Challenge: I Can’t Say My Mom Is in Hell

Posted: November 2, 2010 by Amy Hall in Choosing My Religion, Weekly Challenge

Today’s challenge will be a little bit different. Imagine you ask your friend why she isn’t a Christian, and she responds with this:

My mom died a tragic death when I was younger, and she wasn’t a Christian. So to accept the Christian system you’re offering me, I would have to acknowledge that my mother will spend an eternity in Hell, and I could never do that.

In what way is this objection different from the others we’ve discussed? In light of that difference, would you adjust your response? And if so, how? What would your response be?

In a way, this is a more difficult challenge than any of the ones we’ve discussed so far, so let’s see what you come up with. We’ll find out how Brett would respond on Thursday.

  1. Sam Harper says:

    Only those with the best of all people skills should go forward with this one. Everybody else should RUN!!!

    I don’t know how to respond to this without sounding harsh, unsympathetic, unfeeling, or cold. The point I would most want to make is that just because we don’t want something to be true doesn’t mean it isn’t true. There are lots of horrible things that go on in the world. That’s reality. We can’t deny them just because we don’t want them to be true. And the only reason you should be a Christian is if you have good reason to think Christianity is true. It doesn’t matter whether you want it to be true or not. But I have no idea how to make that point in this situation. I don’t think I’d want to just blurt it out like that.

    I can think of a few Columbo ways of making this point, but they don’t seem much better. For example, I could ask, “Would you ever accept a worldview that required you to acknowledge that your mother is dead?” If she were honest, she’d have to reply with, “Well, I HAVE to since that’s the reality of it.” Then I would say, “So if Christianity happened to be true, you’d HAVE to acknowledge whatever unpleasant things that came with it, wouldn’t you?” So the question would come down to whether or not Christianity was actually true, however unpleasant that might be.

    Several other thoughts also cross my mind, but none of them sound like the appropriate thing to say in this situation. I’m very interested in knowing how Brett will respond.

  2. Alex says:

    This is a delicate situation indeed. In these kind of situations the way you present your message is just as important as the actual message itself and as Christian ambassadors we should be sensitive to the situation.

    First I would quickly pray to God for wisdom (cause I am going to need it!) and for his Spirit to work in my friend.

    Secondly, before I would even address any issue, I would ask if she wanted to talk about her mother (if its not too raw). From my experience it seems that people appreciated when someone would just be willing to hear them out about a sensitive topic such as death. It removes a certain burden off of their shoulders and allows both of you to be more open with each other – meaning that you are able to say things more directly to them without appearing insensitive to them, because you clearly care enough to listen to them. This would make your job easier in directing her to accepting the truth.

    She may reject the offer to talk about it however, and that is fine, although it may mean that you have to be more aware of how you would receive your own message if you swapped places with you friend

    I would use two steps in tackling the heart of this issue:
    1) First I would draw a parallel to some other tragedy, either in my life or around the world, and point out that I don’t like accepting their reality but it doesn’t change it from being reality.

    2) I would then proceed to ask the following questions:
    If Christianity was true, what would your mother want you to do in this situation? Would she want you to follow in her footsteps or accept the truth and save you from the same fate? What would make her happier?

    I think it is wiser and more productive to steer any emotion towards the truth rather than away from it as she has been doing.

    I believe we are, at times, a bit too fearful to talk about sensitive issues with our friends. But maybe our friends need someone who they can rely on to talk the hard talk when they need to hear it. While they may not like what you have to say at first, usually, down the line, it shows that you have a deeper concern for them because you were willing to risk being scorned (by them or others) in order to lead them to the truth.

    Anyway that’s my 5c

  3. Adrian Urias says:

    Yeah, you know, Hell can be a terrible thing. Nobody wants to go to hell. I surely don’t. (then id ask what the mothers religious background was, and how their relationship was, just to get a general feel) But honestly, we all deserve to go to hell. No one is righteous. if we commit a moral crime, we deserve to be punished, and we’ve all committed moral crimes against God. Now, I don’t know where your mom is right now, I don’t feel i’m in an appropriate position to judge. But you know, Jesus told this parable about this guy who also went to hell. And he loved his family just as much as your mother loved you, and though this man, Lazarus, realized that he could not escape, his love for his family led him to cry out to God to help save his family who was still alive. If your mother did not make to to heaven for whatever reason, as you believe, I’m sure she’d be crying out for you to be saved. And Jesus knows this. Jesus wants you to be saved. Jesus does not want you to go to hell. And I’m sure your mother is crying out for you to be in good graces with the Lord, just as Lazarus desperately wanted someone to save his family. And salvation is available for you now, so you don’t end up in hell.

    or something like that. definitely dont want to be one of jobs comforters

  4. Adrian Urias says:

    The way this question is different from others is that is significantly more emotionally charged than the rest. In light of this, I would have to avoid being so cold and calculating, avoiding, like I said before, looking like one of Jobs comforters.

    Though the Bible says to give answers with gentleness and respect, I think we (lay apologist) can have a tendency of simply not being offensive, and we may equate that as being gentle or respectful. but i think this “objection” really fleshes out that need to be actively gentle and actively respectful, not simply avoiding being rude. the difficulty of avoiding being so cold has helped me realize that.

  5. While there’s probably an intellectual component to this question, it’s a very personal and emotional problem. If we go into this with that attitude that we’re going to “win the argument” then we’re only going to drive her away. We need to try to understand her emotionally. Her position isn’t too unlike ours. It’s likely that we have friends or family members in Hell, and we don’t like it either. In this sense we can relate to her and we can use this to start a conversation where we are empathetic to her rather than cold and calculating. Like Sam said, Hell isn’t untrue simply because we don’t want to accept it any more than nothingness after death is untrue because we don’t want to accept it.

    That’s the best I can do so far.

  6. Schwan says:

    This situation might be more emotionally charged than most objections, but it is one we can all relate to. I’m sure a lot, if not most, of us also have loved ones who were not Christians when they died. Drawing on that commonality could help a lot in knowing how to approach the topic.

    This is more just an idea rather than an actual approach, because I am unsure how to present it in a way that would be sensitive. But the idea is that having a loved one in hell is similar in a sense to having a loved one commit a crime and be sent to prison. You probably aren’t going to like the fact that they are there, but you have an understanding that justice has been done. Will comparing her mother to a criminal be any easier for her to stomach? Probably not. Like I said, it’s just a thought I had and am unsure how to communicate it properly, or if it’s even a good one.

    I also can’t help but wonder, simply out of curiosity, what the alternative in her mind is? What does she believe has happened to her mother, if she doesn’t want to believe in hell? Does she believe in a heaven that anyone “good” gets into? Or does she believe there is no afterlife and that her mother is simply gone forever? Or some other alternative? It suppose it wouldn’t be that difficult to pose these questions in a sensitive way, just to know where she is at in her thinking.

  7. Adrian Urias says:

    oh, correction on my presented answer, it wasn’t Lazarus who went to hell, it was the rich man…