Hell: What Is Hell Like?

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The New Testament views hell ("Gehenna," the place of incineration; Mt 5:22; 18:9) as the final abode of those consigned to eternal punishment at the last judgment (Mt 25:41-46; Rev 20:11-15). It is described as a place of fire and darkness (Jude 7,13), of "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mt 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), of destruction (1Th 5:3; 2Th 1:7-9; 2Pe 3:7) and of torment (Lk 16:23; Rev 20:10). New Testament teaching about hell is meant to appall us and strike us dumb with horror, convincing us that as eternal, life with God will be better than we could dream, so eternal, punishment will be worse than we could conceive.

The Scriptures teach a number of specific facts about hell. First, hell is unending, conscious punishment (Jude 13; Rev 20:10). Teachings of eventual release from hell (or from purgatory) or of the annihilation of the ungodly at some stage have no Biblical basis.

Second, hell is not an experience of God's absence but an experience of his presence in displeasure and wrath. The experience of God's anger is "a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29), of his righteous condemnation and of the deprivation of all that is valuable, pleasant and worthwhile will be the nature of the experience of hell (Ro 2:8-9,12).

Third, everyone in hell is sentenced to this destiny by his or her own choice. Judgment comes upon unbelievers because they have refused to acknowledge God as their Lord, have rejected his righteousness in favor of sin and (if they have encountered the gospel) have rejected Jesus rather than coming to him (Jn 3:18-21; Ro 1:18,24,26,28,32; 2:8; 2Th 2:9-12). In this way, hell affirms the genuine significance of human choice. All people receive what they actually choose: to be with God forever, worshiping him, or to be under his wrathful condemnation forever, worshiping themselves.

The Scriptures teach about hell in order to call all people gratefully to embrace the grace of Christ that saves them from eternal punishment (Mt 5:29-30; 13:49-50). God mercifully forewarns us about the reality of hell so that we may turn to Christ and find salvation in him.

Excerpted from The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Copyright 2003, The Zondervan Corporation, page 2078

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Comment from the ChristianFallacies.com editor:

In the 2nd from the last paragraph, it could be summed-up that people go to hell because they are unrepentant sinners. The remedy to the curse of sin is to repent and accept Christ as our Savior. This is the only way to avoid hell. However, rejecting Christ is not the reason for going to hell. Again, (and this bears repeating because it is ubiquitously taught incorrectly), the reason souls go to hell is because: 1) they are sinners, and 2) they are unrepentant.

To look at this issue any other way would lead to the logical conclusion that God is/was unfair to the multitudes who lived and died and never had an opportunity to hear about salvation through Jesus Christ. Those lost people never had an opportunity to hear about the only remedy for sin, but they were nonetheless, sinners, and therefore received the just compensation for their sin. (“There is no one righteous, no not one.” Rom 3:10. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23a. “The wages of sin is death…” Rom 6:23).

Think of it like this: as a human being (because you are a son/daughter of Adam) you were born with a terminal disease - sin. Most die with the disease untreated, and suffer the eternal consequences. The only successful treatment of the sin disease, however, is provided by God, through His Son Jesus. (“…the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 3:23b.) Failure to repent and accept Christ as our Savior is the final and ultimate rejection of the only solution to the problem of sin. (The Apostle Paul deals with this matter completely in his epistles – especially Romans. James Montgomery Boice has an excellent commentary on this epistle. ISBN 0801065941)

More About Hell:
John MacLeod, who was voted the Scottish journalist of the year twice, had the temerity as a columnist for the Glasgow Herald, the largest secular newspaper in Scotland, to write an article on hell, which he called "Between Satan’s Sandau and a Hard Place.”

In this fascinating article, written in 1992, he wrote:

"There are a few of us who care to acknowledge our through and through depravity, and there can be no one reading this column, who has never been bereaved. To face the possibility of hell as our final end is at present enough; to realize that many – any - of our loved ones may be there already is to know true horror.

Now, your intrepid columnist is a buoyant and cheerful fellow, and nothing would be like him more than to be able to assure his readers, that hell is medieval fiction. But he cannot.

Hell flows logically from the teaching of Scripture. The terrible end that awaits the ungodly is stressed from Genesis to Revelation, as much a part of the New Testament teaching as the Old. Indeed, Jesus in the Gospels refers more often to hell than anyone else in the Bible. He believes in it in somber earnest, after all, He created it. For hell is not the place of Satan's kingdom, it is the place of Satan's banishment by the Lord. Hell will be Satan's Sandau.

The doctrine of hell necessarily flows from the founding precepts of Christianity. Man - oh, all right, humankind; but man is quicker - has been made in the image of God. He is above all other creatures, he has self awareness, self-knowledge, the capacity to relate, to create, to dream. And he is immortal. The soul - the "think"- must live forever. It cannot cease to be, for it is of God. In our hearts we all know that death is unnatural, the change appalling, the grave, obscene.

But when man has rejected God in this world - when he has gone his own way, when he has rejected the moral law - what then? The logic of God precludes eternal fellowship with such a being, who has despised His law and defied His will. And when the gospel itself is spurned, and the way of Christ's atonement, ignored, what can there be at the last for such a man but to grant his heart's desire?"

John MacLeod is saying that since you want none of God here, God will give you what you want. There will be no one in hell, who wants to be in heaven; they will all want to be out of hell, but none will truly desire to be in heaven. Jesus, and Matthew 8:12, says that it's a place of weeping, but it is also a place of gnashing of teeth. When you get mad and you just want to hit somebody, and your teeth just start clenching down, you are gnashing your teeth. In hell, people are gnashing their teeth at God! There is no repentance there. There is no one's saying, "I wish I were with you, God." There is no one in hell, who wants to be in heaven. They have repudiated God in this life, and they forgo Him forever.

The Greeks have a saying that went like this: "Whom the gods would destroy, they answer their prayers." The point is that sometimes we want things that will kill us, and sometimes we get them. To those who want to forego God in this life, God says to them, "Fine.”

John MacLeod goes on to say:

"I have never doubted the reality of such a place, but Hades of deep and lasting darkness. But I have never thought of it in popular terms, as a rather nasty boiler room run by wee man in red tights. Hell is ultimately a negative, a place of nothing but anguish: it is a place without God, and without anything of God, without light, without warmth, without friendship, without peace. No racks, no pincers, no claws: only the fires of an awakened conscience and a burning thirst of a frustrated ego.

The wicked ones of history: they will be there. The killers and the exploiters; Libertines and gossips, rapists and drunkards, they will be there. Those whose gods were sex, or money, or ambition, or power, they will be there, Catholics, Baptists, Free Presbyterians - if they're only faith was their religiosity, who had nothing for eternity, but denominational adherence - they will be there. And in the darkness, thickest corner of all: the nice ministers, the jolly vicars: the benevolent bishops, who told their people it was heaven for all, and that love is all that matters and that they should really join the Constitutional Convention.

This I believe. And I believe, too, that there is only one escape: my flight to Christ and faith in His finished work, living in his service, but never looking to such toils for my salvation. But there is the final paradox: to believe in this latter end of all things, and to live and walk in a world that must one day melt in fervent heat - to walk among the living dead, with my bright smile and polite talk, and never to challenge, and never to warn."

What happens after death for those who do not rest and trust in Jesus Christ? They get no Christ, which means no enjoyment, no fellowship, and no love. They get eternal separation from the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the most solemn thing possible.

If you want unfairness, if you want discrimination, I can give you that. That is called Heaven by Grace. Heaven by Grace is the most unfair doctrine imaginable. Sinners deserving condemnation get heaven forever, because the one who was without sin became sin for their reconciliation. That is unfair, but hell is the fairest doctrine in the world. In hell, you not only get what you want, you get what you deserve. In hell, you are paid your wages. In hell, you reap what you have sown. It is the fairest doctrine in the world. Heaven, that is unfair. A sinner in joining Christ for all eternity is unfair.

Give me unfair! I will take Heaven by Grace.

(The section about Jean MacLeod, just above, was excerpted from:Ligon Duncan, Fear Not! Death and the Afterlife from a Christian Perspective. Christian Focus Publications, 2008, page 36).


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