Is it loving to say, “You’re Going to Hell”?

youre going to hellI have been studying the doctrine of hell recently, and by coincidence, ran across the following video.

The quality is pretty bad, but you don’t really need the images to get the… horror of it… Not the horror of hell, but the horror that Christians would use such tactics to try to scare people into heaven.

What makes it worse is that this video is obviously geared toward High School Students. The video is called “A Letter from Hell.”

Yikes!

I recently heard of a church that at a Youth Rally had 100% conversion. The speaker passed out little pieces of paper and had everyone write their name on their paper. Then he brought up two garbage cans, and in one, put some paper and lighter fluid and lit the thing on fire. Then he told the kids that the flaming trashcan represented hell, and the other represented heaven. He had the kids line up, and pass by the cans putting their piece of paper in the can where they wanted to go when they died…

Amazingly, not a single kid put his name in the flaming can! Instead, everyone wanted to go to heaven. The church reported that 100% of the kids at the rally were converted.

Now that’s evangelism success.

…Or is it?

Last week, Mark Driscoll tweeted that all unbelievers are going to hell. 

Thanks for clearing that up, Mark. We wondered where you stood on this issue and am glad you gave the watching world yet another reason to realize how kind and loving we Christians are…

But seriously, Mark’s point was that it is loving to tell people they are going to hell.

I know, I have heard the arguments:

If a man was about to drive his car off a cliff, the loving thing to do is to warn him. So also with hell. If a person is headed for hell, the loving thing to do is warn them.

If that’s true, then why did Jesus talk about hell so little? Why is it rarely (if ever) mentioned by Paul or Peter? The New Testament authors do not try to scare people into heaven with threats of hell. 

OK, some of you Bible scholars are thinking to yourself, “Jeremy doesn’t read his Bible. Doesn’t he know that Jesus talks about hell more than He talks about heaven?”

Yes, I know that this is what some people claim. But it simply isn’t true. The passages where Jesus mentions “weeping and gnashing of teeth” are not talking about hell, but about profound regret for a life poorly lived that some Christians will experience at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. Matt 8:12; 22:11-13). Most of the references to “fire” in Jesus’ teaching are not about hell, but about some sort of temporal divine discipline; not eternal conscious torment. 

going to hellI think maybe the only place Jesus talks about hell is with the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (which is likely a parable), and when Jesus says that hell was made for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41), and sadly, some people end up there as well. 

…Speaking of which…. if hell was made for the devil and his angels, why are they on the earth now? Hmmm…. simmer on that one for a while. 

Look, when Jesus, Paul, Peter, John and everyone else in the New Testament sought to invite people into the family of God, they did it winsomely. They didn’t threaten or coerce. God does not force people to love Him. God does not rape.

Even in the early church, people became Christians because they saw how loving and generous the Christians were (see Acts 2-3). 

Look, people are never going to truly respond to the Gospel if you tell them that unless they accept Jesus they will be going to hell. Many people are already living in hell, and they think God has done this to them, and another such threat from God only reinforces there idea of this angry God up in the clouds who is out to kill and hurt them. Do we seriously want people to “come to Jesus” with this sort of picture of God in their minds? 

No!

Not only because it doesn’t “work” but more importantly, because it isn’t true!

God looks like Jesus, and Jesus always loves people into the Kingdom.

You know what is really loving? Not warning people that if they don’t believe in Jesus they will go to hell. That’s not loving, nor does it draw anyone to God or into His Kingdom.

What is really loving is living in such a way that people notice a difference in your life. They see your joy, your grace, your generosity, and your patience in trials. They never sense judgment coming from you, but only acceptance and love. If given the opportunity, you can use words to invite people to follow Jesus with you, and experience the true contentment, peace, and joy that comes from living in such a way.

That is loving, and best of all, it’s true.


Comments

  1. Shawn Christopher Trumbo says

    I understand why you wrote this. I really do, but some of what you say isn’t right either. Sorry.

    • says

      Thanks, Shawn. I know some of what I say here is challenging to some, and seems to contradict some passages. I do, however, have exegetical data to back up my claims about hell, fire, and the “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” passages. I didn’t present any of that in this post…. but all in good time!

      • Shawn Christopher Trumbo says

        Just so you know I do agree with some of what you said. Especially about not just going out and preaching hellfire. I don’t think that’s biblical. I’ve tried a long time to make sense of this without denying truth. But I truly believe that without God we are incapable of love. At least real love which is eternal. It seems like if we do have an eternity whether in heaven or hell the decision should be easy. Why even consider going to hell? The only reason I can think of is obstinate, persistent, ongoing rebellion. That doesn’t make me want to look down on people. I don’t think they are better than me but it does make me want to do everything I can to get the word out so people can make the right choice. There are a lot of good reasons to submit to Jesus. Avoiding hell was one reason why I considered Jesus in the first place. Ultimately that is not why I chose Him. I realized I was evil and deserved hell. I know I do. But He offers my love anyway. To me that’s amazing. I don’t feel any fear of hell now. Why would I. He has accepted me in the beloved simply because I believe. Not because of any goodness in me. That’s how I see it anyway. there are so many fruitful believers in the world that believe in hell and still love God. Very fruitful who love God with their whole hearts. I don’t know if they were given the gospel of hellfire though. Probably not. But definitely repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Take the opportunity today to be saved. Do you know what I mean?

  2. Sam says

    This telling people they’re going to hell business is a strange way of trying to introduce people to Jesus. I know no one who chose to follow Jesus because of it. The people I know who have been told this tell me it repels them and causes them to move further away from Jesus, instead of closer. (Even if it occasionally works, I’d guess for every person it convinces to follow Jesus, it runs off hundreds, if not thousands.)

    I know people who tell others this, and one word describes all of them – bullies. I don’t make that determination based solely on the fact that the tell people they’re going to hell. They’re bullies in many ways. They may not see this about themselves, but they’re still bullies, and other people recognize it.

    If telling people they’re going to hell (and they’ve all heard it before) only drives them further away from the Kingdom, obviously it is not a good plan unless you’re a bully, which is exactly what Mark Driscoll and his group are.

    • says

      Driscoll does often act like a bully. Frankly, he kind of looks like one too. But whatever….

      I think part of the reason for his Tweet is simply to garner attention. You know, he’s kind of like the Christian Miley Cyrus…. he says and does outlandish things just to get people talking about him on blogs and on the news. And it works!

  3. Dan says

    I’m with you. Jesus invites into an awesome relationship and proclaims a kingdom where there is grace and every good thing. There is warning for the consequence of following self rather than God, but the main thing is not ‘heaven’ versus ‘hell’…

    A Bible teacher that I’d love to introduce you to is Steve Gregg. He just came out with a book about the three views of hell. He does a great job of exploring and dealing with the variety of views on a subject, as evidenced in his other book ‘Revelation Four Views’. His website is http://www.thenarrowpath.com

    • says

      Huh. I will have to get that book. I have the “Two Views of Hell” book from a few years ago by Fudge and Peterson, but not this new book by Gregg. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. cee says

    Thank you so much for this post. My church preaches God’s grace and deep, merciful love for us. If my church preached fire and brimstone, I would stop going. I would not want my own children to come to me out of fear and I do not believe our Lord God wants us to do that either. How much more precious is our love for Jesus than when it is given freely and of one’s own will?
    I believe this is what God desires.

    • says

      I agree with you! There is something about the “fear of the Lord” which is important to have, but it is a loving/worshipful/respectful sort of fear, not the quaking in our boots because God wants to squash us like a bug sort of fear.

      • Sheldon says

        Disagree. I do believe it’s a quaking in our boots fear.

        Jesus also used hellfire as a threat at times, and many of the preachers of the faith have used this type of preaching too. In the book of Acts you never ever see “God loves you” as the means of evangelism. But instead, it is “Repent, flee from the wrath of God and believe the Gospel”. I do believe we need to share about the love of God and the renewed relationship with the Father though, but laying the foundation of the truth that we are sinful human beings, in need to be saved first.

  5. Randy says

    I hope that once you have completed your study of “hell” you will share it. This one of the most misunderstood and abused teachings in the Church. This is why so many come to the Church only to get thier “Get Out of Hell Free” card. They then beleive that’s all they need from Christ and never come to really know Him. They will never fully give thier hearts to a God whom they are fearful of, and it is thier hearts that He seeks.

    • says

      Yes, I will. I will do a short preview in this current book I am writing on the Violence of God in the Bible, and sometime down the road, will do a fuller treatment of the hell passages in the Bible. I know that not all will agree (when does that EVER happen?), but hope to at least present an alternative perspective which most people are unaware of.

  6. Tony Vance says

    Okay, so first of all, I retweeted Driscoll’s tweet. I firmly believe in the doctrine of Hell, i.e. That those that are unsaved go there. I think it is a disservice to those going there to not warn them (& yes even unloving). But! With that all said I can’t agree more that Hell is not the best motivator (‘don’t go there’) but love, Grace & the mercy of God is.

    By the way I believe all Jesus’ parables were about real people and real situations (as omniscient). He knew of situations that fit his teaching moments.

    God bless Jeremy-provocative & intriguing as always

    • Buster says

      Hopefully, Tony, the difference between you and Mark Driscoll, is that Driscoll believes God arbitrarily decides who goes to Heaven or Hell before anyone was created. According to Driscoll’s Calvinism, Hell exists primarily for God’s glory. Add this understanding to his recent tweet and hopefully you can understand why some of us find it repulsive.

    • says

      Thanks, Tony. Yes, I believe in an eternal separation from God as well, and I don’t believe in annihilationism or universalism. And like you, I want to warn people, but (also like you), I think there may be more loving ways of doing it than the way Driscoll chose.

      • Tony Vance says

        I do agree & actual thought a non-confrontational tweet was a good way (instead of in someone’s face) thanks Jeremy

  7. Buster says

    Driscoll is a fool, but the BIble readily provides the ammunition for his foolishness. You say the Bible does not threaten or coerce. I think it explicitly does. Even if you disagree, it is undeniably implicitly coercive. I’ll save listing the multiple proof texts that I’m sure you’re already aware of. If the Bible clearly stated otherwise, no confusion or disagreement would exist.

    • says

      Yes, you are right that the Bible readily provides ammunition for Driscoll’s foolishness. That is one of the most troubling aspects of the Bible for me…. Although… I think some of it has to do with faulty translations which have led to traditional (but faulty) understandings of what the Bible teaches.

  8. Jake Yaniak says

    “Many people are already living in hell.”

    That is, I think, the real problem we are supposed to confront as Christians. We are not trying to save them ‘someday’ – we are trying to save them from hell now, just as when we are saved we are not saved ‘someday’ – we are saved when we believe. The scribe in Mark was close to the Kingdom of God because he was close to the truth, not because he was about to be whisked away to a future time and to a far away place.

    “…. if hell was made for the devil and his angels, why are they on the earth now? Hmmm…. simmer on that one for a while. ”

    This reminds me of something that Schopenhauer wrote; he seemed to take seriously the notion that this world WAS in some way the Last Judgment.

    • says

      Hmm. I have not read that form Schopenhauer. Do you know where he wrote that? I would like to read it. You are absolutely right about what we are trying to do now, in this life. People can be invited to a better way of living NOW… not some pie-in-the-sky, life will be better in the by-and-by sort of idea.

      • Jake Yaniak says

        It is taken from something he says about the relationship between human suffering and human depravity in his essay ‘On Human Nature.’ His philosophy more or less implies this much in many places though. He wrote:

        “We have been taking a look at the depravity of man, and it is a sight which may well fill us with horror. But now we must cast our eyes on the misery of his existence; and when we have done so, and are horrified by that too, we must look back again at his depravity. We shall then find that they hold the balance to each other. We shall perceive the eternal justice of things; for we shall recognise that the world is itself the Last Judgment on it, and we shall begin to understand why it is that everything that lives must pay the penalty of its existence, first in living and then in dying. Thus the evil of the penalty accords with the evil of the sin—malum poenae with malum culpae.”

        http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10739/pg10739.html

  9. Kenny says

    Sorry Jeremy, you lost me on this one, Jesus, Paul and the other disciples did speak about hell and during the revivals of which I was a part. Heaven and hell were preached about equally and yes it is loving to tell a man or woman their house is on fire. It is since the church has become afraid to tell the whole truth in love that we have lost the plot and started acting cool. The bible may hurt some with the truth but it will never comfort you with a lie.

    • says

      Kenny,

      Thanks for being honest, and stating your views in a loving way. I want to write more about hell in some future posts, and we can have more dialogue about it then…

  10. michael says

    After reading your several article i love God more than i do before God is truly holy and loving he has never been hard on us even not in the old Testamen. Thank you very much for writing such great article. I wish and pray that every body read your articles and understand God which he really is.

  11. Emilio Gomez says

    The teaching that there this is an eternal everlasting tormenting hell is unbiblical and in my conversations with nonreligious people the number one reason for their unbelief.

    It just makes no sense at all that anyone would want to FREELY worship a God that throws people into an eternal fire.

    Will the wicked be burned up? The bible says yes but it doesnt say they will burn forever. Even the #1 bad guy -the devil -will eventually burn up and be nothing but dead. How long will he burn? I do not know but I do know God will be just.It will not be forever.

    • says

      Yes, I do not believe in ECT – Everlasting Conscious Torment in hell. I am not a universalist or an annihilationist, but also do not accept the idea that God sends people to burn in flames forever and forever.

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