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A Loving God Requires Hell

When we understand what God really is, we can see why hell has to be an option for the unrepentant.

I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times. I know I have. “I can’t worship a God who would send people to hell for not worshipping him.” Some will make a similar claim: “I can’t believe God would send my loving family member to hell for simply being atheist.” These claims make sense to many, but do they hold up to scrutiny?

First things first: I am not here to make judgments on any specific person who has died. God would not be very happy with me if I tried to do that. However, there’s a good reason why Catholics generally claim that we have to believe and worship God in our lifetime in order to be in heaven in the next lifetime.

Many people describe God as “loving”—but there is more to it than that. God actually is love itself. We have two main reasons for believing this.

First, it’s explicit in Scripture. St. John tells us in his first letter that “anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8) John doesn’t tell his audience that God is loving. He tells them that God actually is love.

Another reason we have for believing that God is love itself comes from philosophy. All theists believe that God is necessarily all-loving (i.e., God cannot exist if he is not all-good). All theists also believe that God is self-sufficient, meaning that God is not reliant on anything outside himself to exist. This all seems straightforward. But what if love were something outside God? This would mean that God is reliant on something outside himself to exist. After all, if love does not exist, then God would not exist. This would then mean that God is not self-sufficient—a nightmare for Christian theology!

Another way to think about this would be to consider a situation in which God were “accidentally” all-loving. Essentially, this means that God can be all-loving or not all-loving, and it would not change who he is. God could still exist if he were not all-loving. If this were true, love would either be:

  • caused by something outside God


  • caused by God.

If something outside God made him who he is, we run into problems. This means that God is reliant on something outside him to make him who he is. And so God cannot be God without something that is not God. Likewise, if God caused himself to have these accidents (i.e., God caused himself to be all-loving), then he would change in time: God was not all-loving before, and after, he is. But because there is no “before” or “after” in the general view of God, this cannot happen.

This type of philosophy also helps us to make sure we are worshiping God and God alone. For instance, say someone starts worshiping God because of his love. This would be a rational thing to do, since God’s love is the reason we exist and have the ability to go to heaven. Many Christians throughout history have worshiped God because of his love.

However, what happens if God’s love is something outside himself? In that case, we would be worshiping God and God’s love. This isn’t to say we aren’t worshiping God when we do this; rather, we are worshiping God and something else that is not God as well. If we want to worship God alone, we had better not worship God because of his love . . . if God’s love is something outside God. But since it’s rational to worship God because of his love, and Scripture tells us to worship only God (Exod. 20:3), we can conclude that God is the same as his love. Similarly, in worshiping God’s love, we are really worshipping God.

No matter what reason seems more persuasive to you, it’s vitally important that this technicality is discussed. If God is love itself, the hypothetical quotes I gave in the introduction do not hold up. If God is love itself, and I tell him I do not want anything to do with him in this life, he will allow me to do as I choose and go to a place without love (hell). Alternatively, when we spend time with God in this life, we are showing him that we want to be close to love. That is what allows us to enter heaven.

All in all, it’s vitally important that we make the clarification that God is not merely a loving being, but actually love itself. We have different reasons for believing this, from scriptural to philosophical, but it’s the conclusion to that realization that is most important—when we show God we do not want anything to do with him in this lifetime, we are showing God we do not want anything to do with love. This concludes with God allowing us to go to a place that has no love: hell.

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