Is Hell real? What is Hell like? What really happens when we die? How do I know if I’ll go to Heaven? Is Hell like or unlike a junior high lock-in?
When your youth want to learn about Hell, prepare yourself. Let’s face it, on some issues, take gambling or the death penalty as examples, the United Methodist Church is really clear on where it stands (in case you’re new, we’re against them.) Some topics are harder to find a clear UMC stance on – like Hell.
I knew I didn’t know all the answers to the questions my youth were asking. Youth ask a lot of tough questions…and sometimes I’m still trying to figure out what I believe too. Don’t let not knowing everything stop you from discussing important things anyway. Allow youth to think and wrestle with tough issues with you. The following discussion guide will get the conversation started.
Talk about Hell – A Discussion Guide (recommended for senior high)
Open with prayer.
Video background (20 minutes)
To frame the discussion, have the youth watch three YouTube videos & jot down anything that sticks out in their minds:
Rob Bell – LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.(2:57)
Francis Chan on “Erasing Hell” (9:41)
What You Don’t Want to Hear About Heaven and Hell – Mark Driscoll (5:16)
As you can probably pick up from the videos, Rob Bell wrote his book first. He started a lot of controversial discussion when he stated that “Love Wins,” that every single person will eventually embrace Jesus. If God’s nature is love, how could this God of love condemn millions of non-Christian people to hell? Bell would say no…obviously faithful Christians both agree and disagree.
Questions for youth on first video:
In the video, Bell says, “See what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.”
- Is this true? If Heaven is real, what does that say about God?
- If Hell is real, what does that say about God?
- What do you believe are the characteristics of God? What is God like?
On the other hand, Chan explains that while we might not want God to condemn people, God operates in a way that is beyond our understanding. Who are we to question God’s sense of justice?
Questions for youth on second video:
Chan says, “I’m a piece of clay trying to explain to other pieces of clay what the potter is like.”
- What characteristics of God surprise you?
- Are there characteristics of God that you wish were different?
- How do you learn about what God is like?
Driscoll reminds us that “there is a real hell and that it will be full. Come to Jesus, or you’ll experience it.” I especially like the use of the flame background on his set. As a lifelong United Methodist, this whole fire and brimstone message is one I am not accustomed to hearing. Even if the Senior Pastor doesn’t preach this way, students can handle being prepared for discussions like this. What stood out to the youth as they watched the video?
Questions for youth on third video:
- Can God be both a God of Love and a God of Wrath?
- Can wrath and judgement be loving? Give an example of a punishment that is also loving.
- Read Luke 16:19-31. What is hell like for Lazarus?
- What does holiness mean to you?
So where does the United Methodist Church officially weigh in on the issue of Heaven and Hell?
The basic beliefs of United Methodists can be found in the Book of Discipline in Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules. However, mention of “hell” and “heaven” as serious afterlife issues cannot be found in this section or any other part of the Book of Discipline.
Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials by Ted A. Campbell says, “The Methodist Articles of Religion, following the teachings of the Reformation, rejected the medieval Catholic idea of purgatory as a place where the souls of those who have died in Christ could be aided or helped by the prayers of the living. John Wesley himself believed in an intermediate state between death and the final judgment, where those who rejected Christ would be aware of their coming doom (not yet pronounced), and believers would share in the “bosom of Abraham” or “paradise,” even continuing to grow in holiness there. This belief, however, is not formally affirmed in Methodist doctrinal standards, which reject the idea of purgatory but beyond that maintain silence on what lies between death and the last judgment.” (source: www.umc.org)
Questions for youth:
- Does it surprise you that the United Methodist church doesn’t have a clear stance on this?
- Is it okay to not have all of the answers?
Closing: At this point I like to discuss the Wesleyan concepts of prevenient, sanctifying and justifying grace – in my words. As United Methodists, we believe God offers his grace and forgiveness to us before we even expect or know about it (prevenient grace). Once we learn about Christ’s saving us and accept this gift of grace, we are saved. Some believe that we were saved the moment Christ died on a cross for us. Once we accept this grace, we begin a lifelong process of growing in our faith and growing closer to Christ-likeness.
My answers are not perfect and I believe it’s okay for the youth to know that. We are on this journey together of trying to figure out answers to the tough questions.
Closing Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being in our discussion today. Thank you for loving us and for saving us through your Son. We have so many questions about what happens after we die and we don’t have all of the answers. We ask that You guide us as we grow in our faith and learn more about your nature. Help us to be love in the world so others can know you. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Questions for you:
- Have you talked about Hell/Heaven/Salvation with your students?
- What would you add or take away in discussing Hell with your youth group?
- What stuck out in your mind when you watched the video clips?
- If you try this discussion with your youth group, how did it go?