A riot had formed in the middle of my college campus. I rushed over to the campus commons to find a mob of people surround one man. I remembered this man. He was standing in the commons an hour earlier yelling at all the people who walked by. He was telling them that they are all going to Hell. Now he was surrounded by a number of people yelling obscenities, making harsh gestures, and engaging in same sex relations just to spite him. Hate was being reciprocated with hate, and it was an atrocious scene.
As I watched the man be hauled away by security, I wondered, how much of his message was true. How many of these people would actually be going to Hell? This is a concept we don’t really want to think about, and it is because we don’t want to think about this that Hell becomes Christianity’s most abused doctrine.
The doctrine of Hell becomes abused because people don’t know how to engage it in a healthy manner. There are three different types of people who abuse Hell: People who struggle with the idea of Hell, people who know it exists but don’t talk about it with their non-Christian friends, and people who weaponize it.
For those who struggle with the idea of Hell, think about it like this: Absolute truth, if not coupled with justice, becomes dull or compromised. There has to be an action enacted upon the falsehood of that truth in order for it to be absolute. Its like rubbing off the corners of a square until it becomes an ambiguous and ugly shape. That action is doing the square (an analogy for truth) an injustice by making it something it is not! Justice sharpens the edges of truth, and that’s what gives Hell its unique place in Christianity. But justice sharpens the edges to the point where it hurts to touch. To some, Hell is all about this hurt.
When you hear Hell being flung around at non-Christians in an unloving manner, it is a weapon. There are some who want to say that to speak of Hell at all with an unsaved person is loving. But in saying this, we must realize that we have a different definition of love than the secular mind has. Love for the Christian is the salvation we receive in Christ. We see love wrapped up into the character of Jesus. So when we speak the truth in love, this means that our truth is coupled with an invitation of a life with Christ.
Take the example of Jesus and the adulteress woman in John 4. Jesus calls her out on her sin, but by the end of their dialogue, He reveals Himself to her. The message of Christ is both a confrontation and an invitation.
Hell is a painful reality, but when placed in the context of the Gospel message, that pain does not come without healing. If Hell is used in any other context, is it really loving to tell someone about it? It is important to realize that the Christian message is about saving people from Hell. Not condemning them to it.
Last, but not least, there are people who affirm the existence of Hell, but don’t talk about it with their non-Christian friends. This is because it is perceived as offensive to tell someone they are going to Hell! While it is loving to us, they don’t understand our love. We would rather not talk about Hell with our non-Christian friends.
But there is a danger in this. By not talking about Hell, the secular mind becomes confused to whether or not we actually believe what we believe. So if they enter into the faith or not, they seek to revise the faith according to what they want to believe rather than have the faith revise them. The result is as our church becomes more and more progressive, we find Hell disappearing from our Christian dialogue.
There is a way to reverse this, and that is by reintroducing Hell into our dialogue.
Before we go into how to do this, we must realize the culture we live in. We are a culture that desires respect. We want to be understood and respected for what we believe. But so many people mistake respect as a way to conform or compromise. This is what hinders dialogues happening from across relational borders. One side believes one thing, and the other side believes another. There is no conversation. There is no respect.
Hell, if spoken in the context of the Gospel message, should keep in mind this idea of respect. The non-Christian needs to see where we are coming from, and in order for them to do so means for them to get a glimpse of just how much we believe in the redemptive power of Christ. Once they see for themselves just how much we value what we believe in, it plants a seed in their mind that we respect them and that we are truly concerned for where they spend their eternity.
Hell has been abused by our evolving culture. But if we take the time to roll back our sleeves and dive into the gritty truths of our faith, we might actually find that talking about Hell in a healthy way does more justice to God’s redemptive plan than not talking about it does.