This past week our family was reading the story of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter. I explained to our four daughters that all who trust Jesus will experience just what this girl did. We all will lay in the sleep of death but if we trust in Jesus, He will say to us on the final day, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
Then our 7 year old asked this:
“Daddy, what about people who don’t trust in Jesus?”
For all my education and years as a pastor, I found I had a hard time answering that question for a 7 year old. In some ways, the answer is simple: “They go to hell.” But how do I explain hell to my children? It was a daunting moment as a father. Yet I realized that explaining hell is a part of explaining the gospel. I’ve not fully shared the gospel of God’s salvation if I don’t explain from what God is saving them and why we need to be saved from it.
So how can we, whether to our children or to anyone, explain hell in light of the gospel?
1. Hell is a necessary part of God’s goodness.
Hell is not a threat of punishment to keep people from doing bad things. Hell is a necessary part of God’s infinite goodness. Anyone who looks at the world must admit that evil is an undeniable part of it. And we would all agree that it is good and right to both judge evil and strive to remove its presence. If God is good, He must punish evil and spare His children from it. Hell is an expression of God’ s goodness and justice in punishing evil and providing deliverance from it.
2. We are all by nature heading for hell.
One thing we need to guard against is communicating the idea, “If you don’t trust in Jesus, God’s going to send you to hell for that.” We need to make sure that we explain that we are already earning hell for the sins we engage in on a daily basis. Evil is in the world because evil is in all of our hearts. “There is no one who is good, no, not one.” We are all “by nature children of wrath.” God does not send anyone to hell because they’re not Christians; we earn hell because we love ourselves and our desires and our feelings more than we trust and depend upon the One who made us for His glory.
3. God loves us and made a way for us to escape hell through Jesus.
For God loved the world in this way: He sent His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. This, in most simplest words, is the gospel. We are perishing in our sin but God, because of the great love with which He loves us, sent His Son into the world that we might be saved through Him.
We have all earned God’s wrath because of sin but Jesus Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree so that God might bring us back to Himself. Jesus became the record of all of our wrongs, was nailed to the cross as God’s wrath for our sins was laid upon Him, He bore the full weight of our condemnation, and then arose in power over sin and death and hell and ascended to the right hand of the Father to intercede for all who would look to Him in faith. Therefore, there is now no condemnation, no single drop or threat or fear of hell, for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Praise God! Speaking about hell is necessary but, as with all things and theological truths, it leads us to the gospel. It is a necessary part of teaching the gospel to those who have not heard, including our children. May God give us grace to speak of hell in a way that puts His grace, mercy, and love in Christ on display.