I’ve noticed that many of us who witness to non-believers hesitate to tell people they are heading for Hell. While I can sympathize with that, there are cases where they are asked directly if they think they are going to Hell. To me it seems like the appropriate response is to give a direct answer, yet we hesitate. One such example for this is the link below well a well known apologist does not directly answer the question. The only reason I can think of is that we fear being offensive. Is there a good reason why we should not give a direct answer to “Do you think I’m going to Hell?”
@jobobear I think final judgment is a topic we must approach carefully because do not know what view of hell the person asking the question has and that affects their view of God. If they think God is going to torture people for eternity and if they have been in a legalistic Church background, their view of God may be quite incorrect due to this teaching. In addition, we know that God will reveal the secrets of men’s hearts on the final day of judgment and it is not our right to do so.
A better approach may be what Paul did when preaching to Felix in Acts 24. He explained the reality of judgment and no doubt the beauty of Christ’s work on the cross. But it does not seem he focused on the idea of hell. Rather, he focused on a God who is just, the reality of sin and the reality of salvation.
Acts 24:25 - As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”
God judges the heart
We should not pronounce judgment before the appointed time when God judges men’s hearts. Rather, we should exhort people to come to Jesus and find life in Him.
1 Corinthians 4:3-5 - I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
Hebrews 4:13 - Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 - Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
Romans 2:12-16 - All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
A Person’s View of Hell Matters
People’s view of hell matters and changes the way they view God. When we are answering people who ask about hell, we need to understand that they may have grown up in a very legalistic or judgmental (in the wrong sense of the word) church and may have very incorrect views of God. We do not want to support these wrong views of God.
Here are a few Connect threads on the nature of hell. I think it is important to understand the emotion the idea of hell generates because it has been used to threaten and guilt trip people in the past. Not to mention to sell indulgences in the middle ages.
Is choosing Jesus or going to hell really a choice?
Why is God’s punishment for sin eternal?
Questions on Hell
What if I don't want to go to Heaven or Hell?
Your thoughts on hell, punishment and death
Several years ago I had a conversation with a man I worked with about hell and whether or not a good loving God would send someone to hell. He was not a Christian. He knew I was and he was always asking questions designed to trip me up, or contradict what I said about God. He said he couldn’t believe that God would send him to hell just because he didn’t except Jesus as his savior. He flat out asked me if I thought he was going to hell. I told him that if he rejected Jesus as his lord and savior and he died that way, he would go to hell. He then asked, “Even though I would live a good life and never do anybody wrong, and I help the poor, and give money to charities, but I don’t believe in Jesus, I would still go to hell?” I told him that the only way to go to heaven is to believe in Jesus Christ and accept him as your savior. I told him that there is nothing we can do to earn our way into heaven. I went on to explain the gospel and salvation to him. He still asked questions trying to find loop holes, or some way where he could continue to live his life the way he has been living it and still go to heaven. I haven’t seen this guy in years. From what I understand, he is still living a pretty epicurean, self-indulging lifestyle.
I agree with you @SeanO in part. I definitely agree that we need to tread very lightly when someone asks, “Do you think I’m going to hell?”. We need to know what’s driving this question. There has been a lot of abuse and hurt at the hands of legalistic, heavy handed churches and church leaders. In fact that is a sore subject with me. I know people who have been seriously hurt emotionally and spiritually, and I’ve seen how they have struggled. However, if someone asks me, point blank, “If I reject Jesus Christ as my lord and savior and then die, will I go to hell?”, I would tell them yes. That’s not me passing judgement. That is what the Bible says. Jesus tells us that He is the way, He is the truth, He is the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Him.
Usually, I would explain that God really doesn’t send people to hell. It is by our choice. His desire is that no one should be lost, but ultimately it is our decision whether we want to spend eternity with Him, or without Him. He gave us the privilege of choice. He won’t force us to be with him.
@Melvin_Greene Thank you for sharing that story. I agree with you that I would have no fear in telling someone that apart from Christ there is the reality of judgment. Jesus is extremely clear that we will all stand before the judgment seat.
But the problem with the English word ‘Hell’ is that it is not even a direct translation of any word in the Bible. It is not a Biblical word. There are 4 words used in the Bible that are sometimes translated ‘hell’ and none of them are equivalent to what unbelievers I have met often mean by the English word ‘hell’. They are:
1 - Gehenna or Valley of Hinnom (New Testament)
2 - Tartarus (New Testament) -
3 - Sheol (Old Testament)
4 - Hades (New Testament)
Gehenna was a trash pit that was once a site of great idolatry. Tartarus and Hades were actually Greek terms describing the abode of the dead or a place of judgment . And Sheol was a Hebrew word used to describe the place where both good and bad people go upon death.
But what do English speakers mean by the word ‘hell’? They think of Dante’s Inferno and paintings from the middle ages of people being tossed into a burning pit screaming while little beings wait to torment them.
So - a Greek / Aramaic / Hebrew equivalent of the English word ‘hell’ was never used by Jesus. And certainly not the way most modern people understand it. So that is why I feel very wary of giving simply a ‘yes’ to the question ‘Am I going to hell?’ Because the Bible never uses that word and the questioner almost certainly has no idea of the actual Biblical words or what they meant in their original context.
But I do understand your point. The NT is clear that there will be a day of judgment and that the wheat and the chaff will be separated - and the chaff burned. Certainly Jesus used very shocking imagery to describe judgment. But Jesus never used any word that would translate to the current English word ‘hell’ as perceived by the average person on the street.
I’m picking up what you’re putting down, @SeanO. I do agree with you in what you said about the English word “hell”. I guess my focus is more on what the unbelieving person is actually asking. They want to know if they reject Jesus will they really be separated from God for eternity. Is that really what the Bible teaches? I try to communicate on their level of understanding, so I’ll go with the word “hell”. My goal is to at least get them to understand the importance of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Your point is well taken, though.
While understanding that the nature of Hell is debatable, it seems like there is a risk in giving a simple yes to this question. However, there is also a risk in not directly answering the question. If we come across as dodging the question, we can appear wishy washy, which is a problem in itself.
Recognizing that the place where non-believers go when they die is referred to as Hell in today’s society, it seems like in the long run, a solid yes would be better, if for no other reason than to open doors for questions, like “why do you ask?”, “is that a problem for you?”, “what do you think Hell is like?” Granted there needs to be some wisdom applied here, but Jesus was not above offending others for the sake of truth.
@jobobear I think from my perspective the danger is affirming in the questioners mind a false view of God. I agree that it is not good to appear wishy washy either. A very brief form of my answer might run something more like this:
“The Bible is very clear that we will all be held accountable for our actions on this earth - that we will all stand before God. According to Isaiah, our sin puts a wall between us and God and the only way to be reconciled to God is through Jesus. But I want to be careful about using the word hell here, because that word is not a direct translation of any word in the Bible. When we think of hell, we think of little demons with pitch forks and Dante’s Inferno, but Jesus never mentioned such a place. The word Jesus used for hell most often was Gehenna and Gehenna was an actual real location in Jesus’ day. Gehenna was a pit where trash was burned up. So Jesus’ warnings about Gehenna are a warning that apart from Christ our life becomes corruptible - that greed, selfishness, envy, lust and the sin in our heart turn us into the kinds of people that cannot inhabit eternity with God. Sin leads ultimately to death and separation from God. Jesus heals our heart, reconciles us to God and makes a way for us to live with God forever by restoring us and healing the corruption caused by sin. So, in that sense, yes, apart from Jesus we suffer corruption and God’s judgment.”
@SeanO, thank you so much for pointing out that English translation discrepancy! I hadn’t really thought about it that way. Gives me some food for thought…
I’ve been asked this question flat out too, and it seems to be a topic upon which some of my atheist friends are hung up. (Also, I note that it’s much easier to handle this question in a personal conversation than in a public Q&A forum.)
I do agree very much with Sean. I do not ever want to shy away from telling someone that we will all ultimately answer for what we have done, and when we are shown the standard, we will not measure up. In the end, there will be justice. My hesitation from there is usually about the nature of the ‘Final Judgement’ (what will it look like, how will it run, etc.) because I believe the Bible is pretty silent on detail…other than that it happens and that Satan and his minions get thrown into something like a lake of fire. (Do, please, remind me of other detail that is escaping me at present!)
So it’s not so much that I’m afraid of being offensive (however much I hate to think about unpleasant things!), but I, like Sean, just do not wish to reinforce or perpetuate any false views of God, final judgement, or ‘hell’. Therefore, I’d much prefer to err on the side of caution by first drawing out the other person’s perceptions of these things and then attempting to present the true nature of God via a discussion of His goodness and justice…and MERCY. (Top it off with a little Jesus, y’all!)
So, hopefully any initial hesitation I would have on the front end would come from me just trying to figure out where to start! I would certainly hope it wouldn’t be reluctance.
4 posts were split to a new topic: Does the Bible teach eternal separation from God?
A post was split to a new topic: Is the immortal soul a Biblical concept and if so, where is it found?
Thank you for raising this good question for discussion! I’m learning from everyone’s perspective.
Here’s an excerpt from Randy Newman’s excellent book Questioning Evangelism:
At times (far too many, I’m afraid), I’ve answered questions with biblically accurate, logically sound, epistemologically watertight answers, only to see questioners shrug their shoulders. My answers, it seemed, only further confirmed their opinion that Christians are simpletons. My answers had, in fact, hardened them in their unbelief rather than softened them toward faith. I realized that, instead of moving people closer to a salvation decision, an answer can push them further away. Rather than engaging their minds or urging them to consider an alternate perspective, an answer can give them ammunition for future attacks against the gospel.
So I started answering questions with questions, and have gained far better results.
Once a team of skeptics confronted me. It was during a weekly Bible study for freshmen guys that we held in a student’s dorm room. The host of the study, in whose room we were meeting, had been telling us for weeks of his roommate’s antagonistic questions. This week, the roommate showed up— along with a handful of likeminded friends.
The frequently asked question of exclusivity arose, more an attack than a sincere inquiry.
“So, I suppose you think all those sincere followers of other religions are going to hell!”
“Do you believe in hell?” I responded.
He appeared as if he’d never seriously considered the possibility. He looked so puzzled, perhaps because he was being challenged when he thought that he was doing the challenging. After a long silence, he said, “No. I don’t believe in hell. I think it’s ridiculous.”
Echoing his word choice, I said, “Well, then why are you asking me such a ridiculous question?”
I wasn’t trying to be a wise guy. I simply wanted him to honestly examine the assumptions behind his own question. His face indicated that I had a good point, and that he was considering the issues of judgment, eternal damnation, and God’s righteousness for the first time in his life.
The silence was broken by another questioner, who chimed in, “Well, I do believe in hell. Do you think everyone who disagrees with you is going there?”
I asked, “Do you think anyone goes there? Is Hitler in hell?” (Hitler has turned out to be a helpful, if unlikely, ally in such discussions.)
“Of course, Hitler’s in hell.”
“How do you think God decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? Does He grade on a curve?”
From there, the discussion became civil for the first time, and serious interaction about God’s holiness, people’s sinfulness, and Jesus’ atoning work ensued. Answering questions with questions turned out to be a more effective, albeit indirect, way to share the gospel.
I think at the heart of what Randy is explaining through this story is that evangelism is an expression of loving our neighbor. Or as Ravi has said, “We don’t answer the question, but the questioner.”
I think this is a major point to reflect on. If we take a simplistic mindset, “they asked a question, I should give an answer” then we can miss all the contextual information:
- Why did they ask the question?
- Who is listening to the conversation?
- Are they interested in learning about Jesus or finding reasons to reject Jesus?
- How much do they trust me?
Here’s my question back to you: what are five good, Biblical, loving reasons a Christian might reasonably be reluctant to give a straight answer to this question? I understand there are poor reasons (cowardice, fear of man, etc.) to avoid answering the question, but what could be some wise and good reasons for this choice?
What a great question, and an important one. It seems to me that an unspoken assumption of a questioner here is that moral “goodness” is something they possess or can see/evaluate in others, and that goodness means we don’t have anything serious to be held accountable for. Maybe that would be a good starting point for a dialogue with the questioner as well, though I absolutely agree that if we seem to be dodging the question it can leave the person asking as though we don’t respect them enough to be honest. Without some sense of our own sinfulness, or the sin nature, it is easy to talk ourselves into believing we are “good,” but that isn’t consistent with God’s view of goodness.
Do you think it might help to ask the questioner if it would be okay to ask some clarifying questions before responding, and would that help reduce the likelihood we are seen to be dodging a question?
In my opinion a direct answer is always best unless it is only my opinion.
I would say that I am not God, I can not send anyone to hell. Therefore, I can’t say if someone is going to hell. I also like the line of reasoning I heard on Cross Examined. “I don’t know if you are going to hell. But God is a gentlemen and he will not force anyone to spend eternity with Him.” That puts the proverbial ball back in their court, the responsibility back on them and points them in the direction of the one who can answer the question. That is God Himself.