Evangelical theologian John Piper has offered advice to parents unsure of how to talk to their children about the horrors of hell and reminded them that if children know how to conquer sin, death, and hell through Christ, they can face anything.
Piper, the founder and leader of desiringGod.org and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, shared his thoughts on the afterlife in response to a question from a parent concerned about what he should tell his child, who has "extreme anxiety about death", regarding hell.
The pastor asserted that it's better to fear hell than not fear it at all: "God does not intend for His children to experience hell as an end, but to experience the warning of hell as a means of clarifying and establishing these five great realities. This is true for a 6-year-old and it's true for a 60-year-old," Piper said.
As unnerving as it may be, Piper advised parents to not "run away from this opportunity."
"Don't miss this golden moment of using the fear of hell as a means of clarifying and establishing the truth of 1) a great and glorious God, 2) a horrible nature of sin, 3) the reality and justice of future judgment, 4) the greatness of the cross and Christ's rescue from hell, and 5) the glory of a fearless life of faith," he said.
First, he said the fear of hell is a "golden opportunity for treating God as big and glorious and utterly real."
"The reason hell is so terrible is because God is so great that despising Him is so evil that it deserves this terrible punishment," he asserted. "In other words, the horror of hell is a signpost concerning the infinite worth and preciousness and beauty and goodness and justness of God. If He were small, if God were small, hell would be lukewarm. Because He's great, scorning God is a horrible thing."
Second, the fear of hell is a "golden opportunity to teach about the nature and the exceedingly great seriousness of sin."
"Hell is all about the outcome of a life of sin, and therefore a child needs to understand what sin is. Sin is all about falling short of God's glory; that is, failing to see God as glorious and to honor Him and thank Him as glorious, and to follow Him and praise Him and glorify Him," he explained.
Third, a proper fear of hell can "bring the child to an awareness of the reality and justness of God's final judgment," Piper explained.
"What a gift for a child to grow up deeply convinced that the whole world will face judgment someday. This will give seriousness to the child's life. Parents worry far too much that their children will be unhappy in the fear of judgment when they ought to worry that their children will be happy with no fear of judgment," he explained.
Fourth, it's important for parents to use the discussion to "to magnify the cross of Christ," Piper contended.
"What a golden moment for children to meet and know the living Christ and the glories of what He achieved on the cross. The remedy of our children's fear is not to hide hell, but to reveal Christ and the cross," he said.
"We should be prepared to paint the achievements of the cross in such lavish colors that they outshine the fears of hell."
The fear of hell, the "Don't Waste Your Life" author offered, can teach a child how to live a "fearless life of faith."
"If you can teach your child fearlessness in the face of hell, on the basis of Jesus's death and resurrection, you will have given him the ground of total fearlessness in life," he said. "Make him a warrior, or make her a warrior, because there isn't anything greater that they could ever face. Nothing will threaten them more than sin and death and hell."
Piper concluded: "If they know how to conquer sin and death and hell through Christ, then they can face anything. They'll be fearless in life, and what good will they do then?"
Another popular theologian, Russell Moore, in April stressed that faithful Christians cannot neglect the reality of Hell - as difficult as that may be.
"There is a great valley that separates the just from the unjust and the basis for that separation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ," he said. "We cannot be people who are concerned about Justice if we are embarrassed about the doctrine of Hell. If you are embarrassed about the doctrine of Hell because it reminds you of some uneducated backwoods preacher in your town, what you're embarrassed of is not him. What you're embarrassed about is Jesus Himself..."