Is hell a real place, or simply a figment of someone's vivid imagination designed to frighten men into following a pattern of religious practice? The answer to this question is of paramount importance. If hell is not a real place, then we have very little to fear after death. However, if hell is a real place of eternal punishment then those who qualify for an eternity in hell have much to fear and would be wise to determine how they might avoid such a fate and do all they can to avoid it. In this study I will address the question of hell and its reality.
In the religious world today there is much disagreement about hell. In any situation where one must determine what is truth among many different contradicting statements one must begin by establishing authority. Once one knows what source is authoritative one may look to that source to accurately identify the truth, and will oftentimes find it buried in a sea of lies. As in all of my studies I will begin by establishing authority, after which I will address the question of the reality of hell.
From our prior studies we know the Bible is authoritative. It shows evident authority in its scientific revelations and fulfilled prophecies. Please review "Why we must use the Bible only" for further details regarding the authoritative nature of the word of God. Since we know the Bible is authoritative, the answer to our question regarding hell lies within its pages. However, what are its teachings regarding hell?
Pasted below are statements I found on various websites, indicating the belief of the author that hell is nothing more than a myth. Please consider these statements:
Ed Viswanathan has a web page entitled, "About HELL MYTHOLOGY!!!!!!". Pasted below are a few sentences from his essay:
"Few months back, I had a strange letter in my e-mail informing me that I WILL GO TO HELL AND I WILL ALSO BE TAKING A LOT OF PEOPLE WITH ME THERE. Then only I realized that I never ever wrote about AMAZING MYTHS OF HELL. So, let us study a brief history of hell. It is extremely interesting. I do not know how many Christians know the fact that Christian HELL is a DIRECT descendent of the "Hell mythology" of Hindus, Egyptians, Greeks, Persians and Romans.
Believe it or not, like so many things, HELL IS OF PAGAN ORIGIN. Studying world history in-depth, I can only laugh, when some one tells me that I WILL GO TO HELL. The question I wanted to always ask," Which Hell? Hindu hell, Homer's Hell, Plato's hell, Dante's hell, Jewish hell, Islamic hell or Christian hell??? Why should I go to a Christian hell, when I have so many other beautiful hells to choose from??????????????"
At the conclusion of this investigation of the Bible use of the word hell, thank God, we find no such place of everlasting torture in the Bible! Regardless of what man may say either way—as is found in the creeds or announced from the pulpits—we have found the Bible "hell," sheol, hades is the grave. The penalty upon all our race condemned on account of Adam's sin is death, not eternal torment. Hell is the tomb: the death condition. And we find another hell (gehenna the Second Death: utter destruction) is the final penalty upon those few who, after being redeemed and brought to the full knowledge of the truth and to full ability to obey it, shall yet choose death by insisting on a course of opposition to God and righteousness. How just. How reasonable. How loving our God.
Liberal Christian Beliefs
Liberal Christians recognize that the writers of the Bible held a variety of beliefs concerning Heaven and Hell. The earliest books of the Bible described Sheol: an underground cavern where all people, good and bad, spent eternity after death, leading a thirsty, shadowy existence isolated from God. Borrowing some ideas from the Zoroastrian religion, some later Jewish writers saw the faithful being resurrected and leading long lives in a purified earth before dying a second time. After the Greek invasion, the Jews picked up the Hellenistic concept that some individuals will go to Heaven for eternal reward, while the rest go to Hell for eternal punishment. The book of Daniel, from the 2nd century BCE, and the Christian Scriptures from the 1st and 2nd century CE describe this Hell. It is pictured as either a place of annihilation, where people simply cease to exist, or of eternal punishment
Generally speaking, religious liberals:
These three sites are a mere sampling of the various opinions regarding hell available on the internet. As I was reviewing these sites it became clear to me that one of two different beliefs was evident in those sites which taught that hell is mere myth:
I would like to address these issues as we continue in our study of hell.
Could a loving God send a man to hell for an eternity of torment?
If you've completed my study entitled "Is one church as good as another" you'll recall how I began that study by looking at three of God's characteristics. We considered how God doesn't change, how He is no respecter of persons, and how He demands men to worship Him in spirit and in truth. These three characteristics of God are part of His nature and are always in force. God hasn't changed and He never will change. God has never been a respecter of persons and He never will be. And God has always demanded men to worship Him in the manner He authorized, and He always will. In our study of the church we considered the different ways God has instructed man to worship Him throughout history, but He has always demanded man's obedience to His commandments in effect at the time. As we consider hell I'd like to look at a few more of God's characteristics.
Just as surely as God is love, He is also a God who cannot lie, whose actions are in perfect accord with His promises, and who hates sin. The only way God would not send a man to hell for eternal punishment would be if He never promised to do so, or if He promised not to do so. If we find in the scriptures promises made by God to send one to hell, then we know absolutely that hell exists and that God will send men there.
Does hell exist?
Nobody alive on this earth today can say from firsthand experience that hell either does or does not exist. If hell exists, then it is a place from which one will not escape (Luke 16:26-31). If one has firsthand knowledge of the existence of hell, they will not be able to return and tell us about it. The only way one can say hell does not exist from firsthand experience is to have experienced firsthand every possible spiritual abode and not found hell among them. Obviously nobody alive on this earth today may truthfully make the claim that they have done so. Therefore, our knowledge of the existence or mythology of hell is based solely on sources other than firsthand experience. Does this render our belief in hell as something less than certain? Absolutely not! We can be certain of the existence or the non-existence of hell if we can be certain of the source of information! Let's return to Luke 16. Here we read of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man enjoyed his life on earth, while Lazarus laid outside his gate, full of sores and begging for what he received. Both died. After death the rich man went to torment, Lazarus to Abraham's bosom. When the hopelessness of his situation became clear the rich man asked Abraham to permit Lazarus to return to earth and warn his five brothers of this place of torment so that they might not spend eternity there with him. Notice Abraham's response, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." (verse 29) The rich man replied, "Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent." (verse 30) Abraham's response to his statement: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." (verse 31) What do we learn about the source of information in this lesson: The scriptures are more valuable than firsthand experience to convince one of the existence of hell!! Here we learn the source of information to which we must turn to be certain of the existence or non-existence of hell. If the Bible teaches that there is a place of torment to which those who are disobedient will be sent for eternity, then we can be more certain of this truth than we would should one rise from the dead and tell us firsthand of hell and its torments! So the next step in our quest to determine whether hell is real or not is to search the scriptures and look for teachings warning of hell's existence.
Hebrew and Greek words translated "hell"
I include this section only because the words translated "hell" are often used as evidence "proving" hell's non-existence. If you would like an in-depth review of the thoughts of those who discount the existence of hell based on the original words please point your browser to http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/tbhell.html. After doing so, please return to our study of hell and consider hell as a place, not as a word. I have linked each word to a Hebrew or Greek lexicon for further study should you so desire. The words translated "hell" in the King James version of the Old and New Testaments are:
Now, what did I mean by considering hell as a place rather than a word? Simply this: The author of the essay at the URL noted above attempts to prove the non-existence of hell by dissecting the 4 words translated "hell" in the KJV of the Bible. I want us to get away from the words and look in the scriptures for a place of eternal torment, which may not have been given a specific name. If hell is given a description in the scriptures, and a place of torment not called "hell" has the same description, then the characteristics of the unnamed place being the same as the named place make the unnamed place hell. For example, if you were describing Cincinnati to me but you didn't know the name of the city, you might say: "There's a city of 350,000 people located in southwestern Ohio, on the Ohio river, nicknamed the Queen city, and is built on seven hills. I can describe it but I can't remember the name." I would say, "The city you're describing is Cincinnati." I could give him additional characteristics of the city, which would add to his understanding of the city of Cincinnati. These additional characteristics would do nothing more than enhance his knowledge about the city of Cincinnati. The name would be unchanged, but now he would be able to describe different suburbs, streets, parks, sports teams, etc., which characterize Cincinnati. The same applies to hell. If the Lord teaches us of a place of eternal torment, each characteristic of that place we read of throughout the scriptures only adds to our understanding of this place of eternal torment. So let's look to the scriptures and see if they teach of a place of eternal torment for those who are disobedient.
Scriptures describing a place named "hell"
Scriptures describing a place of eternal punishment
Earlier in our study we determined that one of two things must be true in order for God not to send one to hell for eternity: Either He must never have promised to do so, or He must have promised never to do so. In the scriptures we clearly see that God has promised to send those who refuse to obey Him to a place of eternal torment! As we noted earlier, if we could find scriptures indicating a promise that the disobedient would spend eternity in hell, that must mean hell is a real place! Why? Because of the nature of God. He cannot lie, His actions are in perfect agreement with His nature, and He hates those who work iniquity. Any promise He makes is guaranteed to be kept! If He makes a promise that one will spend eternity in hell, then hell is ready to receive them should they die in a disobedient state. This is not in contradiction to another of His characteristics: Love. Many have been led down the path of falsely believing that hell cannot exist simply because God is love! God showed His love for us in allowing Jesus to die on the cross (Romans 5:8). However, Jesus' death granted us the possibility of salvation, not the certainty! God gave us specific instructions as to what we must do to make our calling and election sure (as Peter admonishes in 2 Peter 1:10). If we fail to do as He commands we will find ourselves in an eternal predicament from which we will never escape!
Failure to understand the Biblical concept of love has led to much false teaching in the religious world today. When an English-speaking person hears the word "love" he generally thinks of the warm emotional ties he has with his wife, family, friends, or others in his life. The Greek word for this type of love is phileo. However, phileo is used only 25 times in the entire New Testament. Only twice is the word used to reference the love God has for a human being! Jesus states in John 16:26-27, "At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God." In Revelation 3:19 we read, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent." "Loveth" in John 16 and "love" in Revelation 3 are both phileo in the Greek. Each time phileo is used to reference God's feelings toward man it was limited to those who were obedient to His commandments. In contrast to phileo the Holy Spirit through the pen of the inspired writers instructed them to use the word agape (or the verb agapao) 258 times! The word translated "love" in Romans 5:8 is agape. What is the difference between these two words? Agape does not carry with it in its meaning the warm emotional type of love we think of today. Agape refers to the attitude one has toward another. When I determine to do what is best for you regardless of my emotional attachment to you, I have agape love for you. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44 to, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”. Many people stumble over this verse because of their misunderstanding of love as commanded in the Bible. Jesus isn't commanding us to have a warm emotional attachment for our enemies. He is commanding us to have the attitude toward our enemies that we will do what is best for them no matter what! This is the love God had for us while we were sinners. His attitude toward us was such that He was willing to send Jesus to die on the cross despite our sinfulness. When we understand God's love for us we understand how God may hate those who work iniquity at the same time He loved them. His love for them was not an emotional attachment. He gave them what they needed to receive forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life in heaven. However, if they refuse to obey His commandments and die in their sinful state His hatred for them will be manifest as pure wrath as they are condemned to an eternity in hell.
The Bible tells us much about hell and the torments the condemned will suffer. They are included in the paragraphs above, but I'd like to list them in our summary for quick reference and consideration:
Think of what this list means! In hell, each and every one of our five senses is tormented. Imagine being in the darkest room you've ever entered while at the same time hearing the unceasing wails of the hopeless, being burned by fire which emits no light, having the condemned gnashing their teeth upon you, smelling an overwhelming stench of rotten eggs, and having a tongue that is more dry than any you'd ever before experienced. Now add to this nightmare the realization that you brought each and every torment upon yourself. You remember how you could have easily avoided this fate had you only accepted the gift that was given to you freely. You remember the love you experienced during your lifetime and realize that you will never again feel such comfort. Whose wails are you hearing? Not only your fellow condemned, but your own as well!
The next time you burn your finger, the next time you hear something frightening, the next time you smell an offensive odor, the next time you can't wait to get a drink of water to quench your thirst, and the next time you are frightened by the dark think of how your senses will be tormented to an unimaginable degree for an unending length of time should you be condemned to hell for eternity. The next time you are lost on a dark street in an unfamiliar city, wondering if anyone cares at all for you and hoping the next person you see doesn't intend to assault you remember the absolute loneliness the condemned experience in hell. Use these momentary discomforts as a reminder of the torments of hell, and use them as motivation to remain faithful to Jesus. If you have yet to be obedient to the commandments of God I pray the temporary displeasures we all experience in life may be another motivation leading you to obedience.
We see from our study of hell that the three websites we introduced earlier are all teaching false doctrine. Ed Viswanathan was given accurate information when he was told that he is leading many to eternal destruction along with him. The author at "bible411.com" couldn't be more wrong when he claims, "At the conclusion of this investigation of the Bible use of the word hell, thank God, we find no such place of everlasting torture in the Bible!" And those practicing "liberal Christianity" as documented at religioustolerance.org will be surprised at the day of judgment should they not repent of their iniquity and enter into the love of God. Paul tells us where we will find the love of God: In Christ Jesus! He writes, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38,39) So the love of God upon which so many depend is found only in Christ Jesus. Those who are not in Christ Jesus are already separated from the love of God! Are you in Christ Jesus?
What is keeping you from serving Jesus? Whatever it may be, that is what will keep you from entering heaven for eternity. Is it physical pleasure, worries, stubbornness, love of family over God, religious tradition, or some other of the many snares Satan places in our paths? Again, whatever it is it will keep you out of heaven. Jesus was willing to serve us (Philippians 2:5-8, John 10:17,18). He was willing to leave the glory of heaven and suffer the agonies He experienced on earth simply out of obedience to His Father and love for us. He didn't have to die; He gave up His life on His own. Are you willing to give up the pleasures of this life to serve Him? If you are, the reward will be unimaginable. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." These preparations can be yours if you are willing to give up the things that keep you from serving Jesus. Won't you do so today, before it is eternally too late? You may read of what you must do to be saved elsewhere in my website (salvation). Within the links page I have included a list of the congregations of the churches of Christ around the world. Any one will be more than happy to assist you in your obedience to the word of God. Please do so TODAY!