Grill A Christian: How Can You Believe in Hell?
If you’re a Christian, you have probably tried to share the gospel with someone. One objection to the Christian faith which I find comes up often here in the UK is the whole matter of hell. It is an objection which usually closes the British mind to any fair presentation of the gospel. “I could never believe in a God which punishes people like that. How can I believe in your “loving God” which tortures people for all eternity?” Often times Christians don’t know how to respond and get intimidated by this objection. What are we to do?
1. Understand that this strong emotional objection is partially a cultural one. In other parts of the world, people do not reject Christianity because of its teaching on hell in the same way. In the Middle East people often easily understand the necessity of hell. What they can’t understand is the idea of “God having a son”. Likewise when the gospel first came to the Angles and the Saxons on these islands, it wasn’t the concept of hell but rather that of forgiveness which offended the honour bound tribes from which we are descended. Our objection to the idea of hell shows us how much a product of our culture we actually are. It is based on western, post-enlightenment ideas of the goodness of human nature and individual rights. Not all humanity in space and time shares these ideas.
2. I believe in hell because I don’t believe Jesus was a liar. Often times I am asked, “How could a God of love send people to hell?” I like to respond to the question with a question: “Who said God was a God of love?” This usually throws the person a bit. “Umm, err, don’t you Christians believe that? Didn’t Jesus teach that?” To which one can reply, “Yes, Jesus did teach that God loves the world. Also, everything we know about hell comes primarily from the teachings of Jesus. I don’t believe Jesus lied. Perhaps we as 21st century Westerners don’t understand everything there is to know about love?”
3. Ultimately hell shows us how much God loves us. Hell is the price Jesus paid on the cross to love you and me. The idea of a God who simply has feelings of love for the world may warm the soul like a vanilla latte. However a love that doesn’t become incarnate and pay the price of nails and thorns will never transform the human heart. Jesus drank the hellish cup of a holy God’s hatred of evil in the greatest voluntary substitution the universe will ever know. Only a Christ suffering the fullness of hell and simultaneously saying “I love you” can make a man leap up and sing with tears, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, which saved a wretch like me!”