Kids are full of questions. I answered as simply as I could, which [fortunately] is a habit for me. “It’s a bad place. It’s full of flames, because it’s a place of punishment; a place of darkness, because poeple are eternally separated from God there, and God is light; and it’s a place of sinners, so it would be bad all by itself. All the people who refuse God’s gift of salvation and won’t repent and let God change their ways – all the murderers and thieves and liars and bullies and rapists and all the rest – when, they die, they go to hell for their sins.”
“So it’s like prison?”
I nodded, thinking it was more like prison with no possibility of parole. “Does that sound like the kind of place you’d want to be in?”
He shook his head, then asked a new question. “Are they zombies?”
I smiled. the kid had a point: they do walk around in hell after they die. I can see his confusion. “No, no zombies. Just darkness, flames and sinners.”
“Are they cavemen?”
I laughed. “No, they don’t make the fires. There’s fire all around them, like a burning building.”
“Maybe we can get on the computer and see pictures of hell?” he suggested.
I shuddered, remembering paintings with scenes of devils with pitchforks, anked people being tortured and gaping demon frogmouths stuffed with human limbs. “Yeah… Those pictures aren’t really accurate. People have painted some stuff into them that isn’t exactly right.”
He frowned, disappointed, then brightened. “Maybe we can find a good Bible and look for pictures there?”
Smart kid. Yes, the Bible should always be our soucebook for good information. I told him I’d see what we could do. The subject changed, as it’s wont to do, to his favorite video game.
CS Lewis once said something to the effect that if he could get rid of any doctrine of Christianity, it would be the idea of hell.
Nobody likes the idea of hell and God takes no pleasure in sending people there [the Bible makes that clear in a couple passages; that's not just my opinion]. Any picture you might have in your head of God grinning sadistically as He tosses people into the fiery pit of hell to be tortured by demonic hosts for eternity… that’s a medeival embellishment; that’s not the Bible.
But even without erroneous notions of vengeful deities and devils with pitchforks, hell is just plain awful.
Our sense of justice [the law written on our hearts] tells us intuitively that Hitler should not get off Scot free for the Holocaust; likewise, we know that sin mst be punished. But hell? An eternity of hell? Is that really fair? Is that justice?
Several good answers have been suggested to this question. In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis tells the tale of sinners who get to visit heaven and they find they are not at all happy there because of their unrepentant nature. He may have been inspired by the last few chapters of Revelations, where the Bible prophesies that after a thousand years of perfect rule and prosperity under Christ Himself [the Millenium], the Devil is released from his chains and manages to get some of us sorry humans to attaempt one last rebellion against God. Crazy, right? Yet would a man who’s heart was still at emnity with God be happy in Heaven? Or would he chafe at the rules and bring sin into Heaven, making as much a hell as Earth? In other words, could Heaven even be Heaven if unrepentant sinners were allowed through its gates? The answer is, of course: no.
Another good response is that an eternity in hell is simply the natural consequence of the choice of rejecting a Creator who is Light, Life, Joy, and Truth; to reject such a being is to embrace its opposite: Darkness, Death, Torment and Error.
But why eternally? Why not just snuff us out? Some have suggested that because we’re made in the image of God that our souls are eternal by nature and cannot be snuffed out. This is certainly possible. I’ve heard several more good responses to this dilemma, but in light of Good Friday, let me suggest something else:
The penalty for a crime, the cost that must be paid, gives us an indication of the weight of our sin. With that in mind, we note that no human effort could ever have paid even our individual sin debts. When Adam sinned, we inherited his spiritual genetics, as it were. We sin because we’re sinners, not the other way round. We cannot help it. If it were possible to live a perfect life before God, he would have said, “Try harder!”
But instead… God sent His only begotten perfect Son to die a cruel and torturous death on the a Roman cross for our sin [Watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or read the Gospels if you need a picture of how awful this was]. For your sin. It took the death of the Christ the Creator to pay the sin-debt of His most beloved creation. That is the weight of your sin. That was the cost that was paid. For those who believe on Him and repent of their sins.
And if you reject God’s offer to freely ransom you and change your heart, you must that awful sin-debt yourself.
But thank God that Jesus willingly died to pay your sin-debt and then rose again to give you the promise of eternal life. If you confess the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God truly raised him from the dead, you will be saved. He wants to change your life and your eternal destiny today.
The only thing standing in the way is: you.