Friday, February 09, 2007

A Vision of Hell

Perhaps the most frightening concept of the Christian faith is that God will condemn unbelievers to an eternity of horrible torture--a Lake of Fire that burns with brimstone. As a child I remember getting a minor burn and how badly it hurt, and I thought about how much worse the burning would be in Hell and that it would never, never end for those condemned.

It scared me. It made me wonder whether or not God was cruel for doing it. To this day, the thought troubles me, and I rely on faith in the God who has shown both justice and mercy throughout my life. He knows what He's doing.

In books for youth, is it important for readers to get a vision of the truth about eternal punishment? Should it be portrayed in fiction? Should an author give a glimpse in order to cause readers to think about the whys of such a judgment?

If we do this, we risk inciting fear. But is fear bad as long as it is qualified with understanding? I don't think fear is the best motivator for goading us toward loving God, but it is a great motivator to get us to evangelize. "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men." (2 Corinthians 5:11)

I wonder if a proper understanding of Hell might help young people to gain a greater desire to tell others about what can save them from such terrible wrath. Probably. The question is at what age does such a lesson become appropriate. When does the image of Hell go beyond just giving nightmares to the point of instilling a heart for souls?

Just some points to ponder.


Eve Nielsen said...

Still mulling over a lot of those points myself. A point I came across, though, is this: if people don't understand that they are sinners destined for hell, they also don't understand why they need God. Jesus said he came to heal the sick-those who knew they were spiritually dead and ravished by sin. We all are or were, but not all of us realizes it.

This said, I do think it important to portray sin and hell. If they don't know they have cancer, why would they want a cure?

My hubby goes door to door to share Christ. Often, he doesn't even get to that point because people are so proud that they refuse to see their own sinfulness.
He shows them the law (10 commandments) and asks them if they have broken any. ("The law is our school master to bring us to Christ....") He takes them through a few. Some people suddenly sober at the realization that if they have told one lie a day, every day of the year, for 20-30 years.... the math adds up. And then, just breaking one is enough to doom one for eternity.... Some refuse to believe they are sinners. Others think that a loving God will forgive them and let them in, just because they are not too bad(the good outweighs the bad). The problem with this thinking is that you can't separate God's Love from His Justice. To leave one out, is to make up your own god.

The example My hubby uses with people, that have swallowed this lie is this: Ie: Someone murdered your mother (or anyone) and he stands before the judge. If the judge says, "You can go-I forgive you.", you would be outraged! The judge would be an evil judge. You would demand justice! On the other hand, what if the same murderer stood before a righteous judge and was sentenced; but pled his case as only having murdered a few people-"I'm no Hitler"? The judge would still have to make him pay for the crimes he did commit.

The payment for our sins is the same. Payment must be made. Salvation is a gift to us-but only because Someone paid a very high price for it. Jesus. In order to understand God's love and what He did on the cross, we must first understand our sin-cancer and the steep price that had to be paid for it. Then we will loathe the sin that we once loved and fall on our faces in worship of the One who paid so steep a price for us.

Wow. That was a short comment:)

Eve Nielsen

Clefspeare said...

I think you're right. The question is how to do it for a young audience, giving enough of a glimpse to show the seriousness of the consequences, while showing that God is still just and merciful, and doing all of that without being too preachy.

James Drury said...

Even for young children I think some idea of hell is necessary. When my oldest son was four he saw the mascot for the Arizona Sun Devils - that cute guy in the red suit with horns and pitchfork. That led to a discussion about the real devil and hell. Upon hearing his mother describe hell, he exclaimed "I don't want to go there!" They then discussed Jesus’ sacrifice and the offer of salvation. He became a Christian then all because of a cartoon devil.

I think you need to know your audience. You may write something on a teen level that may not be appropriate for younger readers. I think it's OK for you as an author to pick your level and stick with it.

For a four year old just mentioning "a lake of fire" was enough. Older kids may want a bit more detail - especially in a fictional story. We get so many views of Hollywood hell - John Constantine, Spawn, Hellbound... - where the damned can get amazing powers and work their way up the food chain that many people don't really know what torture hell will be.

Some horror will be necessary. Drawing the line between graphic description for the purpose of warning and for the purpose of thrilling… that’s the hard part.

pam halter said...

This is an interesting topic. I know so many people who claim to be Christians and insist that God is a god of love and would never send anyone to hell for eternity. Like, they'd have their time there and be let out. I don't believe the Bible teaches that.

Another thing for kids to know about hell is that they will be separated from God completely and that in itself can be the worst part.

True, it depends on the child and we know our own kids best. My children know about heaven and hell and that knowledge came from me, not the church. Which is kind of sad when you think about it.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Tough subject, that. Convicting and scary...even for an adult and Christian of 16 years. But for young people, a "realistic" portrayal of hell could be terrifying. But realistic is the key word. We know some details about hell based on scripture. Other details we can infer. Like most mysteries of God, I don't think we can comprehend hell.

I'm afraid that, just as heaven will be more than we can possibly imagine, hell might also be worse than we can possibly imagine. In any case, it's a troubling picture. Thank you, Lord for rescuing us, that's all I can say.

Writing fantasy does open up a number of options for portraying what we do know of hell. Key elements being: pain, isolation, hopelessness, and eternity.

A fantasy world we create could mirror our own and have it's complimentary form of hell. Perhaps even focusing on one element (pain, isolation, hopelessness, or eternity) rather than all.

I know for me, the inescapable nature of hell always scared me to death. Just the concept of breathing my last breath and knowing there was no way out. No light at the end of the tunnel. There are very few things in life that mirror that aspect of hell.

The Door Within touched on this aspect--but very briefly. I'd like to explore it in the future.

If handled well, a fictionalized version of hell could definitely get young readers thinking, asking the big questions of life.

Clefspeare said...

Thank you all for the input. I have a scene from Hell in my newest book, Enoch's Ghost, and it might be pretty frightening to readers, especially since I'm portraying it in the "real world," a fictional real world, that is.

The way I wrote it is designed to spark Christian readers to evangelize, as the Scripture says, "Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men," though if readers are unsure of their spiritual states, they might fear for themselves.

We'll see how it goes.