How can a loving God send people to hell?
Scripture teaches that at death the redeemed go to be with the Lord in heaven, and the unredeemed are separated from Him (Matthew 25:45-46). Those who are separated from the Lord go first to a place, which in English is called hell. They are held there until the Great White Throne judgment at which time they will be cast into “the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15) where they will stay eternally. Jesus taught that hell was a place of torment (Matthew 18:9; Mark 9:44, 48).
Hell is not an easy doctrine to believe. We have difficulty with the thought that a God who is supposedly loving could send people to hell forever. It seems inconsistent.
Besides teaching God is perfectly loving Scripture also teaches God is perfectly just. His justice is that characteristic by which He gives everyone that which is due—reward or punishment. Every person will receive absolute justice.
But that's where the problem comes in. The Bible says that every person has failed to live up to God's moral law and is therefore guilty before Him. “‘There is none righteous, not even one…All have turned aside,’” and “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 12, 23 NASB). So nobody measures up. Nobody deserves heaven. The fact is that all deserve hell. “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23).
But God is perfectly loving too. So He calls sinners to turn from their sinful ways. The Lord is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). God's justice demands He must punish sin. His love demands forgiveness and reconciliation.
He satisfied these demands by putting Christ to death on the cross. Christ became our substitute. All who place their faith in Him are forgiven and no longer need to face the just punishment of God. Jesus endured hell for us so we wouldn't have to endure it for ourselves.
But those who reject God's loving provision of Christ must themselves take the punishment for their sin. If we reject Christ, then we reject God's love and must face His justice. To reject Christ is therefore to choose hell. In that sense God does not send anyone to hell. He allows each of us to follow our hard heart and face the consequences of our own choice.
But is it justice to condemn someone to hell forever? Why not just a limited time and then cease existing or be released to heaven? These questions assume that sin is somehow finite and while an individual sin such as theft might have a finite punishment as a consequence, the sin of rejecting Christ is of infinite consequence. Hell is the consequential destination for rejecting God's Son, not the consequence of committing individual sins during a finite lifetime. To reject God and Christ as His provision for eternal life is a sin requiring eternal separation. The individual sins committed by the sinner determine, not eternal destiny, but the degree of punishment, which is also a reflection of God's justice. The punishments fit the crimes (Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 12:42-48).
We also shouldn't assume that once in hell people suddenly have a change of heart. They would continue to hate and reject God and thereby continue to sin against Him. In that case God has no choice but to leave them where they are.
No one has to go to hell. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). Christ was ransomed for us (1 Timothy 2:4). He paid a debt He did not owe so that we could live forever in the presence of our Creator (Matthew 25:46).
I hope this helps.