What Should I Tell My Kids about Hell? 4 Guidelines for Confused Parents
- Alison Mitchell Author
- 2017 3 Aug
Are there parts of the Bible that are “bad” for children? Should we censor it like films, and mark some sections as only being for 18+? Pick up any children’s bible and you are very unlikely to find the story of Ananias and Sapphire for example, in Acts 5.
And if we are censoring themes and stories, should “hell” be on the list?
Many, perhaps most Christians find Hell is a difficult subject to think and speak about. Plenty of adults avoid talking about it, so surely, a parent might say to themselves, we can leave it until children are older? Meanwhile, perhaps we can just focus on God’s love, and some heartwarming stories about Jesus and his friends.
The problem with this is that scripture clearly teaches that God’s love is supremely seen in sending his own Son to die for us—as the only way to rescue us from the inevitability of eternal separation from him. And when you dig into those stories about Jesus, you find that many of them end with judgement, separation and outer darkness.
So how can we talk about hell to children in a way that is true to the bible and our saviour, but also sensitive to their age and needs? Here are some ideas to start with:
1. Use the pictures God has already given to us in his Word
The Bible uses a variety of images to show us the reality of hell. Some are terrifying whatever your age—such as the lake of fire (Revelation 20 v 10). It’s wise to be careful about these images unless we know our children are able to cope with them. But there are other biblical images that are just as true, but more suited for a child’s understanding.
For example, a child can easily relate to being left out of a party. They know how they’d feel if all their friends were invited, but they weren’t. That’s the word picture Jesus uses in a number of his parables, such as the The Ten Bridesmaids (Matthew 25 v 1-13) and The Great Banquet (Luke 14 v 15-24).
We can also explain that, because God is the one who created everything good and fun and happy in our world—being with him for ever is wonderful, but being separated from him for ever is terrible. If we are separated from God, there is nothing good left. We can only experience sadness, loss and loneliness.
2. Explain that Jesus talked about hell because he didn’t want anyone to go there
Jesus is the most loving person ever to walk this earth—and yet he talked about hell more than anyone else. That has to mean it is good and loving to tell people about hell, even children. And unless we understand that hell is the final consequence of our sin, we’ll never grasp why it was that Jesus had to die for us.
We know that the reason God sent Jesus to die was that he loves the whole world. And we know that Jesus wanted his followers to be with God for ever. He didn’t want any of us to be separated from God—but instead he wanted us to enjoy life with him forever. John 3 v 16 is your go to verse here.
This is really important for children to have clear. Scripture says that “God is Love”. Of course we want children to know that he is holy, just and righteous, but without an overarching sense of the love of God for them, these other truths about God will create a sense in them that God is hard, harsh and unyielding. We need to major on love, and, when appropriate, show our children how justice flows out of his love.
3. Move from what we don’t know to what we do know
There is a lot we do not know about heaven, the new creation and Hell. The Bible gives us pictures that may be a real description, or may be metaphors for a more beautiful and horrifying reality than human language can describe. But we must be careful not to say more than the scriptures say. We move from what we don’t know, to what we do know, when we can reinforce the reality of God’s love and the need to tell others about Jesus.
4. Never talk about hell without also talking about heaven*
Hell is real—and we need to be prepared to talk to children about it in the right way—but let’s not leave the conversation there. If hell is like being left out of a party - then heaven is a forever party with Jesus. It’s going to be wonderful! So let’s take every opportunity to get our children excited about it.
PS *I’ve used the word “heaven” throughout as this is the term children usually use. But with older children, you may also want to introduce the idea of the new creation (Revelation 21). The concept of a new earth may in fact be more appealing to them than heaven is—as the new earth will be physical. They will be able to touch, hear, smell and taste it—and it will be far, far better than the best bits of earth can ever be. So let’s get excited about being there with our Lord!
Is Hell For Real? is a short and accessible book written by pastor and author Erik Raymond to help Christians understand the Bible's teaching on God's judgment and hell.
This article originally appeared on TheGoodBook.com. Used with permission.
Alison Mitchell is a Senior Editor at The Good Book Company, where she has written a range of Bible-reading notes for children and families, and is editor for the Christianity Explored range of resources. Alison is also involved with youth training events around the UK, including the Growing Young Disciples training days and Bible-Centered Youthwork Conference.
Image courtesy: ©Unsplash.com / Photo by Ben White
Publication date: August 3, 2017