Here is music to my ears: My 1½-year-old granddaughter has learned to say, “I love you.” What a gift to see her smile at me, and then say those words! And of course I respond with, “I love you too, Elizabeth!”
But those aren’t mere words. Those words express the deep, heartfelt affection I have for her, evidenced in a myriad of ways—hugs and kisses, play time, reading time, zoo visits, and ice cream…and on and on.
But love for her also will compel me (and her parents and teachers) to speak words to her that she will not want to hear—words that are hard, but true; words she needs to hear, like…
…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, ESV)
These are not pretty words and, at first glance, not loving words to share with my granddaughter.
The images the Bible uses to talk about God’s judgment against sin are truly horrifying. It’s really no wonder the world reads the Bible’s descriptions of hell and calls Christians “sick” for believing them.
But that misses the point. It’s not as if we just make these ideas up ourselves. We Christians don’t read, believe, and talk about hell because we somehow enjoy the thought of it. God forbid. No, we talk about hell because, finally, we believe the Bible. We believe it when it says that hell is real, and we believe it with tears when it says that people we love are in danger of spending eternity there.
(Greg Gilbert, “What is the Gospel,” copyright©2010, pages 57-58)
If we truly love our grandchildren, children, and students, we will speak the truth about hell to them. Not in an overly graphic or morbid way, but simply, plainly, and truthfully using the Scriptures and age-appropriate explanations. For a younger child it may be saying something like,
Hell is a place where sinners will experience God’s great anger forever. There is nothing more terrible than hell. It is worse than spankings, or being afraid of the dark or being apart from daddy and mommy. It hurts more than a bad tummy ache or a scraped knee. A person can never ever be happy in hell—not even for a minute. It is all terrible pain and sadness, all the time. We are all sinners. We all deserve to be sent to hell.
We won’t speak those words to merely frighten them—although hell should frighten—but, more importantly, so that they rightly see and understand their predicament as a sinner before a holy God and then, by faith, experience these precious words:
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14 ESV)
(Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)