Poster for hell house in Texas
And then there were some who were condemned because of their unbelief. These were hauled out of sight by other youth members in demonic makeup. Their eternal destination was what could only be called the “Hell Room”: a very dark room that required holding onto a rope to navigate through. Still more youngsters in glow-in-the-dark masks and faintly luminescent attire mulling around while an older man playing the devil himself ranted about how there was always room in Hades. The kids would occasionally whisper “Ssssaaatan!” or some such. The conclusion of the hell house proper was a room depicting Jesus and the good characters coming in to worship Him.
What followed after was that those of us in our group were brought into a normal classroom up a floor where another older man talked about the gospel of Christ and salvation. The gist of the message though was clear: be saved or go through worse than what you just saw.
I will be honest: it was a show that even years later disturbs me. But probably not in the way that the organizers had intended.
There are various names for them: “hell house” or “judgment house” or the like. They’re meant to be a Christian version of the haunted attractions that spring up around this time of year. Some of those are pretty fantastic. Others are unbelievably complex: Woods of Terror - a nationally renowned annual Halloween attraction - owned an operated by a devout Christian, incidentally - is just down the road from where I live and is a true wonder to walk through.
The “haunted” attractions have a straightforward purpose: frighten the bejeebers out of you momentarily, only to propel you forward into more good-natured horror. You pay money and for the next 45 minutes you come perilously close to losing bladder control… all for fun, of course.
That isn’t what the hell house is meant to be.
They pop up in various churches every year at this time, just in time for Halloween. For twelve bucks you pay to travail from the mortal realm on through the torments of the damned, after which you are sent into an indoctrination session to explain what it is that you’ve just witnessed and how to avoid it. Doing such means turning to Christ for eternal salvation.
I absolutely can accept that. We are most certainly kept in the arms of God from the moment that we turn to Him and surrender ourselves to His will. We are told that nothing will separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39). Do I believe that once we have salvation, that salvation is eternal regardless of what it is that we do in this life? Yes. Definitely.
But could it be that the people who go through a hell house are more being driven away from Hell than into a relationship with God?
There is a difference between the two. And it’s one that seriously makes me wonder how much of the “repentance” is genuine and how much is motivated by a fear that could very possibly be as temporary as a weekend.
I call it “horrifying for Jesus”. And there is something that is significantly troubling about that.
Look, I don’t doubt that the intentions of the people running “hell houses” or “judgment houses” are very sincere. They have set out to do something that we as Christians are meant to do, and in some ways they do it quite well. And that is, to cause others to wonder about their eternal destination.
But I have to question… as I have long questioned… the methods that are utilized toward that end.
I’m compelled to wonder if the reason why some say that they turn to Christ is primarily out of fear of the torment of Hell.
Now, do I believe that such a thing exists? As much as I do believe in “once saved, always saved”. As I have come to understand it over the years, Hell is something that God has to allow. Hell is for those who not only turn away from Him: Hell is for those who absolutely refuse to acknowledge Him. Because if they can not stand to be in the presence of God, then being in His presence for eternity would be an even greater torment. It is something that they could not possibly tolerate. Heaven would become just like Hell if such a thing were possible. What is Hell? It’s the absence of the presence of God more than anything else.
Are our reasons to turn to God because we long to be in His presence, or because we fear the absence of Him?
There is a difference between the two, I believe. One is based in love. The other is borne out of fear. The two are for all intents and purposes incompatible with each other.
So what does it say about us as followers of Christ when we need stunts derived from fear? How is it that horror has supplanted love and tenderness in drawing others to God?
The NIV version tells us that “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” (2nd Timothy 1:7). The KJV version might say it even better: “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear…”
Think about that. The word of God instructs that we are not given over to be driven by fear, because He who is within us has conquered fear. The Spirit within us has overcome the fearfulness of these fallen circles of the world. We are meant to be beyond the realm of this fallen realm and the horrors that are too much a part of it.
So why is it that we are sometimes determined to drag some people back into that horror? And for an admission fee at that?
1st John 4:18 is even more explicit: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
We are called to be bearers of the Spirit. Not procurers of terror.
How is it that Christians are using fear as a tactic for winning others to Christ?
And does that, or does it not, speak of our failure as Christians that we have to resort to such things? Particularly when we are told that this isn’t the way we are supposed to be.
It’s like this: followers of Christ don’t need gimmicks like hell houses. When we do so, we diminish the light within us. We are shying away from showing forth the new nature that we are meant to show forth to the world around us. We replace that light with darkness. We are in effect admitting that darkness is stronger than light.
We aren’t supposed to be like this. We shouldn’t need depictions of damnation to encourage others to seek after Him. I believe that Christ is reality… and that should be more than enough. Christ suffices. Fear does not and never will, and is never meant to be a substitute for love.
As I said, I don’t doubt the intentions of those who organize judgment houses, hell houses, whatever. They mean well. But there is supposed to be something infinitely more powerful than terror that will draw people toward God.
And it doesn’t charge ten bucks and change, either.