Part 1: If Hell Is Real Why Don't I Care More?
There was this episode of Seinfeld where Elaine discovers that her boyfriend Puddy listens to Christian radio. He nonchalantly makes comments to her about how she’s going to hell and he isn’t. Finally Elaine explodes: “If I am going to hell, you should care that I’m going to hell.”
Elaine’s right on! Most of us Christians really do care yet we don’t act like it. We keep our mouths shut about judgment. If we cared you’d think we’d share our faith more. But talking about being lost isn’t cool these days. It’s politically incorrect. However I think there’s an even deeper more emotional reason we keep our mouths shut. The prospect of hell overwhelms us.
Now I know there’s a lot of controversy and confusion surrounding the subject of hell in the New Testament. But nevertheless it contains clear warnings of the real possibility of final loss. I don’t think it’s merely a symbolic device to frighten people into becoming Christians. It’ clear to me that there are people who do reject God and reject what would have been his best will for them and God honors that decision even though it’s a very bad decision. On the other hand it’s also clear that the New Testament also holds out great promises for a glorious future to all who trust Christ. So while not being dogmatic I take both final judgment and eternal life very seriously because Jesus and the New Testament writers took them seriously.
Nevertheless the idea that there will be people lost forever is hard for believers like myself to handle. It’s so disturbing and frightening in fact that most of us simply don’t want to bring up the subject at all. Jason Boyett, author of Pocket Guide to the Afterlife wrote, “I think some people hesitate to talk about hell because they don’t want to continue to deliver only bad news instead of something that is encouraging and inspiring. The existence of hell is difficult and a challenging part of Christian theology. If you think too much about it, it is really kind of frightening.”
It’s so frightening that it’s easier to put it out of our minds. After all, this is eternity we’re talking about! Friends, relatives, people we care about, people we love come to mind that if hell is real may end up there. We just can’t bear the thought. So ironically, because we do care we keep silent as if by some magic, not sharing our faith will make hell go away. It doesn’t. Lesslie Newbigin, the influential twentieth century theologian wrote, “It is one of the weaknesses of a great deal of contemporary Christianity that we do not speak of the last judgment and of the possibility of being finally lost.”
So Elaine, its not that we don’t care, it’s more a matter of not wanting to face something that’s unpleasant and upsetting. However the danger is that our avoidance can unintentionally cause us to drift complacency or worse, into Universalism. If we do care we have to get past any discomfort, distress or embarrassment, look to God’s Word, especially the teachings of Jesus and find a way of sharing about judgment and hell in a thoughtful and compassionate way. There is a way we can do this without coming off looking like raging fundamentalists. Jesus found a way and we can too. In part two of this article I’ll share some thoughts on how.