The doctrine of Hell is one that is easily distorted into portraying Christians as gleefully awaiting non-Christians to be sent there, while thinking that we have a free pass where what we do doesn’t matter. While it is true that some Christians have so missed the point about what they are called to be that they do think this way, it is an aberration which perverts what Christianity really believes.
Far from being a cruel belief invented by a vindictive people in a way that contradicts the concept of a loving God, the concept of Hell recognizes that:
- God created us with an immortal soul
- God created us with free will to choose Him or to reject Him
- If we misuse free will in a way which rejects God, our immortal soul has to exist somewhere that is the logical result of that rejection
So, Hell is not an issue of “don’t steal that cookie or you’re going to burn forever!” It’s a reality of, “If you choose to reject God, that decision has eternal consequences if you do not change your ways.” Peter Kreeft describes four major errors which leads people to think Hell shows that Christians are judgmental:
Those who have been hurt by the misuse of this doctrine often seem to think that those who believe in hell:
1. want hell to exist (as if doctrines were not facts but desires);
2. want humans to go there (as if Christians could want what the Devil wants!);
3. self-righteously exclude themselves from its dangers (as if Christians were Pharisees instead of saved sinners); and
4. coolly and detachedly discuss this ultimate holocaust and horror (as if missionaries were making maps of the ocean instead of throwing out the life boat).
All four assumptions are false, of course—in fact, hellish distortions. If Christians follow Christ, they will give anything to save humanity from hell, because that is what Christ did.
The third cavil above is the most devastating, if true—but it is not. Christian teachers have repeatedly made the point C. S. Lewis makes to conclude his chapter on hell in The Problem of Pain: “In all our discussions of hell we should keep steadily before our eyes the possible damnation, not of our enemies nor our friends ... but of ourselves. This chapter is not about your wife or son, nor about Nero or Judas Iscariot; it is about you and me.” That is the proper use of the doctrine of hell.
[Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 309.]
So, when we stand up and say something is morally wrong, we’re not acting out of hatred of sinners any more than the person who puts a “Danger! Bridge Out Ahead!” acts out of hatred for motorists. Indeed, if the distortions Kreeft listed were true, we wouldn’t be warning people against sin. We’d be watching with smug satisfaction and take bets on how each individual was going to crash and burn. But such behavior is actually monstrous in the eyes of Christians who understand their faith.
The fact is, the Church did not invent Hell. Jesus is the one who warns us about Hell and warns us to turn back to Him. If we’re faithful to Him, we will carry out that mission on informing people of the danger and trying to turn them to the one who can save them—even if it makes us unpopular in the process. So when you call Christians “hateful,” ask yourself this: If we really hated you, would we go through all the discomfort of being hated by letting you know what we believe would benefit you? Does that make any sense? Something to keep in mind.