Christianity says that there is a God who created us, loves us, and wants us all to be with him one day in Heaven. He doesn’t want a single person to go to Hell. In fact, God’s relationship with us is often compared to that of a father with his children. In other words, unconditional love. But just as a father can love his children unconditionally yet still expect certain levels of behavior from them, God is perfectly within his rights to expect certain levels of behavior from all of us. So how does he communicate these expectations to us?
When a father talks to a child about the game of soccer, it’s not a big deal if the child doesn’t quite get it. The child is expected to misunderstand large parts of the game for quite a while, so the father is typically pretty casual with his instruction. However, when teaching a child about the dangers of firearms, much more care is given. The child is not given a chance to even touch the weapon for a long time, if at all. The tones used in instruction are reverent, solemn, serious. The father tries his hardest to communicate the seriousness of the issue and all the steps involved to ensure safety. At some point down the road, the child might be allowed to fire the weapon, but it will be under close supervision. And if the child shows a lack of respect for the situation, he’s moved to a previous step in the training. New methods might even be used to get the point across.
We understand a situation like that because if a child messes up at soccer, it’s not a big deal. If he messes up with a gun, it could be disastrous. Very simple concept.
This is why Hell is so important. It elevates the seriousness of Christianity to the highest position possible because it doesn’t just affect this life, it affects eternity. Therefore, if Christianity is really God’s message of salvation, then it’s the most important message in the Universe. And if it’s true that God loves everyone and wants them all to be saved, then the message must be clear and understandable. Just like a parent would make sure a child understood the message about gun safety, God would make sure we all understood the message about salvation. But when we look around us, this is not what we see.
There are thousands of versions of Christianity, and there are thousands of other religions. If Christianity is really God’s all-important message, why have so few of us realized it? A common response is to say that most people aren’t really concerned with God’s will, and that’s why they remain disobedient. But that’s like blaming a child for her failure to go to her parents about gun safety (or traffic, poison, kidnapping, etc). The safety of a child lies with the parents.
Sometimes, people will say that God doesn’t actually view us all as children anyway — that’s only a special privilege reserved for Christians. But if God really is the creator of everything, then he can’t really deny his parentage for the rest of us. So this argument really just makes him out to be a dead-beat dad who isn’t interested in his offspring till they can do something he finds interesting.
If Hell didn’t exist, then the issues we’ve been looking at (failed prophecies, contradictions, etc) wouldn’t matter a whole lot. Those of us who couldn’t see the Bible as truth (because of its problems) would be like the kid who doesn’t understand soccer. It’s no big deal in the great scheme of things. But because Hell supposedly hangs in the balance, no decent parent would let his message become so garbled that it’s insensible to many of his children. He would ensure, no matter what it took, that we all understood the stakes.
That is why Hell is so important. And it’s one of the main things that led me away from Christianity. In the next couple of posts, we’ll examine some of the deeper issues that can be found when studying the doctrine of Hell.