We need to talk... about hell
We lay out all the evidence for God and talk to non-believers about making a positive choice to become a Christian - but that is not enough if we don’t also tell them what they are choosing to reject. By Anna Hancock
Nobody likes to have to deliver bad news, it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant and we do whatever we can to make it easier on ourselves and on the person we have to deliver it to. Your best friend’s new dress has fashion disaster written all over it? You tell her she looks great in whatever she wears. Your husband cooked a disastrous dinner? You eat it and say it was delicious.
It is such a part of our collective etiquette to shy away from unpleasant truths that we have quaint little phrases to protect our sensibilities even further. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. We ‘sugar-coat’ the truth, ‘sandwich’ the unpleasant news between two delicious slices of compliments.
If it’s so hard for us to tell a loved one a tiny little unpalatable truth, then it’s no wonder we baulk at the task of telling them that hell is real. Yes, that hell. Eternal lakes of fire and gnashing of teeth, no ‘get out of jail free’ card to escape. As Christians we are so uncomfortable with having to explain hell to non-believers that we usually avoid it altogether, hiding it away like a guilty secret. We focus, quite naturally, on the great things that God wants us to have.
He loves us, so much so that He sent His only son to die for our sins that we might be saved and have eternal life. This is indeed a great gift and a joy we naturally want everyone to know about and to choose for themselves. We are confident in sharing Good News. We are not so comfortable saying that the woman at the next desk is not going to be saved from hell just because she is kind to cats and sometimes does the cake run even when it’s not her turn.
But our squeamishness that makes us avoid mentioning the H-word means that we are not involved in any moral debate about what happens to the unevangelised, the unsaved. As a result that debate is out there getting lost in a tangle of pluralism, individualism and atheism. Eternal torment a little too much for you? Maybe you’d prefer a short sharp purgatorial blast and then on to everlasting bliss? Or you could take the option of a sudden realisation after death that the God you joked was no more than an imaginary friend is real after all and now that you’re here you’ll take the full Heavenly Afterlife Package and we’ll say no more about that Chardonnay you liberated from Sainsburys as a dare. Look, if none of this appeals there is always the Reincarnation option, just come back and if you mess up again, ah well, there’s always next time.
As long as we back off from the discomfort of tackling the issue of hell head on, people are out there deciding for themselves whether it exists or not and in what form and let’s all laugh at the Christians who still think that there could possibly be eternal consequences for the way we live our lives. How unfashionably medieval! Not sure what to do? Ah well, YOLO (you only live once) and all that, just go for it. As long as you’re happy that’s all that matters, right?
We seriously need to man up. No, we can’t tell people exactly what hell is like because we just don’t know in this life. Whether it involves fire, or darkness, or pain or simply the cold, sad loneliness of being eternally far from God we don’t know, but it is there. God gave us the free will to choose to love Him or to sin and He is a fair God who will seek justice and will not let sin go unpunished. He wants us to choose love and eternal life and shows us the right way to live so that we can be with Him in glory.
We lay out all the evidence for God and talk to non-believers about making a positive choice to become a Christian - but that is not enough if we don’t also tell them what they are choosing to reject. Failing to tell the truth is just lying dressed up in better clothes and we owe it to ourselves, to others and to God to strip it off and tell that truth in all its awkward, distasteful reality.
Hell is real, it’s nasty and it serves a purpose. It’s not where all the fun people go and party every night whilst the pious sit on their little clouds, eternally bored and twiddling their blond curls waiting for an invite. It is the opposite of the eternal love and joy of heaven and that’s the truth we should be confidently proclaiming before the rest of society goes hurtling past us in the proverbial handcart.
Anna Hancock is a church member and enthusiastic Press Officer at Rosebery Park Baptist Church in Bournemouth. A former Catholic, Anna rediscovered faith after an apologetics course at RPBC and was baptised in 2012.
Picture: Fallen angels in Hell/John Martin (1789/1854)/Wikimedia Commons