If you’ve been following the recent “Is Rob Bell a Universalist?” buzz in the Christian blogosphere, you’re more aware than ever that heaven and hell are controversial topics these days. Granted, it’s mostly hell that’s controversial, since everybody loves the idea of heaven. So should we shy away from talking about hell with our teenagers because it’s become unpopular? I think not, since Scripture exhorts us to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:16).
But before we tackle the topic of hell with our teens, we must tackle it ourselves. And it’s not an easy topic.
My Problem with the Doctrine of Hell
Like most believers, if I’m honest, I have to admit that I have a serious problem accepting a doctrine that condemns the sinner to a forever future without hope, without escape, without a second chance. My heart begins to hurt and my brain starts to ache when I think about it. Questions flood my mind and challenge my convictions. Questions like how could a loving God send people to suffer eternally?
But no matter how many times I try to explain hell away or redefine and make it palatable to my puny brain, there it is in black and white again and again throughout the pages of the Bible. No matter how I try to imagine it away or tone it down one thing is clear, the Bible describes hell as for real and forever – your worst fears come true and then multiplied by infinity for eternity.
A Place of “Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth”
Check out these verses about hell:
But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 8:12
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9
Did you know that Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven? Of the nineteen times that hell is mentioned in the New Testament, twelve are mentioned by Jesus.
Just Loving vs. Just and Loving
So how could a loving God send people he created to suffer in an eternal hell?
And maybe that question is the problem. Oftentimes the 21st Century version of the Christian God is that He is just loving instead of just and loving. The just part of God (that demands absolute justice, holiness, perfection) has been minimized and the loving part of God (that shows mercy, grace and forgiveness) has been maximized.
Our God is a holy God who lit the fires of hell with his hatred for sin. Our God is a loving God who sent his own Son to die on a cross so that we wouldn’t have to go there. And therein lies the paradox of the gospel message and of the Christian God who is not just loving but just and loving.
So it turns out that my problem with hell is my own problem. The Bible has no problem with it, nor does Jesus. So I must accept the doctrine even though it grates against my own limited human perspective.
And what are the implications?
No holds barred evangelism. Like it or not, the avoidance of hell should serve as a powerful motivator for sharing the Good News.
Step Up and Ignite the Passion!
Here are a few ideas that might help you ignite this particular passion fuel in your teens:
- Talk to your students about God being “just loving vs. just and loving.”
- Study and pray through your theology of hell and have a candid conversation with your teenagers about this eternal reality. Check out the “Letter from Hell CD” for help bringing urgency to your students.
- Set aside some time during youth group meetings for your students to pray specifically by name for their
Challenge your teenagers to get serious about reaching their friends.