The topic of hell has grown so unpopular these days tha people either ignore it or make attempts to redefine it. There is a question that always comes up in "religious" conversations and it goes like this: How can a loving God send someone to a place of eternal punishment? or Wasn't the message of Jesus love and not condemnation? The need for these questions is totally understandable, but what I am interested in is the presuppositions found in the question and the motivation behind the question.
In having these types of discussions with people, I have discovered that what people want is for God or Jesus to be fair and just. That makes sense and is perfectly reasonable. The apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans (3:23) that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
I agree with that because I have yet to discover a single person, including myself, that is completely righteous. In fact, there is not a single thing we do or say that is not tainted with sin in some way, whether it be a hidden selfish motive, pride, or whatever. Since we are all sinners and can't measure up to the standards of God, do we really want God to be fair and just? Justice would be for the wrongdoing to be paid for, a punishment to make amends for the crimes against God that have been committed. We all want guilty parties to pay for their crimes, especially when we are the victims of the crimes. But we want God to just look over our crimes (or sins) against Him and make Him out to be some villain if he stands for justice. This is justice as we define it: We are sinners and guilty and are deserving of Hell, every one of us. This is justice on our terms.
But God is loving, just as we would hope he would be. But He is loving in the greatest of ways. He knows we are sinners and utterly incapable of doing anything righteous (even our righteousness is filthy rags), so he provides the payment for the crime. He offers to come down and live through the treachery and sin-filled world we inhabit. He offers himself as payment. That is not justice, that is Grace. Those that belive in Him on His terms will be saved. "..whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."(John 3:18). These are the words of Jesus, not mine. It is amazing to me that this follows the famous John 3:16 passage that "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." My generation of church attenders memorized this as a child, but never discussed the condemnation passage that followed. Now the most quoted passage by people is Matthew 7:1 when Jesus says,"Do not judge, or you too will be judged." Many use this to prohibit any judgement, but this refers to men judging men, not Jesus judging men which is the case in the John passage.
What I am trying to make plain is that Jesus is loving, but he is also wrathful. It is not necessary to choose one over the other when it comes to God. He loves us so much that he provided the way to avoid His wrath which is in faithful belief in his Son, Jesus. It really doesn't get any more fair than that. It's like a man guilty of murder being given the information to share that will bring a verdict of not-guilty. He is still guilty , but will be free because he had someone provide the means necessary for freedom from wrath. Another illustration: Suppose you are backpacking on a trail and come to a place where the trail forks and you have to make a decision of which path to take. Another hiker points one direction and says, "That path takes you to a dangerous cliff-edge that few make it past." Pointing to the other,"That one takes you back to town and safety." If you take the first trail and it ends in destruction, is it the other hiker's fault? Couldn't it be that you were told and just chose to deny and do it your way regardless of the consequence?
Jesus is loving, but not only loving. Jesus is wrathful, but not only wrathful. Jesus is loving, by providing the grace for all of us to enjoy eternity with Him, beginning today. He is also wrathful, by letting unbelief have it's just punishment which is eternal separation from Him (John 3:36).