I recently read a really interesting article on the drawbacks of the practice of teaching children about Hell; the article is here. And of course it got me thinking…so I thought I’d share my ‘take’ on it.
Many young children are taught the doctrine of ‘Hell’ in Sunday School from an early age. Personally, I believe it is wrong to begin a child’s spiritual education at that level of ‘bad news’. If the idea is to frighten a child into ‘belief’ in order to avoid said Hell, then that’s no way to bring a child into the love of God. The child will grow up with the primary concept of god as an ogre who spends most of his time being angry about most things, and being pretty pissed with everyone for most of the time. A god of punishment and wrath, rather than healing and mercy. A god who enjoys watching people burn in unquenchable flame. Who would want to love a god like that?
Well, you see, that’s not the God I know. My God is loving, caring, gentle, accepting, forgiving, longsuffering….look at Jesus and you look at what God is really like. Also, look at the Fruit of the Spirit; how is a believer showing the Fruit of the Spirit going to be a better, or more loving, person, than God, no matter how much Fruit he displays? God surely cannot show less of the lovely nature of these Fruits than the people He dwells in? No, God is good, by everything that makes sense and everything that logic dictates about His nature as revealed by Jesus and the nature He intends His people to exhibit. Nothing else makes any sense.
Personally I think that giving kids the doctrines of Hell early in life is getting it back to front. I’d far rather children were brought up knowing the Love of God right from square one, and maybe, just maybe, learn about all that nasty stuff later in life. Much later. Or maybe even not at all. If the doctrine of Hell is a false doctrine, which is not beyond the realms of possibility, then it’s better not to be taught it at all.
And basing a salvation doctrine on Bad News rather than Good News is completely wrong. Jesus came to preach the Kingdom of God; He only spoke (apparently) of Hell in passing, it certainly was not a central tenet of His teaching. So why, then, are children subjected to this teaching at an early age? My own somewhat cynical mindset suspects that perhaps it’s yet another control issue, perhaps to keep unruly youngsters in line? Sick.
Why not simply tell the kids how much God loves them, teach them how to live His Kingdom, teach them how to heal the sick, how to worship, how to love God. This is the correct foundation we should teach in Sunday Schools. Make it real, make it interesting, make it supernatural! In this way, you’re setting them up for a lifetime of service and supernatural ministry demonstrating the Kingdom just like Jesus did. In fact, the childlike spirit is vitally important in developing the ability to live a Kingdom lifestyle. Here’s my article on becoming like little children; see how the concepts fit together.
Many believers have struggled – and continue to struggle – with the idea of Hell. Supposedly, it’s a place of never-ending torment where the ‘lost’ spend eternity. Personally, I too struggle with that concept. In fact, the idea of Hell does not fit with the person of the Jesus I know. I’m currently reading a book on just that concept, called The Lie of Hell, by Roger Harper, a well-known Anglican writer and minister. There is an excellent review of the book on my friend David Matthew’s site, and here’s the link to it. The review also contains a deeper review of the salient points, and I strongly recommend it.
In fact, it’s not only children who are damaged by the doctrine of Hell. To try to ‘scare’ anyone – child or adult – into the Kingdom is to miss the point of Jesus’s teaching. Jesus came to tell us how much God loves us; He came to show us the Kingdom of God and to demonstrate its presence by His miracles. The concept of Hell is not a central teaching of Christ at all, and should not be taught as such. The very first teaching that needs to be reinforced in believers is that of God’s Love, not His wrath. Hell, if it is taught at all, needs to be taught as a ‘some people believe this, and here’s the arguments for both sides’ kind of thing, not as a cast-iron certain doctrine. Again, it’s so far better to train new disciples in the positive things, the things of the Kingdom – reconciliation, healing, forgiveness, fruitfulness – than it is negative things like Hell.
I really hope all this makes sense to you. If not, please ask for clarification, or maybe come back to it once you’ve chewed it over in your mind.
Scripture says, in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things“. I don’t think that Hell falls into any of these categories, do you?