UNION GROVE CHURCH OF CHRIST, CLEVELAND TN.
WHY DONíT PEOPLE BELIEVE IN HELL?
Most of us have heard of the Gallup Poll or Harris Poll. In January 2003, an official Harris Poll was conducted in which American adults were asked about their beliefs concerning eleven different religious matters. The results were both revealing and tragic, though, in all honesty, they were not surprising to anyone that has kept abreast of peopleís attitude toward the Bible in our country.
The 2003 Harris Poll indicated that out of those Americans polled, 82% of them believed in heaven, yet only 69% believed in hell. Does it not make you wonder why there is a drop in the number of people that believe in hell? Why would people accept the reality of heaven, but deny that there is a hell?
All aspects of the poll are interesting, but there are two other matters relating to hell that really caught my attention as I peered over the poll results. Among those polled who claimed to be Christians, 95% professed belief in heaven, but only 82% said that they believe in hell. Why wouldnít there be 100% belief in heaven among such people, and why, oh why, would those that claim to be followers of the Christ not have as much faith in hellís existence as they do in heavenís? [All statistics in this article were taken on 11/03/07 from http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=359].
"When you die, where do you think you will go Ė heaven, hell, purgatory or somewhere else?" That specific question was part of the Harris Poll in 2003, and it was asked only to those who said that they believe in life after death. Guess what? Out of those who answered this question, only 1% of those surveyed indicated that they thought they would go to hell. Let us place two facts side by side: 69% of all adults questioned said they believe in hell, but when you narrow it down to those who profess to believe in life after death, of those that believe in an eternal soul, only 1% think they are hell-bound. That must mean that the majority of Americans who believe in both life after death and hell take the approach that hell is a place "for the other guy, but not for me." In contrast to the falsehoods which so many of our deceived countrymen have accepted, Jesus taught that those taking the path to life are few, while those heading to destruction are many (Matthew 7:13,14).
We would guess that Americansí basic beliefs have not drastically changed since the above-mentioned Harris Poll was conducted nearly five years ago. If anything, it is most likely that during the past five years Americansí belief in fundamental Bible doctrines has declined. When it comes to the topic of hell, the present reality is that in 21st-century America, many people do not believe in a hell in which people will suffer eternal punishment. This is a definite change from the outlook and attitude that folks in our nation had a few decades ago. Why is that? Why are there so many, including some who are church-goers and count themselves as Christians, who do not believe in hell?
The bottom line in identifying the reason for peopleís failure to believe in hell is that Satan has blinded their eyes. The Bible plainly states that the devil, "the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (2 Corinthians 4:4). The Son of God taught about hell. He taught that it is a real place that is to be feared and avoided at all cost (Matthew 10:28; Mark 9:43-48). Jesus also clearly stated that there will be some who "shall go away into everlasting punishment" (Matthew 25:46). Thus, the message of the gospel includes the truth that hell really does exist, and it is a place of eternal punishment. Those that fail to believe this truth have been blinded.
Why donít people believe in hell? There must be those who do not believe in hell because they have never heard the Bibleís teaching about it. Without such information, they are left in the dark about hell and what it is like. Their ignorance can be remedied only by hearing the gospel. As we spread the good news of Jesus, we need to tell folks not only of the heavenly inheritance that Godís faithful can attain, but also the horrors of hell that we surely want to avoid.
A second group of people that do not believe in hell are those that do not accept the Bible to be a truthful book. Because they are not convinced that the Bible is the word of God, they reject what it says about hell. We understand such an unbelieverís position, and at the same time we recognize our need to be able to prove that the Bible really is the inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and thus what it says about every single subject, including hell, is reliable and correct. We have our work cut out for us in convincing people that the Bible is not the product of men, but came from the mind of God.
Then, again, there are some that claim to believe that the Bible is the word of God, but they are sincerely convinced that there is no eternal hell. Sadly, some of those people are members of the Lordís church. Such folks say that they believe in hell, but their concept of hell is not one of eternal torment. They may talk about "hell on earth" or the fantasy that the wicked will suffer only for an instant, then be annihilated. They might even buy into the idea that hell is only a temporary place from which people can somehow escape. Regardless of the form of their denial, any person that claims to believe in the Bible, yet at the same time does not believe what Godís Book says about eternal hell, does not really believe the Bible at all. How do we even know that there is a place called hell, anyway? From the Bible, of course. Because that is so, we need to accept all that the Bible says about hell and not try to conjure up our own ideas about it.
Why donít people believe in hell? There are strong indications that some folks do not believe in hell simply because they do not want to believe in a place of eternal punishment. They are convinced that if they deny that hell exists, then this somehow opens the door for them and gives them the liberty to live in any ungodly fashion that they desire. They love to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, and it is comforting to them to deceive themselves into thinking, "It is okay for me to live however I want to, because, hey, there is no hell anyway. So whatís the harm in living it up?" Rest assured that on the day of judgment, folks that are eternally confined to punishment in hell will not be thinking that there is no hell, nor will they be persuaded that the pleasures of sin in this life were just too great to pass up. According to Jesus, some are bound for eternal life, while the majority are bound for eternal punishment (Matthew 7:13,14; 25:46). Those are the only two possibilities. Those that indulge in the works of the flesh, regardless of how much they enjoy it, will be left out of the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). That only leaves one alternative destiny for such people.
It is said that some denominational preachers never speak on the topic of hell. If that be the case, that would explain why some denominational members do not believe in it. As sad as that is, it is even more tragic when members of the church of the Christ that call themselves gospel preachers will not preach on hell. Evangelists are obligated before both the Lord and men to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). That includes what the gospel says about hell and its inhabitants. What legitimate reason could a preacher of the gospel have for not sounding forth Godís truth about hell? There is no legitimate reason for refusing to teach what the Bible says about any topic! If a manís approach is that he is not going to teach on hell because he wants to please people and keep them happy, then he cannot be counted as a faithful servant of the Christ (Galatians 1:10).
Sometimes congregations and/or their elderships have a hand in helping a preacher decide that it is best not to ever speak about hell. The appeal from the brethren in the local church may be for the evangelist(s) to present only what the listeners count as "positive," "loving," "uplifting" messages. While it is true that one could "wear out" the topic of hell by making that his major theme in every lesson, it is just as true that an intentional failure to preach the message of hell is, in actuality, a demonstration of a lack of respect for Jesus and what He taught about hell.
Brethren, Jesus taught about hell. He taught pointedly about it. Surely no right-thinking person would ever accuse the Master of being unloving. There never has been, nor will there ever be, a more loving teacher than the Son of God. Thus, in order to imitate Jesus, it is not only possible, but necessary, that we love people, and love them enough to teach them what the Bible says about heaven and hell. We pity the poor soul that is so in love with his own wisdom that he thinks he is too smart, too good, or too loving to teach people the truth about hell.
Why donít people believe in hell? We may not be able to put our finger on every correct answer to that question. But, rest assured of this: if we are going to please God, then we must believe in hell, teach the truth about it, and live our lives in such a way that we glorify Him and avoid the eternal punishment of Gehenna.
-- Roger D. Campbell