Does God Really Send People To Hell?
I hear this question a lot as a minister. "How could a loving God send anyone to Hell?" The short answer is, He doesn't, and I'll explain.
First, before we go there, let's deconstruct the modern belief in Hell. Much of what modern society believes about Hell is based upon a medieval book titled, "Dante's Inferno." The ideas of "levels" of Hell also come from this book. While it was intended to scare people in to living right, the theology of the book was way off base, and has caused more issues through the years than it has solved.
At this point, someone is going to point out to me the scripture in Revelation 20 which speaks to those whose names were not found in the Book of Life being thrown into the Lake of Fire (the inspiration for the book), yes, the Bible does say that they will be thrown there, and yes, Jesus even says as much in Matthew 25:41. But to simplify Hell as just a physical burning torture would be horribly shallow and miss the real point of what Hell is.
You see, regardless of which theological though is correct, fiery torture or non fiery torture*, the eternal nature of the soul means that it will live on forever, and in the case of Hell, without God. That is what should truly scare people, not the fire and the pain.
The scripture makes clear in James 1:17 that everything that is good comes from God. The inference then is that nothing that is good does not come from God. This is really bad news for those who are left in Hell. You see, the reason you can't imagine Hell is the same reason you can't imagine Heaven, your mind is incapable of grasping an existence without anything good. Human beings by nature categorize everything and if something is bad, then something less bad becomes good, but try to imagine an existence devoid of everything good, that is Hell.
So, how does that answer the above question? It doesn't, it just defines what Hell is or isn't, it doesn't answer your question. Yet what it does is it sets up the framework within which we can begin to answer your question.
You see, God is loving, and God wants to bless you and spend eternity with you in Heaven (forget all the gold and stuff, they're earthly metaphors) which is the opposite of Hell. Yet God cannot have around Him beings who are sinful (or who do what they want as opposed to what He has commanded). Therefore, to understand the absolutely heartbreaking act of sending someone away from Himself, you have to understand that it is the last and most desperate act of love on God's behalf. He loves you so much, that He is willing to release His divine and ultimate claim over your life, and to let you have it. That's not hatred, that's love.
You see, people who have spent their entire lives on Earth rejecting Him and telling him that they want nothing to do with Him ultimately get what they want. To paraphrase Timothy Keller in his book, "The Reason For God," God only ever gives you what you want, and by your life, you either tell Him that you want Him, or you tell Him that you don't. His final act of love is to give you whichever you want, that is, whichever you truly want. The issue is that people don't understand Hell. They're too distracted by visions of devils, demons (not that demons aren't real, but the cartoonish ones are), fiery flames, and torment devices to think beyond all of that to wonder what Hell really is, and that is an eternity separated from God and all of His gifts of love and goodness. People often ask, why do bad things happen to good people, what they really should be asking is why does God give good things to anyone, after all we're all sinners. Yet in His love, he continues to give us good things throughout our lives hoping that we will choose Him forever, but if we don't, if we ultimately reject him and decide that we don't want Him, then out of His love, He will ultimately give us what we want. Even our "freedom" from Him.
* - I personally believe that the Hell Fire in Revelation is metaphoric of a torturous existence based upon the real place of Gahenna (or the trash burning dumps). I believe that even Satan benefits from God's goodness just from the fact that God exists in Satan's reality. Yet when God casts him and all who follow him into a place, the ONLY place, where God is not (by His own choice), then Satan along with all of his followers will live lives of endless evil devoid of pleasure, happiness, joy, love, and everything good that comes from God. Therefore, the meaning of the scripture is accurate in that they will be tortured forever by separation from God.