Inevitably, when speaking of Heaven and Hell in a Gospel message, someone will be highly offended when they find out out that according to God’s standards they will end up in Hell for eternity because they have broken the 10 Commandments. That’s easy enough to deal with: A careful and sensitive explanation of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross as payment for their sins should suffice, providing that the person accepts God’s condition of repentance and trust in the Savior.
But what can you say to someone who realizes that a deceased loved one might already be in eternal torment? One lady ran up to me after a recent open air sermon, furious about what she had just heard and shouted at me, “You mean to tell me that my 11-year-old son is in Hell for stealing a piece of gum? That’s a bunch of $#%&*!$%!” Then she stormed away.
What would you say to this offended mother? The short answer: Not much. Just listen with a compassionate heart.
Grief can actually be a good thing, depending on a person’s response to it. It can pull them away from God, or it can draw a person to God. Bitterness can be harbored and hardness of heart developed, or a new sense of need and awareness of God can be established.
If you must say something, this passage of Scripture is helpful: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12) The grieving person can think about this verse for himself.
If a person presses you for a more specific answer, simply say, “I don’t know where your loved is; I don’t know what might have happened before they died.” The implication is that they might have given their life to Jesus at the last hour. Of course, the converse is true, too: that they died in their sins. The point is that we really don’t know.
The best answer is: “I can’t say for certain where your loved one is now, but I am concerned for you. If you died today, where will you go?” Then present to them a gracious, loving, and sensitive Gospel presentation.
Never, ever presume to know where a person is spending eternity after they have passed on. That’s God’s business. And the God of all the earth will always do what’s right.