“I was very depressed after my parents broke up. I actually thought about suicide, probably would have, but I never tried. I was afraid I would go to hell.”
That’s what a young, 20-something man told me on a camping trip many years ago. We were sharing about our lives as we were hiking one afternoon. He told me about his teen years and the struggles which he had, especially with his father’s affair and then his parents’ divorce.
Depression became a constant companion and thoughts of suicide entered his mind. But at the same time, thoughts about hell were also in his head, which helped keep him from going through with the suicide. He finally, with some professional counseling, was able to move past these thoughts.
He went to college, became a Christ follower through a campus ministry, and his life was transformed. As a child, his family attended church regularly, but neither of his parents had a personal relationship with Jesus.
Church for them was social, the thing that upstanding citizens in the community did. It was also good for business as this was the church the business leaders of the community attended. He was taken to Sunday School and through the dedicated instruction of men and women, he learned some things about God and the afterlife.
I was surprised at the effect of what he learned about hell as a child. His awareness of hell was the thing that kept him from taking his life. Because he didn’t take his life, God was finally able to get a hold of his life and transform him.
He went on and developed a passion for Jesus, for the church and for helping other young adults come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Many struggle with talking about hell, especially to children, because of the possibility that it might frighten them. Maybe we should rethink that. Certainly, any talk about hell would need to be age-specific and balanced. However, the knowledge of hell may be a deterrent to activities that would be physically, emotionally and spiritually disastrous to them. My friend was alive to go camping with me because someone told him about the reality of hell. He was able to have time to become a follower of Jesus Christ, attend college, marry and start a family because someone told him about the reality of hell.
There is a verse in the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Proverbs 29:18 reads, “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.”
Let’s not be afraid to teach our children the truth about eternity, the truth about heaven and the truth about hell.
We also need to share the truth about what is necessary to avoid going there. The apostle Paul made it clear in Acts 26:20 when he said, “I preach … that all must repent of their sins and turn to God — and prove they have changed by the good things they do.”
Thank you to dedicated Sunday school teachers and children and youth workers for your investment in the lives of children. What you teach does get into their hearts. You may not see the results now, but at least one man did not commit suicide and lived to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ because someone taught him about hell.
Rick Glowacki is lead pastor of Columbus First Assembly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.