This winter I have the pleasure of being one of twelve table leaders for the sixth-grade confirmation class. This means that after the lesson of the day I get to spend time with a small group of kids discussing what they learned. Last week we were talking about sanctification (by the way, a concept I’m still not one hundred percent clear on), and one particularly insightful kid asked, “If we’re already forgiven for all our sins, then don’t some people just do whatever they want since they’re covered by Jesus’ blood?”
Well alrighty then…
I tried to explain that although sin won’t go away until we enter heaven or Christ returns, we might be a little less inclined to make sinful choices when we realize the magnitude of what God has done for us. And then it hit me—they DON’T realize the magnitude of what God has done for us. (I probably don’t either.) They perhaps feel sad that Jesus had to die on our behalf, but what exactly was he saving us from?
Hell is a subject that seems to garner too little attention, understandably. There’s imagery of fire and eternal darkness and of course a devil with a pitchfork, but it’s all a bit cartoonish. What does life without God actually look like?
The twenty-fourth chapter of Isaiah (the beginning of a section referred to as “the Little Apocalypse”) paints a frightening picture of what our world looks like when God’s judgment comes: “Behold, the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants . . . He who flees at the sound of the terror shall fall into the pit, and he who climbs out of the pit shall be caught in the snare” (Isa. 24:1,18).
This is not cartoonish at all; it sounds like a scene found in almost every horror movie. We all can relate to the fear and hopelessness this image conveys. For some it is a recurring nightmare. Isaiah writes, “all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished” (Isa. 24:11b).
It is from this total destruction that Jesus saves us. In the next chapter (thankfully!) Isaiah prophesies this truth: “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken” (Isa. 25:8; also see Rev. 7:17).
Jesus bore all our sins on the cross and experienced total separation from God so that we may not ever have to encounter a life where God withdraws his mercy from us. So let’s not avoid the subject of hell, because only in embracing its immensity can we be truly grateful for the gift we’ve been given.
P.S., I would welcome any suggestions about how to impart this idea to eleven-year-olds without scaring the daylights out of them. Or maybe that’s precisely what they need.