I had a dramatic conversion to Christ at the age of 20 and have never looked back. Over the next 44 years, I tried in various ways to witness to my relatives, most of whom were nominal Christians at best. But no matter what was said and how much I prayed, none of those relatives ever understood and put their faith in Christ as their Savior. Now most of them have died. I feel bad that they never came to saving faith in Christ and sometimes I wonder if I could have said things in a better way or prayed more fervently if they would have been converted. While I feel bad for my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, I am in agony over my parents. (I understand that we cannot know for absolute certainty whether a person was saved or not. My fears are based on what I saw and heard in my parents’ lives. In the latter years of his life, my dad was quite taken with the Buddhist religion, even going to hear the Dalai Lama and traveling to Tibet. My mother said she wanted to believe in Christ, but she thought of herself as a good person and could not accept that she was a sinner who needed a Savior.) The descriptions of Hell in the New Testament are horrible. I can’t help but imagine the thoughts and feelings of my parents when they realized where they were, why, and that it will never end. My husband tries to make me feel better by saying that he thinks Hell is nothing more than the absence of God. That may be, but I don’t find that in the Bible, so it doesn’t help me. I don’t want to accuse God of wrongdoing. He is God. I am not. In Psalm 131, David says his heart is not proud and his eyes are not haughty. He does not concern himself with great matters… but has stilled and quieted his soul. I wonder if I am concerning myself with matters that belong only to God. If I need to still and quiet my soul, does that include concern over my parents’ eternal destiny? Is it not for me to think about? I can manage to push down the thoughts most of the time, but then there’s those terrible descriptions of Hell in the Gospels and sermons about them. Do I just try to avoid those? In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man is in torment in Hades. I notice that he does not think it is unfair for him to be there. He does not ask to get out, but only to warn his brothers. So I can surmise that my parents do not think it is unfair for them to be where they are and they finally do understand that they were indeed sinners in need of salvation. That’s a tiny bit of solace. Perhaps my parents’ one wish now is for me to warn my sister so she could avoid going where they are. I have tried every way I know, but she is even more stubborn against hearing the gospel than my parents were. I can’t be the only one in this situation. How have others dealt with the knowledge and agony of much-loved relatives who died unconverted?
I can emphatically understand what you are feeling because I am there and been there. Reading your post I must share and encourage you. You preached the Gospel to all of them for 44 years every day by your actions, and refusal to turn back. Based on your post those years have revealed to you the unsearchable depths of Gods amazing grace. In Paul’s writings in 1 Cor. 3 there is a pattern and based on my understanding of that passage you have done and are doing your part. I can only speak for myself but to me if Hitler who knew about Jesus had repented he would be in heaven. Hope this helped you.
Hello, Barbara @blschumann7. How I hear your heartbreak and agony. I have the opposite experience in that most of my family are or were Christians, and I know I will see them with me in heaven. However, I have a dear cousin whom I’ve been witnessing to when the opportunities present themselves. He was raised, somewhat, in the same Christian environment as I, but got sidetracked in college and is now, what I call, “semi-atheist”. (He says he knows it takes too much faith to be an atheist.) It seems that no matter how much I pray for him, or how often I’ve shared the truth, his response is a kind smile. Should he die before I know he has accepted Christ, I will be heartbroken. Of course, his life has affected his children’s beliefs as well. So, that part of the family doesn’t know the Lord.
There are some thoughts, though, that I hope will comfort you. God doesn’t hold you accountable for the decisions your family members have made because each one must answer to God. (Romans 14:12) If you fear you have not done enough, perhaps that fear is significant in telling you that you have. I believe God is going to look at your record and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of the Master (Matt. 25:23). If you feel guilty that you haven’t done enough, recognize where that guilt is coming from. Satan is the accuser, not God.
While we mourn the decisions our loved ones who are deceased have made in rejecting the Truth, when we are with Christ in Eternity, all memory of that sorrow is going to be erased and every tear wiped away (Rev. 21:4).
I would encourage you to not give up on your loved ones. Continue to pray for them, take advantage of opportunities, and live a Christ-like life. But be careful to be gentle in your witness, not judgmental. Also, take comfort in knowing that even if you never said a word, Creation speaks loudly, and those who reject the spoken word will be accountable for what they have seen (Rom.1: 18-20).
I hope this has been helpful.
@blschumann7 Barbara, thank you for sharing your heart for your parents. My cousin took his own life when I was 15 and he was 19 and I have relatives who I dearly love who have chosen to reject Jesus. There is much sorrow in this world and I believe that God weeps with us. I have peace about my loved ones for the following reasons:
- I believe that God is love and that His judgments will not be unfair or unjust. Given how much God has loved me, I know that He is not a sadist or cruel.
- After studying the matter, I am firmly convinced the Bible does not tell us exactly what happens to those who die apart from Christ other than that they face judgment. Even scholars who hold to the eternal torment position do not think that Christ’s description of flames is literal. People who try to paint a picture of the afterlife are going beyond the Scriptures.
- God knows every heart, every story, every hair on every person’s head. God is not checking a yes/no box when He judges.
I had a friend whose unbelieving uncle died and he was struggling with the idea of Hell. This book by Steve Gregg on a few different views of Hell helped him process the experience. He also found solace in the movie ‘Hell and Mr. Fudge’, which tells the story of a man whose Dad was a “Bible answer man” on the radio. When his friend died when he was a teenager, he asked his Dad where his friend was at — was he suffering? Later in his life he studied Hell and became a conditionalists—someone who believes that those who reject God cease to exist after the judgment.
You definitely do not need to dodge any of the Biblical texts. The way to find peace with them is not to avoid them, but to study them more carefully. I highly recommended reading the following books and resources prayerfully.
Christ grant you peace
The three views of how God handles sin ultimately are:
- Eternal torment - some form of eternal suffering or separation from God
- Conditionalism - those who reject God are judged and then cease to exist
- Universalism - sin is real, but all people will eventually be brought to repentance
The Rich Man and Lazarus
As Jacoby points out in his book, this story of a reversal of fate was common in the ancient world. Jesus may not have been telling a true story, but rather adapting a common story of his time in order to make His point to the Pharisees. Therefore, we may not be able to get much information from this story about the actual physical layout of the afterlife because it may not be a story that actually happened. Rather, like Jesus’ other parables, it is a story with a point (not necessarily a true story).
A doctoral dissertation at the University of Amsterdam identified seven versions of the parable circulating in the first century.2 The fortunes of a rich man and a poor man are reversed in the afterlife. As often happens in the Bible, a preexisting story is adapted to present a theological truth. Douglas Jacoby
N.T. Wright, explains. The story carries clear echoes of well-known folk tales to which Jesus is giving a fresh and startling twist.
Thank you, Mike, for what you shared and for your encouragement. I just read 1 Corinthians 3, which I apparently haven’t read for a while. I agree with your assessment concerning Hitler.
Sharon, I believe you are right that God does not hold me accountable for the decisions my family members have made. I need to keep that in mind after living many years in self-condemnation. The main thing now is just feeling so sad for them b/c they missed the main point of life and now it’s too late. Taking the Core Module a couple of years ago taught me to be more gentle and less judgmental in my witnessing. Hopefully, it will also be more fruitful now. Thank you for your encouragement.
Sean, thank you for your reply. Thinking of Hell as an eternal torture chamber is beyond awful, and that is what it has always seemed to be from what I read in the Bible. I will look into doing more study and read the books you suggested.
@blschumann7 Yes, do study more, because a torture chamber is not the picture painted by Scripture. That is a picture painted by some other religions and by the medieval Church, but not by Scripture. God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love. He will judge the wicked, but we can trust that His judgment will be just and without malice.
9 posts were split to a new topic: The nature of Hell
For me, my father died of cancer as an Atheist. He was adamant that he did want any priest or pastor to speak with him. He is one of the reasons why I am into apologetics. He was big into cosmology. There is a part of me that wonders if I had known the Kalam Cosmological argument at the time if I could have changed his mind. The reality, however, is that he had plenty of opportunities to come to the Lord. I also do not know if I would have changed his mind either. I also do not know what type of experience he might have had before his death. I guess what I am saying is that I have taken his death as fuel to minister to those who have questions. I would say take solace in what God has been able to with you. In that many years of knowing him, there is no doubt countless lives that have been affected for eternity by your walk of faith.
Thank you, Lovert, for sharing your experience. That is helpful. I’m sure it is better to look ahead to how I can minister to others rather than to look back at what cannot be changed.
I have struggled with this same issue as my mother passed away 2 years ago as a follower of a group called eckankar and told me once again on her death bed Jesus was just a good man when I asked her to reconsider her stance on Him. The problem I have struggled with is Reformed Theology’s view of election and why some of our loved one’s are not. But I cannot fully agree with them based on I Tim 2:3-4. I personally have come to the point that I am thankful that I have been saved through faith in Christ and will rely on God’s perfect wisdom and plan. But there are still days that I struggle.
Reply to Thom Mercer - It seems like there’s verses going both ways; some that appear to favor Reformed Theology’s view of election and others like the verse in 1 Timothy that sound like every person has a chance to be saved. I probably tend to think like you do. At times when I talked with my mother, though, I would wonder if she just couldn’t be saved. Several times she said, “I want to believe! How do you make yourself believe?” I knew there had to be others who struggle with the implications of the deaths of family members who were not believers. I appreciate reading your story.
I so appreciate your understanding of the strong feelings involved in this, even though your experience with your family is the opposite.
That has to be heartbreaking. I am sorry to hear that.
Reply to Jesse - Yes, it was and still is heartbreaking.
I love how you worded that those who rejected the spoken will be held accountable for what they saw.