A common question of the skeptic to a Christian is the conundrum of how one can believe in a loving God who “sends” people to hell. I can understand how a person could view this belief as unreasonable. However, if one truly thinks through this matter, one can understand it is not unreasonable at all.
First of all it is not difficult for one to believe in a loving God and heaven. It is when the idea of hell enters the picture that a person begins to question God's love. Now if heaven exists as a place where people who have passed from this earth reside with God in all splendor and majesty it would follow that this place would be a desirable place to be. If there was no hell and all people went to heaven it would follow that heaven would not be "heaven" at all, but simply a new place of existence after death with the same people and problems as life on earth. There certainly would not be peace and harmony if people who were lovers of themselves and not of God were then forced to live with God. This would not be heaven for them.
So for heaven to be a place of harmony with God there must also be a place where there is no harmony with God, for those that refuse to accept harmony with God. If one rejects God would it only stand to reason that they would not want to be in a place of God for all eternity. Would a loving God force them to do so?
Moreover, if we start with the presupposition that God is a loving God what does that look like? Would God be a loving God if He forced people to love Him? He would only have one option that would exclude the necessity of hell. Namely, to create robots who have no freedom, but must obey Him and love Him.
So, what does a loving God do? The only way a loving God can exhibit that love is to allow us to have free will that He does not overpower. He gives us plenty of signs of His love, but He does not force us to accept that love or to love Him back. He does this even though it causes him pain, just like a loving earthly father would be hurt if his child rejected his love. He does all that a loving God can do to love and provide a free way for us to have communion with Him forever. For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) He is always in pursuit of us with His love.
Now you may be objecting that it is unloving for God to dictate that we love Him and have relationship with Him or suffer. However, the truth is that it is good for us to love God. It is our need that is fulfilled when we love Him. We only hurt ourselves when we reject His love. We do not hurt Him. He doesn’t become less God when we reject Him. He doesn’t need our love to sustain Himself. But He loves us and knows that in Him all things have the fullness of life. He is the life giver. In Him is life. When we fight that reality we encounter suffering, death, and trouble in this world because we are living in opposition to how we are designed to live. It’s like a fish trying to live on dry land. It wasn’t designed to do so, plain and simple. The best habitat for a fish is water. The best habitat for humanity is living united with God through an amazing love relationship. But if we refuse it, as we have the freedom to do, we naturally are the fish flopping around on dry land. We lack the necessary components of the fullness of life. Naturally that creates a problem for us. The problems we face on earth due to our separation from Him are there to point us back to Him. For instance, when a child puts his hand too close to a flame, he feels heat and pulls back knowing that to go further would hurt his hand. However, if the child had no pain receptivity, as some have such a rare condition that they feel no pain; he would burn his hand off and not know he was doing it. The pain is a protection to one’s life.
When things aren’t going right, it’s time to look around and find out why. We all have this sense of how things ought to be, and yet we often ignore that sense and think things are as good as it gets. If so, we wouldn’t have this longing for something greater. That desire is there, because that desire has a fulfillment. People try to fill that longing in all kinds of different man made ways. But the only way to fill real longing in one’s heart is through knowing God and coming into His Kingdom.
God gave us free will and man chose to break communion with God and go his own way. Still God provided a way that man could be forgiven and find communion with God again. That way was by sending His own Son, Jesus, who is blameless in every way to pay the price for the sins of mankind.
The Bible says that Jesus, while being God, humbled himself to take human form and even humbled himself to die via crucifixion to pay the price for sins that He did not commit to bridge the divide between God and man. Man need not and cannot work his way back to God. Nor does man need to die for his own sins, but man simply needs to accept that there is nothing he can do to come to God, but to surrender his heart freely and accept God's free and gracious gift of salvation.
Doesn't this sound like a loving God? Just to recap, He gave us free will. We rejected Him. He then sent His Son to die in our place so that we can still enter into the love He has for us if we so choose. And He won't force anyone to have relationship with Him. But He stands at the door of our heart and knocks. He lets us know that He is there, but He won't force the door open. He waits for us to choose to open our heart or close it to Him. The choice is ours, not His. He gave us the choice because He loves us. He desires that none perish, that is His heart, but because He loves us He has to allow us to choose to have life in Him or to perish because our life is not in Him. We can live now with Him forever or we can never live with Him forever. What more could a loving God do to show His great love?