Nobody likes the idea of hell – even believers – but many unbelievers simply loathe the concept. They think punishing sinners in hell is not befitting of a supposedly loving God, and appeal to the doctrine as evidence against the truth of Christianity. Is hell truly a stain on God’s character? I don’t think so, and when the skeptic examines his own beliefs about justice a bit more carefully, I think he’ll come to agree that hell is not the egregious concept he claims it is. Here’s a tactical way to get your skeptical friend to see this point.
October 17, 2013
October 17, 2012
One of the distinguishing marks of the new atheists is that they not only think religion is false, but that it is dangerous and immoral too. Even God himself is not above their judgment. They regularly chide the God of the Bible as being a moral monster! They accuse Him of being pro-genocide, anti-women, pro-rape, pro-slavery, etc. Rather than the paradigm of moral goodness, God is an evil despot that is to be shunned. You know it’s a bad day when even God is evil!
Is what they say true? Is God – particularly as He is portrayed in the OT – morally evil? Many Christians are sympathetic to this charge because they themselves struggle to understand God’s actions and commands, particularly as revealed in the OT. Thankfully there have been some well-written responses to the problem of “theistic evil” written in recent years to dispel this negative portrait of God.
July 27, 2012
I often hear Christians of every stripe say they wish hell did not exist, or that no people would end up there. I understand what they mean. Hell is a gruesome prospect. The idea of people suffering for eternity is a grim one. It’s hard to be excited about a doctrine like this, particularly when all of us have family and loved ones that we have good reason to believe will end up in hell. On a purely emotional level, there is a sense in which all of us can say we wish there was no hell or that no one would go there.
June 22, 2012
June 7, 2012
Would you still serve God if there was no hell in which to be punished for your evil? Would you still serve God if there was no heaven in which to be rewarded for your good? Would your behavior change at all?
I would venture to say that most church-going Christians serve God, not out of a desire to be in relationship with God, but out of a desire to avoid hell. If there was no hell, they would not serve God, or at least would not continue to live the way they do morally speaking. While desiring to avoid hell is natural and a good motivator for initially deciding to serve God, it is a very poor motivator for continuing to serve God.
I don’t necessarily want you to respond in the comments section with your answers, but I do think this is something worth thinking about in the way of self-evaluation.
Update on 6/21: A new study appearing in the Public Library of Science journal, PLoS ONE, has evaluated crime rates involving 143,197 people in 67 countries over a span of 26 years and found that crime rates are lower in nations that believe in the possibility of some sort of divine punishment after death, and higher in nations that do not (or that only believe in divine rewards after death).
April 29, 2011
I was directed by Justin Taylor to a post by Trevin Wax discussing common urban legends propagated by preachers. I went to the list expecting to have a good laugh. And I was not disappointed. Wax spoke of the “the eye of the needle was a gate in Jerusalem” legend, the “rope-around-the-high-priest’s-ankle” legend, and the “scribes took baths before writing the divine name” legend. Oh how I chuckled!
January 27, 2010
Al Mohler has written a good piece on the doctrine of hell. He details the steps by which the doctrine has become liberalized in many churches:
- It ceases to be discussed
- It is revised and retained in a reduced form
- It is subject to ridicule
- The doctrine is reformulated (annihilationism, etc.)
I would add a possible fifth step as well: The doctrine is denied.
This same pattern can be applied to the liberalization of any Biblical doctrine. We must be on guard so as not to follow this pattern. The best way to guard against it is to preach and teach on the full spectrum of Biblical doctrines, rather than focusing on a handful and ignoring others. In general, what ceases to be taught ceases to be believed.
Mohler also had some challenging words on the tendency to lament, or apologize for the doctrine of hell. As Mohler describes it, there are Bible believing Christians who will affirm that the Bible teaches the doctrine of hell, but admit they do not like the doctrine and wish it were not true. I think we’ve all been there, and understandably so. But Mohler raises some good points against this disposition:
What does this say about God? What does this imply about God’s truth? Can a truth clearly revealed in the Bible be anything less than good for us? … Apologizing for a doctrine is tantamount to impugning the character of God. Do we believe that hell is a part of the perfection of God’s justice? If not, we have far greater theological problems than those localized to hell.
Indeed. As Dennis Prager once noted, it would be the epitome of injustice if the evil had the same fate as the righteous. If we love God, then we will love righteousness and justice. And if we love righteousness and justice, then the existence of hell is not something we should lament.
August 24, 2009
The following information comes from a lecture I attended of William Lane Craig:
Religious pluralists often argue that there is a contradiction between the premise that “God is all-loving/powerful” and “some do not hear the Gospel and will be lost.”
To see them as contradictory there must be one of two hidden assumptions:
- If God is all powerful He can create a world in which everybody hears the Gospel and is freely saved.
- If God is all-loving, He prefers a world in which everybody hears the Gospel and is freely saved.
I will show that such is not the case, and argue that they are logically compatible.
July 1, 2009
Why does somebody need to believe in Jesus to be saved? Our stock answer is so that they will go to heaven, not hell. While true in itself, it obscures the real message of the Gospel because it doesn’t explain why Jesus is necessary, only what the consequences are. It makes God sound petty, and unbelievers are quick to point this out.
A common misconception among Christians and non-Christians alike is that people go to hell because they haven’t heard of Jesus. This is not true. People go to hell because they are guilty of sin. The only way to escape hell is to be innocent of sin, and the only way to be innocent of sin is to accept Christ’s atonement. Men are not even condemned because they don’t believe. They are condemned already. Belief is the only thing that can save them from their condemnation. Their failure to believe simply allows them to reach the destination they were already headed for. People do not die because they don’t visit the doctor, but because they have a disease. Our disease is sin. We will die of this cancer unless we acknowledge that we are incapable of doing anything about it, and seek help from a powerful Doctor.
Other Christians believe people can only go to hell if they have heard of Jesus, and then reject Him. Those who have not heard of Christ are innocent and should be saved because of their ignorance, providing they followed the revelation of God they did have. This view is often called the “light doctrine.” Such a perspective invalidates the Christian message. It turns redemption on its head, making knowledge of Christ the cause of one’s damnation rather than their only hope of escaping sure judgment. It presumes that humanity contracts a disease by visiting the doctor, rather than having the disease by nature. Rest assured that humanity will not escape judgment because of their ignorance. Even those who have not heard of Jesus have sufficient evidence to know of God’s existence/nature and seek after Him, but all fall short of this revelation and are deserving of judgment (Rom 1-3). Without Jesus all would be lost. Jesus is not the cause of anyone’s condemnation—they are condemned already.
April 14, 2006
Have you ever noticed that when you are witnessing to a non-Christian, and it comes out that you believe they will go to hell if they do not trust in Christ to pay for their sins, that they often get angry, say how offended they are, or some other negative response?Have you ever wondered why that is?
One reason for the negative response could be the way in which the information was communicated.If the believer presented the information in a contentious or angry manner, it should be no surprise when the negative emotions are reciprocated.But what if the information was presented in a gracious manner?
For the most part people do not get upset over fantasies and fairytales.If we were to tell the same non-Christian that Santa Clause was not going to give him any presents this year because Santa checked his list and found him to be naughty rather than nice, would he be upset with us?No, because he knows it is not true.At worst he might laugh us to scorn for believing such silly things.
So why the negative emotional response to the message of Christianity?If Christianity is not true, and there is no such thing as hell (or at least the Christian version of it), why get so upset?Do they usually get upset at fairy tales?Maybe the reason for their negative response is because deep down inside they know it is true, but do not want to accept the truth.The emotional response is a reaction of their spirit struggling against the truth they don’t want to believe.Just maybe….
April 12, 2006
That is the dreaded question we all face from time to time.How do we respond to it?Greg Koukl has offered some helpful insights.
First, we should point out that Christianity does not teach that people go to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus.The reason people go to hell is because they are guilty of wrong behavior, not wrong belief.They are condemned already.Belief is the only thing that will prevent them from experiencing the natural consequences of their behavior.Sin is like a terminal disease: if it is not treated it will eventually kill you.Those who die of an untreated disease do not die because they haven’t visited the doctor, but because they have a disease.Likewise, people do not die of sin because they have not visited Dr. Jesus, but because they have a spiritual disease.Jesus is the one who holds the cure for their disease.By not accepting the cure, they choose to die in their sinful disease.
How can we communicate this to unbelievers?First, we should be sure to avoid giving a simple “yes” or “no” answer to this question.The reason for this is tactical, not rhetorical.A simple “yes” answer makes the Christian look like a judgmental bigot, and all too often the non-Christian will immediately pounce on you for your response, allowing you little chance to explain your answer.So it’s best to give an explanation as your answer.Here’s how this approach might look in action:
Non-believer: “So do you believe I’m going to hell?”
Believer: “Do you think people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished?Justice demands that people who are guilty of wrongdoing be punished for their crimes.The message of Christianity is that those guilty of moral crimes ought to be punished for those crimes unless they have been pardoned.God has provided such a pardon in Jesus Christ.He is the only answer to our sin problem because He—and only He—paid the penalty for our crimes.We can either take that pardon and go free, or refuse it and stand alone before God to pay for our own crimes such as they are.We will be judged fairly, but justice will prevail.
“The pertinent question, then, is whether or not you have committed any moral crimes.All of us have.That’s the bad news.The good news is that we can be pardoned for those crimes by putting our trust in Jesus, and accepting what He did on our behalf.Are you willing to accept His pardon?”
I hope this tactical approach proves helpful in your own evangelistic efforts.Not only will it take the edge off of an uncomfortable question, but it will also explain the essence of the Gospel in the process.