).
  • The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment… (Lk. 16:23).
  • And [Jesus] said to [the thief on the cross], “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43).


When the New Testament speaks of what awaits the unrighteous in Hades (or the unrighteous still living!) it often uses the word Gehenna. This word was originally associated with a deep valley just beyond Jerusalem in which children had been horridly sacrificed to the pagan god Moloch. Later it served as the city’s garbage heap, refuse that was often burned with fire – truly an awful, wretched place! This is the term the New Testament uses to describe hell and the experience awaiting the wicked upon Christ’s victorious return. Jesus speaks of it this way:    

  • Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (Mt. 5:22).
  • If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Mt. 5:30).
  • Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt. 10:28).
  • You (Pharisees) serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Mt. 23:33).   

Jesus describes hell as a place of “darkness” with “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (think grinding your teeth to their roots!) (Mt. 8:12), a “fiery furnace” (Mt. 13:50), an “eternal fire” (Mt. 25:41), and “eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46). He further adds that the unrighteous will be raised specifically to be judged (John 5:29). He even offers that the torments of the wicked in hell will be weighted or degreed based upon the measure of wickedness perpetrated while on earth (Mt. 11:22). 

Paul says hell is a place of “destruction” (Phil. 3:19). He adds that the wicked will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed…” (2 Thess. 1:9-10).

John adds to the horrific scene in his apocalypse as he describes the last judgment and condemnation into eternal torment: 

(At the judgment) [the wicked] will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name (the eternal sentence) (Rev. 14:10-11). 

He adds to his description, 

The devil who had deceived [the nations] was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever… 

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10, 14-15). 

This is the ghastly fate that awaits the unrighteous. It’s real. It’s horrible. And it’s forever. 

Is hell really forever? 

Yes, it’s forever. Look at what Jesus says about the Day of Judgment: And these (unrighteous) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Mt. 25:46). Notice the parallel between punishment (hell) and life (heaven). Both are eternal. There’s simply no way to interpret hell as having a time limit without doing the same thing with heaven. Hell is eternal. There is no moral improvement in hell. There are no second chances. Hell is permanent. Hell is eternal. 

Could a loving God really send someone to hell? 

Yes. To expose the problem with the question we need only ask, Could a righteous and holy God allow evil to exist in His presence? We are too quick to downplay the severity of our sin and the holy and righteous nature of God. A sin against a mortal being would bear a temporal consequence. A sin against an eternal being, however, would merit an eternal consequence. Eternal hell is this consequence. And no one can claim innocence. Scripture is emphatic: 

None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God (Rom. 3:10). 

Scripture adds, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom. 3:23). 

But because our God is loving, He deals with our sin! The question isn’t whether a loving God could send someone to eternal hell. The question is whether a loving God has done anything to prevent such a fate. And the answer is yes!
Scripture echoes with the news that sinners “are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom 3:23-25). In the death of Christ God has dealt righteously with sin and lovingly with us. Justice for our sin has been done! We have been reconciled to God!
And it’s not just that God has saved us from hell; God has saved us for life, for the kingdom, for eternal fellowship with Him and the righteous redeemed! We have an incredible future laid up for us in Christ!
But this is the very thing the wicked will not have! So God the righteous judge will sentence them accordingly. Hell is real. It is fierce. It is fearsome. And it’s avoidable. So Scripture repeatedly and emphatically calls us to repent. No one knows when he will breathe his last. Now is the time for grace. Now is the time for salvation. It’s full, free, and fantastic. But the time is now. – Pastor Conner


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