Many people wrestle with the question of how an all-good and loving God could ever send someone to Hell. Some have claimed the two concepts don't make sense together; if God is good and loving, why of course he wouldn't send people to Hell for eternity. However, I have written before that to be separated from God means to be separated from his goodness and all that entails. Thus, the only thing left for a person where God's good gifts of peace, contentment, and rest are missing is torment.
For others, they may accept that God's justice would warrant him to allow a certain amount of suffering for those who rejected him. (For example, if one asks about what the fate for a cruel dictator or one who sells children into sexual slavery should be, most would understand simple annihilation as unfair. These people caused an undue amount of suffering and they shouldn't get off so easily by simply ceasing to be!) But why must such suffering be eternal? Isn't God unfair if the crime is finite but the punishment is infinite? Does the idea of an all-loving God and eternal punishment even make sense?
What Kind of Beings are Humans, Anyway?To better understand God and his relationship with humanity, I think it's important to look at human beings the way God created them. In Genesis 1:27, the Bible states "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (ESV). The repetitive emphasis of being created in God's image (it is mentioned three times in verses 26 and 27) is meant to emphasize just how important this image bearing is.
As image-bearers, humans are endowed with the ability to weigh moral values and duties against our own actions. We are rational beings, capable of making meaningful choices. We can relate to the person of God, even though he is immaterial. These are all aspects that separate man from the other creatures of creation. If God were to change a person into someone who no longer was able to make meaningful choices, we would see that as demeaning the humanity of that individual. We lament those who fall victim to head injuries and are no longer able to function autonomously. We take pity on them because they cannot exercise their full humanity.
Secondly, God created humans to be immortal beings. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 draws attention to the fact that when God breathed his spirit into Adam (Gen. 2:7), that Adam became a living being. God's desire for humanity was and still is for us to fellowship with him for all eternity. Thus, another aspect of being human is that humans will endure eternally. And because we were made as embodied souls, our eternal state will also be as embodied souls. That's why there is a resurrection of the dead for both believers and unbelievers at the final judgment.
God Won't Make Humans into Non-HumansIn understanding that human beings are a very unique creation of God endowed with particular attributes, two of which are the ability to make meaningful choices and an ongoing immortality in some kind of state. That's how God created Adam and Eve. Sin introduced a corruption to humanity, but I argue that it didn't make humans into non-humans. It may have distorted the image of God in human beings, but it never cancelled it.
One point I must make is on the concept of death itself. Death in the Bible is used to talk about separation, not annihilation. Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body (Gen. 35:18, Ecc. 12:7) and spiritual death is the separation of our spirit from God's spirit. That's why God told Adam that the very day he sinned he would die (Gen. 2:17). It is our separation from God that is labeled death. Paul consistently uses this kind of terminology, stating the Ephesians were dead in their trespasses and sins but still walking according to the world's standards.
So, humans by definition bear the imago Dei, the image of God. That is the differentiation between them and every other creature we see. Humans are therefore morally aware beings that can recognize sin and can make meaningful choices. Give this, how would an all-good God still be all good if he takes away the immortality aspect of the imago Dei? Does it make sense to say God is all good if he changes those who choose to reject him into something less than human? Or how could God remove the ability to make real choices from those who reject him? Does that sound like mercy or a replay of the lobotomy scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?
Humans are created to be immortal, thus their choices will have a very real effect on their immortal existence. Humans are beings that hold the ability to make meaningful choices. That means even after physical death, they can choose to continue in a state of sin and rebellion against God. Thus ongoing torment is a reflection of ongoing sin in the hearts of the rebellious. To me, this doesn't seem cruel or nonsensical at all, but the tragic result of free creatures who have been given the ability to make decisions for themselves.