Can people who do not believe in hell be offended at being told they are going there? And if they are, do they have any plausible reason to be?
I must admit that even up until the point of me beginning to write this, I did not think so. In my mind, I believed that only immature people could be offended by the concept of hell if they don’t believe in God or Satan. I thought that being told you’re going to hell could only be offensive to people who believe in hell; and if you believe in hell, you must acknowledge the reason that you believe in it, and the implications of that reason.
That second part I still believe to be true, however as I typed the words “…could only be offensive…”, I had one of those strange moments that I’m sure many Christian writers have had, when you are suddenly knocked over with an understanding that has not come from yourself.
The truth is that to non-Christians, being told that they are going to hell is not offensive because of the prospect of going to hell. They understand hell to be fictitious, but they understand the Christian person to believe that hell is where bad or evil people go. And we do believe that hell is, to our heartache, awaiting those who choose evil over God. The tension arises in what each of us believes evil to be.
In Christian thought, evil is anything and everything that is independent of God. The first sin of humankind was when humans – created in beautiful relationship with God and given responsibility to care for all created things – chose to assert independence from and over God. Adam and Eve got what they bargained for; they and all that they were ruling over were separated from God.
What becomes of that which is separated from its source of life? What becomes of a tree that is uprooted from the earth that created it?
Evil, leading to death, invaded and overtook the world, and since then, we have all been born into a state of separation from God; separation from the only source of life.
So in light of the original sin, this is our definition of evil: anything that stands independent from God. There is only light and dark. There is only God and Evil. Those who do not plant themselves in God, by default, are planted in evil; no matter how loving, how beautiful, how successful, how caring or how sacrificial they are. You can be sustained by light and life, or you can be sustained by darkness and death, and the only way to cross over from darkness to light is through Jesus Christ.
It is so crucial for nonbelievers to understand that Christians know only too well that we were also rooted in evil, and there is nothing about us that makes us “better” or more valuable than non-Christians; it is only by accepting Christ that we now have life, and life eternal. You need to understand this, because you need to understand how much it breaks our hearts to know that those who do not accept this offer of life will not overcome death. We do not believe you to be any less than us, but we know that by the very nature of humanity, you are destined to eternal death (“hell”) unless you choose life. This is why we are fervent in our evangelism. This is why we work so hard, even to the point of overbearing, to try and make others see the Truth. It’s not because we think ourselves better, or think you to be a necessarily bad person.
However, those who are not Christian in this society probably do not hold the same definition of evil. To them, evil may instead be seen as acts of hatred, or intention to hurt others. They would agree that evil deserves justice; some probably agree that evil people may even deserve death.
In telling a non-believer that they are going to hell, in their mind, I am likening them to serial murders and serial rapists, who are seething masses of hatred, and show no remorse for their actions.
If you have any empathetic ability at all, you can understand why telling someone that “hell awaits them” would be offensive, even if they didn’t necessarily believe in hell.