Is hell a real place?

hell, lake of fire, Gehenna, Hades, death, torment, suffering, eternity, evil, sin, despair, gnashing, weeping

When it comes to the topic of hell, there are seldom people who enjoy addressing it. In fact, many choose to simply avoid it, or even worse – ignore it, or change it. Some scholars believe everyone will eventually go to heaven and a loving God would never send people to eternal torment and suffering. Others hold to the idea that some will go to hell, but won’t stay there forever. And then there’s some who think good people will go to heaven while all the bad will be simply annihilated out of existence. But if Christians are to hold the Bible as their ultimate authority for the faith and practice on how they are to live, then what does it say? Does the Bible actually say anything about hell?

THE BIBLE SAYS HELL EXISTS

This may come as a shock to some, but Jesus Himself talks more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. This isn’t just somebody off the streets who made the idea of hell up to scare people – this is God Himself telling us. Jesus tells us hell is a place of “outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13). It is a place of torment (Luke 13:23-24), unquenchable, eternal fire (Matthew 3:12; Mark 9:44-49), eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9), and a place where the smoke of the torment of those within will rise forever and ever (Revelation 14:10-11), never to cease day and night (Revelation 20:10).

Though the fire being spoken of is likely symbolic, it is also likely symbolic of something much, much worse. It is NOT a place where people go to visit temporarily, nor is it a doctrine that teaches people will be annihilated out of existence on the Day of Judgment. The Bible clearly says otherwise, and though it can be easy for teachers to pick certain verses to back up their heretical interpretation of Scripture, they would be doing others, as well as themselves, an extreme disservice. Jesus taught on hell for a reason, and is not to be avoided, ignored or altered to make others more comfortable. Jesus taught on hell because of His love for people and to show they need not go there.

A LOVING GOD AND THE EXISTENCE OF HELL ARE NOT INCOMPATIBLE

This is one of the most popular arguments against hell – that the loving God of the Bible would never send people to such a place. But is it possible for there to be a God of love and a place like hell to exist at the same time? Let’s consider this for a moment. Hell is a place of eternal separation from God originally made for Satan and his angels (Matthew 25:41). This is to say, the only source of good to ever exist will draw His hand away from that place for all eternity. The common grace He bestows on everyone (the rising of the sun and sending of rain (Matthew 5:45), He is longsuffering toward the wicked (Nahum 1:3; 2 Peter 3:9)), will no longer be present.

Though hell is a place no one wants to enter, God is too loving to force anyone into His presence. Just like a good relationship is a mutual feeling of love between two people, if one person doesn’t feel the same way then the relationship is non-existent. The person who loves the person who doesn’t love them back simply withdraws from them. God doesn’t force people to love Him. So it has been said by the late Christian author and apologist C. S. Lewis, “the doors of hell are locked from the inside!” God doesn’t choose people to go to hell, and in fact, doesn’t send them to hell either. They send themselves. The reason for someone being in hell is fully because of their own choice and actions. By their own volition, they walked into hell willingly,  locked the door and threw away the key.

Because God is just and righteous, He must judge sin. God honours the free choice of those who decide to be separate from Him forever and grants them their wish. He gives us a description of what it’s like to be separate from Him for all eternity and offers us a way out. This is the great news – if we don’t like hell, then let us not simply ignore it or morph it into something it isn’t. There’s a much better path – accept God’s gift of grace and just don’t go there.

THE PATH TO HEAVEN IS NOT AS NARROW AS SOME THINK

Some tend to think heaven is hard to enter. This is true in one sense, and yet, false in another. Jesus talks about the gate to heaven being narrow, and the gate to hell being wide (Matthew 7:13-14). What He means by that is, firstly, the gate that leads to life is narrow because few people decide to take it. It’s not a gate that’s hard to see or can be easily missed because Scripture says no one is without excuse (Romans 1:20). God has revealed Himself through His creation. If one is tempted to think this isn’t enough, consider this: If a person finds a book on the ground with coherent word and sentence structure, they do not immediately assume it had no intelligent agent behind its existence. Someone had to have written the book. In the same way, people who look at creation cannot reasonably come to the conclusion that no intelligent being caused it all to come into existence. All are without excuse.

The reason few choose the narrow gate is because it’s hard. It’s hard in the sense that Christians will face persecution and opposition from their enemies (John 15:18-21; 16:33). It’s also hard because we naturally want to do what we desire. Doing what God wants us to do isn’t always desirable compared to something else. This isn’t something that’s deemed as pleasant or attractive by many people’s standards, so why bother living for Jesus when they can live for themselves? But like Esau trading in his birthright for a single bowl of soup, these people are, in a sense, trading in eternal life for the temporary pleasures of this finite life on earth. When you think about how long you might live on this planet, even if you live to be 150 years old, it fails in comparison to eternity. The bottom line – a person will be dead a lot longer than they will be alive in this world, and it would be wise to consider what happens after they die.

Secondly, the gate is narrow because there’s only one way to heaven, and that’s through Jesus (John 11:25; 14:6). However, the gate could be a lot more narrow had Jesus not died on the cross. If we had to work for salvation by doing certain things, it would be impossible. And even if there was a little leeway and we were allowed to mess-up sometimes, this still would make it extremely difficult to make it into heaven. However, Jesus offers to take care of everything by offering us salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). In this sense, the gate is wide – making it easy for people to come to Him for salvation since it’s not up to them.

If you would like to know more about the gospel and what Jesus did to offer salvation, then visit How Do I Become a Christian?

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