Some people think Hell is a harmful doctrine which evil people in religious authority wield to club others into submission. “I, your spiritual leader, am of God. If you don’t do as I say, I’ll send you to Hell!”
Just because some evil people have used it for manipulative purposes, does that make it an imaginary place? If people enticed others to murder with the reward of money, does that make money imaginary? If a university threatened its students with expulsion for cheating, should the students ignore the threat as evil and imaginary?
If the military threatened its officers with a dishonorable discharge on their records for cheating, should we scorn the military because it uses such means to encourage officers to exemplary behavior?
I believe Hell is a real place because of the integrity of the person who spoke of it, Jesus Christ. God foretold his birthplace by name and mentioned the nature of his death to make sure we would recognize him as God’s representative. He even related the very words the people would use to insult him on the cross written centuries before Christ came (compare Matthew 27:42-43 with Psalm 22:8, which was written hundreds of years earlier). When Jesus was brought to trial for crimes he did not commit, they could not find two witnesses against him whose stories agreed. Jesus’ character has been vindicated. We can trust what he has said about Hell.
Hell is a place of pain. It is not merely a mental state. It is for those who die in unbelief. See Luke 16:19-31 for a graphic portrayal of what Hell is like. But the Bible describes Hell in different ways – possibly for different types of crimes. For instance, Hell (or outside the kingdom of God) is described as:
A place of darkness (Matthew 8:12, 22:13).
Away from the presence of the Lord (Matthew 25:41).
An everlasting fire (Mark 9:43, Luke 16:24).
Containing undying worms (Mark. 9:44).
A prison (1 Peter 3:19).
A place where people wail and gnash their teeth in regret (Matthew 8:12).
A bottomless pit (Revelation 9:1-3).
The Bible does not describe it as a torture chamber filled with demons and pitchforks. We got these images from the Middle Ages and modern comics, paintings, movies, and television. Many people believe that the pain in Hell is self-inflicted, that the pain is living with the consequences of our own bad choices. Such is not the case.
What Do You Think?
a. Hell is often used as a powerful symbol of a place we’d rather desperately avoid. Do you think some visions of Hell on Earth are the result of humanity’s own choices? Why or why not?