It was my turn to teach the ladies Bible study. As I flipped to the correct chapter in our curriculum, my heart sank a little. Hell. I was going to have to teach 20 adult women about the reality and necessity of the worst place ever! Why couldn't the topic have been more uplifting? I could find a lot to say about joy or faith! The more I studied, though, the more I was shocked to see that even the doctrine of Hell can point us to hope.
Kevin DeYoung says this about the place of eternal damnation....
"Christians should have anguish in heart at the thought of eternal suffering, but we should also see the glory of God in the Bible’s teaching on eternal punishment"
Many deny the reality of Hell or the fact that a loving God could send unbelievers there. Even those of us who believe it it's existence wrestle with those same questions. Isn't God merciful? Isn't eternity a little too long for 70 years of "mistakes"?
In order to have a better understanding of Hell, we first have to seek to know the character of God. I could write a series of 1,000 posts highlighting all of the aspects of God. He is perfectly faithful. He is perfectly loving. He is perfectly good. He is alway present. He is always seeing. He is always understanding.
He is all of these (and more) all of the time. We can't separate God's attributes from one another. When He is showing mercy, he is still 100% just. When He shows love, he still shows total power.
Sin is the polar opposite of who God is. Because of His perfect character, the ONLY reaction he can have toward the sin in all of humanity is wrath - complete righteous anger. There is no other option. What terrible news! This eternal God MUST punish our wrongdoing with eternal death.
The worst thing about this terrible place created for Satan and his demons, is the ultimate separation from God and anything good! It's not the red horns or hot flames that make this place unbearable. It's the utter absence of joy, hope, peace, and love. The oppressive darkness and evil there cause unimaginable torment.
That's not the end of the story, though. Remember that even in His infinite justice, God is immeasurably merciful. His character caused Him to offer His Son, Jesus to bear the brunt of punishment. Christ was made to be sin even though not one part of Him was tainted with wrongdoing. God poured out that eternal, unbearable, wrath on Jesus. He made a way out for us.
This is hope. This is the good news. This is the gospel.
So, to answer the question posed in the title, yes. If we are to fully teach the gospel to our children, they must realize the seriousness of their plight without Jesus. When we downplay the bad news, we inevitably downplay the good news. Here are a few thoughts when approaching this subject with your little ones.
- Teach on an age-appropriate level. Just like any other difficult topic (death, terrorism, adultery, etc....) it's important to use wording and explanations that make sense to that particular child. For instance, I wouldn't introduce words like brimstone or damnation to my 4 year old. Instead, I might explain it as a terrible place with no happiness or love (see next point).
- Focus on what is NOT in Hell. Many times, when describing Hell, our minds jump immediately to fire, darkness, and demons. As I mentioned earlier, the worst part of this place is the absence of God and His goodness. Our children need to grasp the severity of being separated from our Creator forever more than the hotness of the flames.
- Do NOT use Hell as a sole motivator for salvation. One of the worst things we can do when teaching our kids about the gospel is to coerce a prayer based out of fear of Hell or a desire to live in Heaven. Following Christ is a commitment and brings eternal life that begins immediately, not just when we die. Encourage your child to see their need of a Rescuer from their own sinful hearts today, not just a terrible place in the future.
When we share the gospel with others (including our children), we are often afraid that they will be turned off with words like punishment or Hell, but without that terrible news, the gospel doesn't fully make sense and definitely isn't glorious. Without the darkness, we would never cherish the light!
"I (Jesus) have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes
in me should stay in darkness."