Fear of hell

This article is part of a 6 part conversation – see also the following:


Part 5

Question 5: It seems that many people from Christian backgrounds, who apparently lost their faith, go to esoteric healing centres (happy Christians don’t go to esoteric healing centres). Sadly, fear of hell and damnation also leads to fear of God. Sometimes they turn to other faiths or even Satanism. Often they are simply searching for a way to reconnect with God. An esoteric healer doesn’t care where they come from, as long as their intention is to move towards the light. Isn’t that all that really matters?

Smithy, I can really sympathise with how someone being afraid of hell and damnation can lead to also being scared of God. But I’m convinced that this is due to misconceptions about hell and the nature of God. Why should anybody be afraid of a God who wants to have a loving and fulfilling relationship with them? Where does the fear come from when the Bible describes the enormous sacrifice God has made to make this possible? How is fear justified when God says “yes, hell is real, but I’ve made it possible not to go there”? How can a person not see God’s love and grace in all this? Is there really any reason for being afraid of being damned if people would understand this?

I’m not trying to be insensitive, but I always find it surprising when people mention (the fear of) hell or damnation as the reason for loosing their faith, when such a hell and damnation is so completely and utterly avoidable! (Turning to other faiths doesn’t solve the problem of hell, if Christianity really is true. In fact, it would merely show how people would rather seek their own way. Ironically, this is exactly what the Christian faith affirms as the essential problem of humanity!)

It is worth noting that fear is sometimes good and necessary. Fear is reasonable and useful in all kinds of life’s situations. Like George MacDonald said, “When there are wild beasts about, it is better to feel afraid than to feel secure.”

Peter Kreeft asks the question:

[W]hat is more reasonably feared than hell, if it exists? The critic is presupposing that it doesn’t exist, not proving that it doesn’t. A person can’t say that the reason hell does not exist is that it is bad to fear it, and also that the reason it is bad to fear it is that it doesn’t exist. That’s begging the question and arguing in a circle.

Kreeft goes on so say:

Belief in hell does not produce despair and hatred; hell itself produces despair and hate. If you believe that there are two roads ahead, one of which leads home and one of which leads over a cliff, you do not despair – especially if the two roads are clearly marked by signs, as are the roads to heaven and hell. Only after the wrong choice is made and you have fallen over the cliff does despair take over.

I can appreciate the notion of helping people move towards the light. But that presupposes than one knows where the light is, and even what the light really is – assuming that the metaphor of light represents something real.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in John 12:46: I am the light that has come into the world so that everyone who believes in me will not live in the dark. (GW)

I hope this is helpful, but please let me know where more clarifying is needed.

Warm regards


PS: C.S. Lewis’ books The Problem Of Pain and The Great Divorce do a very good job of elucidating some of the issues you’ve raised.

See also:

Belief in hell (in this conversation)

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