I received this question, and I suspect you may have also wondered about it:
Imagine you are presented with two options: 1) You will have no children, or 2) You will have triplets, but you know for a fact that two of the three will grow up and want nothing to do with you as their father and will ultimately live miserable, depraved lives full of nothing but suffering.... The third triplet will love you as a father, live a wholesome, joyful life working alongside you every day, living next door, and will ultimately be blessed in every aspect of life.
Which do you choose? Is the third child that will be happy and love you worth seeing your other two children, whom you love unconditionally, live a miserable life? ...
If you did have the power change it, you of course would. You would make all three choose the happy path, or at least 2/3 if that was the best you could do. When God created us, He knew that a majority of people would end up in Hell. He had the power to change that, or at least could have made the decision not to create us at all, sparing the Hell-bound majority from what awaits them. Yet according to Christianity, He proceeded with creating the universe, even though most of mankind, all of which He supposedly loves, were destined for eternal damnation.
There’s much more to this story than a “joyful life” vs. a “miserable life” for human beings. Since God is the center of all things, not us, we need to look a little more closely at Him in order to answer this question.
God Is the Judge of the World
The first thing to note is the difference between the Creator’s relationship with His creation and a human father’s relationship with his children. A human father is not the judge of the world. He does not uphold goodness and punish evil in the world. A human father is a limited (and fallen) human being, so the comparison is not strictly accurate and can create some misunderstandings.
We begin life with God as our Creator and Judge. When we trust in Christ, then we are adopted as His children (Eph. 1:5–6). Despite the fact that every one of us deserved our Judge’s just punishment, He chose to pluck some of us out of that path, adopting us so that He could show us grace, “so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7). But He didn’t do this for everyone, nor must He. Justice requires only judgment, not grace.
God’s Judgment Is Good
Second, the fact that God is love means that He hates evil. It means that He can’t sweep anything under the rug. When anyone causes harm to another in this world, God’s perfect love and justice demand punishment. This is good and right. It is not a bad thing for people to be punished for their moral crimes. In fact, upholding goodness and love by punishing moral crimes is a very good thing. We would want any Judge of the universe to be perfectly just.
For this reason, Hell is not a bad thing, just as justice is not a bad thing but an extremely good thing. (The question of whether or not the punishment in Hell is just is another question entirely that we should leave aside for the moment. Just keep in mind that we, as human beings, are very bad at being able to recognize the punishment we deserve—see “Why You Shouldn’t Trust the Feeling That You Don’t Deserve Hell” for more on that.) Think of the Nazis who were tried and convicted after World War II. Was it not a laudable thing that they were convicted and punished? Did that not vindicate love and goodness? Judgment is not a bad thing; it upholds all that is good, true, and beautiful. (See “How Can God Forgive Me” for an explanation of how God can show us grace and still maintain perfect justice.)
God’s Highest Goal in Creating Human Beings
Next, God is not dependent on us to be happy and fulfilled. He does not need us to love Him, and He didn’t create us in order to have someone to love. God is fully satisfied in the love He has shared with the Son and Spirit for all eternity. He created us not out of need but out of the overflow of love and creativity among the persons of the Trinity and out of a desire to reveal Himself to us so that we could also enjoy Him.
So why create people at all, knowing that many will be punished for their sin? Here are two verses that talk about God’s end goal:
He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:5–6).
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:4–9)
The crowning glory of God was revealed fully at the cross: His grace. For eternity, we will enjoy the “surpassing riches of His grace.” But if there had been no Fall, we would never have seen God’s grace at all because there would have been no moral crimes and no deserved punishment. God reveals His righteousness in judgment, and He reveals His grace in His freely-given, undeserved salvation. God’s goal is to have people who will enjoy Him forever, and that requires knowing Him fully, and that requires a fallen world where His justice and grace could be revealed.
Even the existence of those who reject God will glorify God in the end by revealing His righteousness through His perfect justice, so their existence also has a good purpose. Romans 9:22–23 says God “endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction...and He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.”
In other words, God’s highest goal in creating human beings—knowing that many would face His judgment—was to reveal His glory to us through His judgment of moral evil and, even more so, through Jesus’ work of undeserved grace on the cross. Every human being will play a role in this end goal of bringing glory to God and increasing the undeserved joy of those who will be saved by God’s grace—either by experiencing His grace themselves or by revealing the depth of that grace by demonstrating the judgment from which we were saved. Seeing God’s judgment will reveal to us what we truly deserved, and in that way, we will see God’s grace as it truly is.
How We Know God Loves and Is Good
And how do we know God loves and is good? First of all, because it wouldn’t make sense to say there’s something in this universe that’s better than the foundation of the universe. In other words, if there is a Creator, then where did the standard of “good” and “love” come from if not from that Creator? Is it possible for a created universe to somehow have within it a standard that’s better than the One who fashioned that universe? Where would such a thing come from? No, if we love and can see the goodness of love, it’s because we were created to love. Loving is part of being whole, part of living the way we were designed to live. It’s the way things are supposed to be; therefore, it comes from the Designer and Creator.
But we can also know God is good by looking at Jesus and, particularly, at the cross. Jesus is “the radiance of [the Father’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb 1:3). God would have been perfectly just if He had saved no one. But Jesus—the second person of the Trinity—suffered and died out of love to give us something beyond imagining that we didn’t deserve.
For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:7–8)
I recommend the book The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul for more on the topic of God’s holiness, our sinfulness, what we deserve, and the depth of God’s grace and love.