"Why Are Christians So Focused On Hell?"
In my previous post, I addressed the so-called "Problem of Divine Hiddenness," since it appears to be making the rounds again. Another issue that has been making the rounds is related to the concept of hell. The question was put well by one Twitter user, as seen below.
This Twitter user appears to believe that Christians just really wish that hell were real. Implied in this claim is that we wish that it were real so that we could see people punished for things that we do not like. But is this actually the case? There are two aspects to this question. First, whether or not Christians teach that there is a hell. Second, whether or not we sincerely desire for it to be true in some malicious way. Let's take each of these claims one at a time.
Does Christianity teach that there is a hell? If I were to poll most people who are practicing Christians, we would say yes, we believe there is a hell. This does not mean that we want people to end up there. So why do we teach that hell is a real place? The reason is that we have good reason to believe that it is a real place. There are both biblical and logical reasons to believe that, if God exists, and evil exists, then hell makes sense.
We have to understand a few things about hell before we can move forward effectively. Specifically, what do/should Christians believe about hell? First, it is important to note that God never intended for any human being to go to hell. Hell was never created for human beings, it was created for the devil and his angels.1 Hell is a place of torment.2 The torment that is experienced is eternal.3
What logical basis could we have for thinking that hell is real? The short answer is that we believe that God is good. If God is good, then God must be Just. An unjust God is not a good God. Perfect Justice demands that every crime be punished. In order to be Just, God cannot let any crime go without punishment. All of us have sinned, and all of us deserve Justice, whether we recognize it or not.4 The problem is that, if there is no ultimate punishment for wrongs and injustice, then wrong and injustice ultimately win in the end. If there is no penalty for a crime (say, murder), then those who commit that crime ultimately win! They get away with it, and there is nothing to stop them. A good God cannot allow this to happen. Hell is not intended for someone who sins, realizes their error, repents, and trusts that Christ forgave their sins. Hell is intended for the unrepentant, prideful, and self-centered. It is not intended for those who stop doing evil and, therefore, stop rebelling against a good God. God isn't up in heaven looking for reasons to send people to hell.
This leads me to the second point. If God doesn't take delight in people ending up eternally separated from him, neither should we. If you were to poll the average practicing Christian, they would tell you that the reason they focus on warning people about hell is not because they want people to end up there.5 To do so would violate God's character (see above), as well as the command to love even our enemies. Rather, the Christian who warns people about the reality of hell is doing so for the same reason that a person might refer to a doctor. Let's look at an example:
Let's suppose for a moment that you have a friend who was just diagnosed with a severe illness that will take his or her life in the next month. The doctor tells your friend that he can cure him or her, and offers several treatments. None of them work. So you do your research and find a doctor who has a different treatment method than what has been tried before. In fact, you see testimonials that this doctor has had wild success in fixing the very problem that your friend has. In fact, this is the only doctor who has had success in treating this particular disease. In fact, you had been diagnosed with this very same disease, and this particular doctor had treated you. You tell your friend about this doctor who can treat him or her, but ultimately, the choice is up to your friend. Your friend can seek out help, or reject it.
This is what the Christian is doing when he or she warns about hell. We are not wishing hell upon anyone. We are offering telling you where to find treatment for a problem that we all have. We are like the main character of this scenario. We have been treated of our illness, and we want you to know where to go to be treated of yours. We are simply beggars who have been shown bread, who are showing other beggars where to find bread. It is not hatred that motivates our warnings. It is a deep care for you.
Next time a Christian tells you about the dangers of falling under God's judgment rather than his mercy, don't think that it because of malice. It is because we care about you.
1 FOOTNOTE↩ Matthew 25:41 3 FOOTNOTE↩ Revelation 14:11
B.) "I donated all the money to charity and never spent a penny on myself."
C.) "That happened a long time ago. I haven't robbed another bank since."
D.) "No one else got hurt."
E.) "I wasn't as bad as so-and-so."
F.) "I felt really bad about it afterward."
G.) "I won't confess to anything!"
B.) "That is irrelevant. You have still committed a crime."
C.) "Time doesn't make crimes go away."
D.) "Plenty of people got hurt. You just didn't see it."
E.) "You also weren't as good as you were required to be."
F.) "Plenty of people felt really bad about it afterwards. Your bad feeling doesn't correct your crime."
G.) "I will base My decision on the evidence, then, and the evidence against you is very strong. Your silence will not excuse you."