Billy Graham, retired evangelist and spiritual counselor to U.S. presidents, stated plainly to a questioner with a universalist worldview that hell is real.
A questioner identified only as P.McN had contacted Graham and asked: “Why would a loving God send anyone to hell? I can’t reconcile the idea of hell with Jesus’ teaching about love. I’m not sure I even believe in hell anyway. Maybe everyone will be saved, even if they weren’t expecting it.”
The respected evangelical leader pointed the person to Luke 12:5, where Jesus says, “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”
“It may surprise you to discover that no one taught about hell or warned us against it more than Jesus – and we should take his words very seriously,” responded Graham, 92, to the questioner on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s “Billy Graham’s My Answer” webpage on Tuesday.
“But listen: God doesn’t want us to go there! If we do, it will only be because of our stubborn desire to leave God out of our lives,” the well-known preacher added.
Although no reference was made to pastor Rob Bell and his book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, the question posed by P.McN was likely inspired by the two.
Since February, evangelical leaders and later even secular media have been debating the existence of an eternal hell, who goes to hell, and how to reconcile a loving God sending people to hell, because of the new book.
Bell has been accused of being a universalist, a heretic, and trying to amend the Gospel to make it more “palatable” because of the arguments he made in the promotional video for the book and in subsequent interviews.
"Will only a few select people make it to heaven? ... And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?" Bell poses in the video.
"Millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the gospel of Jesus, is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. So what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. How could that God ever be good? ... And how could that ever be good news?"
He states in the video that the good news is that "love wins."
But Bell told Newsweek’s Lisa Miller during a March 14 book launch event in New York City that he is not a universalist – at least not according to his definition.
“No, if by universalist we mean there’s a giant cosmic arm that swoops everybody in at some point whether you want to be there or not,” he said. “That violates the laws of love and love is about freedom, it’s about choice, it’s about do you want to be there? Because that’s what would make it heaven.”
In a more recent interview with The Washington Post’s Sally Quinn, Bell stated that he does believe in hell – not just the hell on earth that people create for themselves, as he had often described.
“I believe in hell now, I believe in hell when you die,” said Bell, who is pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. “So the Bible, there’s a whole chapter in the book about hell, and I think we should take hell very seriously. I think it exists, and so, there being no hell isn’t something that I believe.”
In the book, Bell says he believes in a hell “now” and a hell “later.” But he questions the notion of people being sent to hell “forever” or that judgment is “eternal.”
Addressing the question about hell head on, Graham referenced Matthew 8:12 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 to give readers an idea of what hell is like: darkness, absolute hopelessness, and the absence of God.
“God doesn’t hate us; He loves us, and that is why He has provided a way for us to be forgiven of our sins and go to be with Him in heaven,” Graham assured.
“That way is Christ, who gave his life for us. Don’t take hell lightly or talk yourself into believing it doesn’t exist – it does. Instead, turn to Jesus Christ and open your heart and life to him today,” the evangelist urged.