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Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Hell But Were Afraid to Ask

There are a lot of jokes about life after death. Most of them include Saint Peter. Here is one my son sent me about Judgment Day:

A curious fellow died one day and found himself waiting in the long line of judgment. As he stood there, he noticed that some souls were allowed to march right through the gates of heaven. Others, though, were led over to Satan, who threw them into the burning pit. But every so often, instead of hurling a poor soul into the fire, Satan would toss a soul off to one side into a small pile. After watching Satan do this several times, the fellow's curiosity got the better of him. So he strolled over and tapped Satan on the shoulder.

"Excuse me, Prince of Darkness," he said. "I'm waiting in line for judgment, but I couldn't help wondering why you are tossing those people aside instead of flinging them into the fires of hell with the others?"

"Ah, those..." Satan said with a groan. "They're all from the Pacific Northwest; they're too wet to burn!"

 It seems an Illinois man left the snow-filled streets of Chicago for a vacation in Florida. His wife was on a business trip and was planning to meet him there the next day. When he reached his hotel, he decided to send her a quick e-mail, but was unable to find the scrap of paper on which he had written her e-mail address. So he did his best to type it in from memory. Unfortunately he missed one letter, and his note was directed instead to an elderly preacher's wife, whose husband had passed away only the day before. When the grieving widow checked her e-mail, she took one look at the monitor, let out a piercing scream, and fell to the floor in a dead faint. At the sound, her family rushed into the room and saw this note on the screen:

DEAREST WIFE, JUST GOT CHECKED IN. EVERYTHING PREPARED FOR YOUR ARRIVAL TOMORROW. P.S. SURE IS HOT DOWN HERE.

 


The lesson is obvious; we have to be sure we are getting the right information about life after death! That's what we hope to do in our time together. Death and the afterlife, of course, are not funny subjects, especially if we are talking about a loved one. As we all know, discussions about death can be very sobering and serious! But my opening jokes can actually be good illustrations to us of a shocking reality. They illustrate that people everywhere are getting their information about life and death from less-than-ideal sources. Some of those sources of information are rooted in political correctness, New Age philosophies, literature, rumor and even the movies.

One of the most influential sources of information about life after death, for example, was called Dante's Inferno. The images created by it remain to this day. Many today have tried to depict the afterlife in film, e.g., What Dreams May Come, starring Robin Williams. I don't recommend this film, but sadly it is typical of this culture that can deal with death only in human terms and by human effort.

People are getting their information about life after death in many ways, but obviously their sources are not really answering the deepest questions people have. For example, some of the more frequent questions that continue to be asked are the following:

 

  • Is there life after death?
  • What in particular did Jesus teach about eternity—hell, or heaven? Or did He speak about it at all?
  • Why would a hell ever be necessary? Why does God punish people? Why doesn't He reform them? Isn't eternal damnation for temporal sins overkill?
  • If there is a hell, what are the facts?
  • Why would a loving God send people to hell?
  • Why did God create people He would send to their death?
  • Why send people to hell when they can't help being sinners?
  • What will determine how we will spend eternity?
  • What difference will a doctrine about hell make?
  • What does the Bible teach about hell?

We won't attempt to answer all of these questions in this session, but I have prepared a handout that will attempt to answer most of these questions in a very simple, straightforward manner (Hard Questions).

Lets look at the most frequently asked question:

 

Is there life after death? Will everyone live for eternity?

Reading the New Testament and hearing the words of Jesus Christ recorded in Luke 16:19-31, we discover that everyone who has died is still living somewhere in eternity. Further, we will discover that that "somewhere" is determined by what kind of relationship a person had established with Jesus during their short stay on this earth.

In fact, today God is giving each one of us another moment in time to consider establishing a personal relationship with his Son (if we haven't already). And what we do with this invitation will also determine where we will spend eternity.

What in particular did Jesus teach about eternity—hell, or heaven? Or did He speak about it at all?

He speaks about it often in such passages as Luke 16. (We might say Jesus is the one Person in all of history qualified to speak about hell and heaven. He's been in both places, and is preparing heaven for us today.)

As we open to Luke 16, Jesus is teaching His disciples the secrets of eternity, ministering in the area of Perea on the east side of the Jordan. As the tax-gatherers and sinners gathered around Him to listen to His teaching, a group of Pharisees surrounded Him also (15:2). They were grumbling and upset because Jesus was spending time with notorious sinners and eating with them. He first told them a story about a certain rich man who had an unrighteous but shrewd steward, but the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, scoffed at His words—Luke 16: 8-9. Jesus then opened the curtains of eternity to show those gathered around Him, as well as us, that our lives are not lived out merely on this earth. In time, we must all appear in eternity and give an accounting for them.

Jesus' conclusion was not the same as that of our New Age prophets. They say that when we die, we will be met by a warm light at the end of a long tunnel. We will feel love all around us, and be met by our family and friends who have died before us. Jesus doesn't promise that for everyone! Nor does Jesus hold out the false hope that spiritualist mediums give their clients. They report: "I've heard from your wife and your brother, and they tell me that the world ahead is a beautiful one. There's no pain and everybody's happy."

Jesus doesn't promise heaven for everyone who dies. Nor does he offer what the famous or politically correct believe: justification by death; i.e., you're saved if you die. Justification by faith is what Jesus teaches. In Luke 16 Jesus makes it clear that where we live in eternity will be determined by how we related to the Lord Jesus Christ during our short stay here on earth.

Turn to Luke 16:19. Jesus says,

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20] At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21] and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
Note: By the way, many biblical scholars believe that when Jesus used the term "a certain man," He was referring to someone He knew, or had some firsthand knowledge about. In other words, Jesus was not using the story merely as an illustration. It is probably true that these two men lived out their lives on this earth together: one in splendor, and one in poverty.

Although the Jews were living under the Roman government, many of them were still able to acquire riches. This rich man dressed in purple and fine linen, the same clothing as the high priests. His gourmet food was probably served on exotic china. He was what we might call "filthy rich." That was not his problem, however. Jesus never condemned anyone for being rich, but rather for being a lover of money.

He taught His disciples earlier that "no one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money"—Matthew 6:24. Paul wrote to Timothy, "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10] For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs"—1 Tim. 6:9-10.

Apparently this selfish man's lifestyle so blinded him that he was poor toward God and toward the many poor people around him, one in particular who was poor and begging at his gate. We see in vv. 20-21 this beggar's name, that he was hungry, and had dogs as "friends!" From these verses and those that follow, we can easily discern that Lazarus was a godly man who believed in the God of Abraham. He was also very sick, and apparently some people had placed him against the gate of the rich man's home, so the rich man should have seen him every day. Was he demanding? No, Lazarus sought nothing more from the rich man than the crumbs that fell from his table. Sadly, the only comfort he received was provided by the stray (probably mongrel) dogs who licked his sores. He did not have an easy life!

In time, the rich man and the poor man both died—Luke 16:22. This an amazing story:

22] The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23] In hell, [Greek Hades] where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24] So he called to him, Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' 25 But Abraham replied, Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26] And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. 27] He answered, Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28] for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment. 29] Abraham replied, They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them. 30] No, father Abraham, he said, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.

This amazing turn of events will be a common occurrence in heaven!

 

The poor man is made rich.

22] The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. This is what we have been waiting for—the Lord Jesus pulls back the curtains of eternity and gives us these wonderful views of heaven. He tells us that Lazarus, who apparently depended on God as his help and salvation, was finally rewarded with the joy of spending eternity in the presence of God. (This isn't a complete picture of heaven; more information is coming.) At the moment of his physical death (apparently no one gave him the dignity of a proper burial), his spirit and soul were taken by angels to Abraham's side. How's that for transportation?

This first glimpse of eternity makes it clear the universe is filled with these wonderful angels, who are faithful servants of God (Acts 27:23-24) and observe us as we live out our Christian lives—1 Cor. 4:9; 1 Tim. 5:21. Here we see them taking the righteous to the side of Abraham. The phrase "to Abraham's side" gives us a picture of an ancient eastern feast, where men laid around the table, each with his head near or on the chest of the man on his right. To be close to the side of the host was an honor indeed. At the Last Supper, for example, one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved (Jn. 13:23) was there reclining on Jesus' side/chest. According to Matthew 8:1-13, to be at Abraham's side refers to God's presence, where the righteous will be comforted.

Before the cross, it appears that believers went to Abraham's side as a place of security and comfort. But since our Lord's death and resurrection, believers at death are placed immediately in God's presence (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:5-10). The believing thief on the cross who repented was told by our Lord, "...today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).

 

 

Jesus said to His disciples, after witnessing the faith of the Roman centurion who had come to him on behalf of his dying servant: "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, in the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth"—Mt. 8:11-12.

So Lazarus had trusted God as his helper on earth, and now at the time of his physical death was carried by angels into paradise, and placed at the side of father Abraham. He was related not by blood to Abraham, but by faith in God. Galatians 3:6-7 reminds us, Abraham believed 6] ...God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. 7] Understand, then, those who believe are children of Abraham.

 

The rich man is made poor.

Luke 16:22b—"The rich man also died and was buried." What a contrast between the death of Lazarus and that of the rich man! The angels came to bring the soul and spirit of Lazarus to Abraham's side, but the rich man died and was buried in the cold earth. Once he died, all his earthly power, position, authority and wealth remained here. He left his fine purple robes to the moths, and his wealth to his quarreling relatives. He may have had a great burial service (which he never had the privilege of witnessing), but his first moment of consciousness in eternity revealed to him that he had arrived in hell spiritually bankrupt.

Let's think carefully about what follows. Using the rich man as an example, the Lord gives seven sober spiritual insights about one's conscious existence in eternity.

  1. The former rich man who died, went to Hades. From other Scriptures we can surmise that the unrighteous who die are sent to Hades until the time of the Great White Throne judgment, then Hades will surrender the wicked. At the Great White Throne the unrighteous will be judged and then cast into the Lake of Fire, called Hell, forever (Rev. 20:11-15).

     

  2. The rich man was alive. This former rich man awoke after his physical death and found himself fully conscious; aware that he was in Hades; and with an eternal body which was experiencing torment. He was also equipped with eyes to see where he was and where Abraham and Lazarus were, that there was a great distance between them.

     

  3. He was fully rational and able to communicate. 24] So he called to him, Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire. According to our Lord's story, the former rich man showed no mercy toward Lazarus when he was on earth, yet he now pleads for Lazarus' mercy. In hell he is still fully able to communicate and describe his situation.

     

  4. The rich man was experiencing physical pain. Because he had power, position and authority on earth, the rich man still thought he had that power in Hades, and asked Abraham to order Lazarus to meet his immediate need like some earthly servant. The man who never needed anything on earth now found himself begging Abraham for water from the hand of a beggar, whom he had formerly ignored. He was in torment.

     

  5. He discovered the reason for his being in hell was his selfishness/self-centeredness. He was not God- and others-centered. Luke 16:25— Abraham replied, Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. Abraham is saying, in effect, "When you were on earth you received all the good things, beautiful clothes, fine food, position and power. These were the first things on your priority list. But living according to the royal commandment, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself' (Luke 10:27) was not part of your lifestyle." Unlike the rich man, who did nothing to build up treasures in heaven, Lazarus had no earthly possessions but was spiritually rich toward God, the rich man. He never let pain and suffering drive him away from God but chose to receive true life from Him, and now is experiencing the fulfillment of His promises of eternal life.

     

  6. The rich man discovered the hopelessness of his position. Luke 16:26—And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. Note carefully here, Abraham is aware that some of the redeemed, seeing the terrible condition of the former rich man and others like him, would want to do something to help relieve their pain, but God had created a great chasm so those who wished to cross over to the other side would be prevented from doing so. That same great chasm would prevent the unrighteous from trying to enter the presence of God/Abraham.

    The message the rich man received was quite clear—we all have plenty of time on earth to prepare for eternity! If we miss it and die, our fate is eternally sealed. There is no second chance, no purgatory where in time we would finally earn the right to cross over the chasm and enter into the presence of God.

     

  7. He discovered he was helpless to save his brothers. This guy was so very arrogant, still thinking he had the power of influence. He begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house "28] ...for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment." Reality had fully sunk in, and he realized that Abraham wasn't able to show him mercy because of the great chasm; that he wasn't going to get any water for his tongue; that he wasn't going to get out of this eternal torment. It had finally dawned on him, too, that his five brothers were living unrighteous lives on earth, and that if someone did not warn them about the hellish place he was in, they too would end up in Hades.

    Again, we can see how selfish he was, considering only his immediate family, not his neighbors and friends, etc. He planned to persuade Abraham to let Lazarus leave heaven and tell his brothers the bad news and explain how they could end up at Abraham's side after their physical death. They would have to repent, place their faith in God, and turn from their wicked and selfish lifestyles.

    Now we come to Abraham's response to the rich man's request: Luke 16:29. Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 30] 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 31] He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' This is more important than it appears. Abraham was revealing a profound truth: if the rich man had read Moses and the prophets, he would have seen God's love for him, and his need to place his faith in God, as Abraham had done—Genesis 15:6. Furthermore, he said that someone returning from the dead to walk on the earth would not be enough evidence to change his brothers' wicked hearts.

    The Lord had given the Scriptures, which are able to lead men and women—even this man's brothers—to a saving knowledge of the Lord and the joy of eternal life. If they had not listened to Moses and the Prophets, they would remain unconvinced even if someone rises from the dead. Later in the Scriptures, in fact, another Lazarus (Mary and Martha's brother) died, and Jesus raised him from the dead. In spite of that miracle, the chief priest tried to kill the Lord —Jn. 12:9-10. Jesus Himself would die for the sins of the world, be buried, and rise again, but few would believe in Him as the Savior of their souls.

    Again, the miracle of someone being raised from the dead would not convince this man's brothers to change their wicked ways. The only way their hearts would change would be by placing their faith in God, as their father Abraham had so long ago. Even today, if someone came back from hell or heaven, people would still not believe.

     

Here in summary is the real story of the rich man and the poor man. Both lived on this earth for a short season and then died. The man who refused to place his faith in God awoke in a place of torment called Hades, and is still there awaiting the final judgment. On the other hand, the man who placed his faith in God awoke at Abraham's side in security and comfort; he is still there and will be forever.

The main point of this story is not whether one is rich or poor; the real issue rests on one's spiritual relationship with God. Rich or poor, a man can either reject or accept the gift of salvation. Rejection will result in spending eternity in hell. Acceptance assures us that after physical death, we will spend eternity in the presence of God and His Son, Jesus.

 


Having studied one passage Jesus taught about life after death, let me give you brief responses to a few questions about hell. Contemplating eternal separation from God is a horrible reality. No wonder many unbelievers deny its existence, and some believers at times doubt it. Some believers, in fact, even question the justice of hell. In this pluralistic age, it seems too harsh a punishment just for believing the wrong thing.

Whatever the belief system, no compassionate person wishes there to be a hell. On the other hand, no realistic person can afford to ignore its possibility—certainly no one who takes the words of Scripture seriously. We must understand that if there is no hell to shun, then the cross is a sham and Christ's death is robbed of its eternal significance.

 

What are the reasons hell is necessary?

Norman Geisler gives us the following reasons:
  1. God's love demands a hell. The objection most often leveled against the doctrine of hell is that it is extremely unloving. Would an all-loving God possibly send anyone to hell? To be sure, the Bible asserts that God is love (1 John 4:16). Love, however, cannot act coercively, only persuasively. In other words, a God of love cannot/will not force people to love Him. Paul spoke of things being done freely and not by compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7).

    A loving Being always gives space to others. He does not force Himself upon them against their will. C. S. Lewis observed, "The Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will... would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo." In other words, those who do not wish to love God must be allowed not to love Him. Those who do not wish to be with Him must be allowed to be separated from Him. Hell is this eternal separation from God.

     

  2. Human dignity demands a hell. Since God cannot force people into heaven against their free choice, human free choice demands a hell. Quoting Lewis again, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Your will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Your will be done.' Matthew 23:37 indicates that God wants to gather everyone to Himself, but they are not willing. Forcing people to do something against their will is an affront to their dignity.

     

  3. God's justice demands a hell, for God is just (Romans 2). He is so pure and untainted that He cannot even look upon sin (Hab. 1:13). Not all evil, however, is punished in this life. Many observers have noted that the wicked sometimes prosper (Ps. 73:3), so the existence of a place of punishment for the wicked after this life is necessary to maintain the justice of God. Surely there would be no real justice in the universe unless there was a place of punishment for a demented person like Hitler, who as we know initiated the merciless slaughter of some six million Jews and others.

     

  4. Gods sovereignty demands a hell. Unless there is a hell, there is no final victory over evil. Remember, what frustrates good is evil. The wheat and tares cannot grow together forever. There must be an ultimate separation, or good will not triumph. Society needs punishment for evil, that good might prevail. Likewise, in eternity, good must triumph. If it does not, then God is not in ultimate control and the ultimate victor over evil, which the Bible declares that He is —1 Cor. 15:24-28; Rev. 2022).

     

  5. The Cross of Christ implies hell.  At the center of Christianity is the cross (1 Cor. 1:17-18; 15:3). Without it, there is no salvation (Rom. 4:25; Heb. 10:14; John 10:1,9-10; Acts 4:12). Christ came into the world for that very purpose (Mark 10:45; Luke 19:10), and only through the cross can we be delivered from our sins (Rom. 3:21-26). Jesus suffered great agony—even separation from God—on the cross (Heb. 2:10-17; 5:7-9). But think about it—why the cross unless there is a hell? If there is no hell to shun, then the cross is a sham. Christ's death is robbed of its eternal significance unless there is an eternal separation from God from which people need to be delivered.

 

Why punish people? Why not reform them?

The answer is simple from both a biblical and rational point of view. God does try to reform people; the time of reformation is called life. Peter declared that "the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance"—2 Pet. 3:9. After the time of reformation, however, comes the time of reckoning. Hebrews tells us that man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Heb. 9:27).

Hell is only for the non-reformable and unrepentant, the reprobate (2 Pet. 2). God in His wisdom and goodness would not allow anyone to go to hell who He knew would go to heaven if given more opportunity. He does not want anyone to perish, but desires all men to be saved—1 Tim. 2:4. God cannot force free creatures to be reformed, however. Forced reformation is worse than punishment; it is cruel and inhumane.

Punishment respects the freedom and dignity of the person. C. S. Lewis insightfully notes, "To be cured against one's will is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason, or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals." Humans are not objects to be manipulated; they are subjects to be respected, because they are made in God's image. They should be punished when they do evil, because they are free and know better.

 

Isn't eternal damnation for temporal sins overkill?

To punish a person eternally for what he did for a short time on earth seems at first to be extreme. On closer examination, however, it turns out to be not only just, but necessary. For one thing, only eternal punishment will suffice for sins against the eternal God. Though sins are committed in time, they are against the Eternal One. No sin can be tolerated as long as God exists, and He is eternal; hence, punishment for sin must also be eternal.

As we have seen, the only alternative to eternal punishment is worse—to rob man of his freedom and dignity. This could be done either by forced compliance or total annihilation. Forcing someone into heaven against his free choice would be hell for him, since he doesn't fit in a place where everyone is loving and praising the Person he wants most to avoid. Nor is annihilation an option, for it is contrary to both the nature of the immortal God and the nature of humans made in His image.

It is not consistent with an all-loving God to snuff out those who do not do His wishes. What would we think of an earthly father who killed his children when they did not do what he wanted them to do? The fact that these persons are suffering, no more justifies annihilating them than it does for a parent to kill a child who is suffering.

 

What are the facts about hell?

The Nature and Location of Hell

The Bible describes the reality of hell in many forceful figures of speech. It is said to be under the earth (Phil. 2:10) and a place of outer darkness (Mt. 8:12, 22:13) that is outside the gate of the heavenly city (Rev. 22:15). Hell is away from the presence of the Lord (Mt. 25:41, 2 Thess. 1:79). In short, hell is the other direction from God.

The nature of hell is a horrifying reality. It is like being left outside in the dark forever (Mt. 8:12). It is like a wandering star (Jude 13), a waterless cloud (Jude 12), a perpetually burning dump (Mk. 9:44-48), a bottomless pit (Rev. 20:1,3), an everlasting prison (1 Pet. 3:19), a place of anguish and regret (Lk. 16:28), and an eternal separation from God (2 Thess. 1:79). There is, in biblical language, a great gulf fixed between hell and heaven (Lk. 16:26) so that no one can pass from one side to the other.

Hell is everlasting (Mt. 25:41, 2 Thess. 1:79). People are conscious after they die, whether they are in heaven (2 Cor. 5:8, Phil 1:23, Rev. 6:9) or in hell. The rich man was conscious in hell (Lk 16:26). The Beast was still conscious after 1,000 years in hell (Rev. 19:20, 20:10). Indeed, it makes no sense to resurrect unbelievers to everlasting judgment (Dan. 12:2, Jn 5:28-29) before the Great White Throne (Rev. 20: 11-15) to punish them for their sins unless they are conscious.

Nowhere does the Bible describe hell as a torture chamber. This does not mean that hell is not a place of torment. Indeed, Jesus said it was (Lk. 16:24). But unlike torture, which is inflicted from without against one's will, torment is self-inflicted. Torment is living with the consequences of our own bad choices, the weeping and gnashing of teeth that results from the realization that we blew it and deserve the consequences.

Hell is also depicted as a place of eternal fire, real but not necessarily physical (at least not as we know it). People will have imperishable physical bodies in hell (Jn. 5:28-29, Rev. 20:13-15), so normal fire would not affect them. The figures of speech that describe hell are contradictory, if taken in a physical sense. It has flames, yet is outer darkness. It is a dump (with a bottom), yet a bottomless pit. While everything in the Bible is literally true, not everything is true literally. For instance, God is not a literal rock (Deut. 32:15), since He is spirit (Jn. 4:24). But it is literally true that He is a solid, rocklike foundation that we can trust.

The Duration of Hell

Many unbelievers would be willing to accept a temporary hell, but the Bible speaks of it as everlasting. There are several lines of evidence that support this.

Hell will last as long as God, and the Bible declares that He will endure forever (Ps. 90:1). He had no beginning and has no end (Rev. 1:8). He created all things (Jn. 1:3, Col. 1:15-16) and will abide after this world is destroyed (2 Pet. 3:10-12). Hell will last as long as heaven, which is also described as everlasting in the Bible. But the same Greek word "aionion," used in the same context, also affirms that hell is everlasting (Mt. 25:41, 2 Thess. 1:7-9, Rev. 20:10). There is absolutely no ground in Scripture for supposing that hell is temporal and heaven is eternal.

Norman L. Geisler

Finally, without an eternal separation, there could be no heaven. Evil is contagious (1 Cor. 5:6) and must be quarantined. Like a deadly plague, if it is not contained it will continue to contaminate and corrupt. If God did not eventually separate the tares from the wheat, the tares would choke out the wheat. The only way to preserve an eternal place of good is for God to eternally separate all evil from it. The only way to have an eternal heaven is to have an eternal hell.

 

How can we be happy in heaven knowing a loved one is in hell?

Every concerned believer has struggled with this problem. However, once the emotional fog lifts, the mind can see that the very presupposition of this question is seriously flawed. It supposes that we are more merciful than God! God is perfectly happy in heaven, and He knows that not everyone will be there, yet is infinitely more merciful than we are. Moreover, if we could be unhappy in heaven because someone else was in hell, our happiness is not in our hands but someone else's.

Hell cannot veto heaven! We can be happy in heaven the same way we can still enjoy eating knowing others are starving. And remember, just as bad memories can be healed here on earth, God will wipe away all tears in heaven (Rev. 21:4).

 

Why did God create people He knew would go to hell?

Some critics of hell argue that if God knew His creatures would reject Him and end up in such a horrible place, why did He create them in the first place? Wouldn't it have been better never to have existed than to exist and go to hell? No doubt most of us have at times wished for oblivion as an alternative to our suffering. But like the apostle's wish to be accursed for his brethren (Rom. 9:13), it is an unfulfillable wish. Like the desire never to have been born, once one has been created an immortal soul, the desire for mortality is unrealizable.

Further, the very implication that nonexistence is better than existence is meaningless—nonexistence is nothing, and nothing cannot be better than something, for it simply does not exist. To affirm that nothing can be better than something is a gigantic category mistake. In order to compare two things, they must have something in common. Nothing and something are diametrically opposite. Someone may feel like being put out of his misery, but he cannot consistently think of nonbeing as a better state than being.

True, Jesus said of Judas that it would have been better if he had never been born (Mk. 14:21). But this is simply a strong expression indicating the severity of his sin, not a statement about the superiority of nonbeing over being. Again, nothing cannot be better than something, since the two have nothing in common to compare them.

Life is like a game—a very serious one. As in every game, there are rules and there are results. Lewis put it, "If a game is played, it must be possible to lose it. And simply because some will lose in the game of life does not mean it should not be played. Before we take to the road each day we know that many people will be killed in traffic accidents. Yet we continue to drive. When we have children, we know great tragedy could befall our offspring or ourselves. Yet in all these cases our foreknowledge of evil does not negate our will to permit the possibility of good. Why? Because when the game of life is played, some must win and some must lose."

But we deem it worthwhile because it is better to have played with the opportunity to win than not to have played at all. From God's standpoint, it is better to have loved the whole world (Jn. 3:16) and lost some than not to have loved them at all. Life is a serious moral game, and morality is not possible without free choice. It was good for God to create free creatures, and it is good to be free. But there are consequences to free choice—sometimes final and irrevocable consequences. Jesus passionately desired all His people to be in the fold, but mournfully added of some, "but you were not willing" (Mt. 23:37).

 

Is it just to send people to hell when they can't help being sinners?

The Bible says we are born sinners (Ps. 51:5) and are by nature the children of wrath (Eph. 2:3, NKJV). But if sinners cannot avoid sinning, is it fair to send them to hell for what they could not stop doing?

First of all, according to the Bible, people go to hell for two reasons: They are born with a bent to sin, and they choose to sin. They are born on a road that leads to hell, but they also fail to heed the warning signs along the way to turn from destruction (Lk. 13:3, 2 Pet. 3:9). Furthermore, while human beings sin because they are sinners (by nature), their sin nature does not force them to sin; they choose to sin.

St. Augustine correctly said, "We are born with the propensity to sin and the necessity to die." Notice, he did not say we are born with the necessity to sin. While sin is inevitable since we are born with a bent in that direction, nonetheless sin is avoidable. The ultimate place to which sinners are destined is also avoidable. All one needs to do is to repent (Lk. 13:3, Acts 17:30, 2 Pet. 3:9). All men are held responsible for their decision to accept or reject God's offer of salvation, and responsibility always implies the ability to respond.

All who go to hell could have avoided going there if they had chosen not to. No pagan anywhere is without clear light from God, so that he is without excuse (Rom. 1:19-20, 2:12-15). And those who seek, find. Just as God sent a missionary to Cornelius (Acts 10:35), so He will provide the message of salvation for all who seek it. For "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Heb. 11:6).

 


Scripture References

Rev. 20:11-15, 2 Pet. 2:4-17, 2 Thess. 1:7-9, Lk. 16:19-31, Mt. 13:41-42
As my friend and I stood at his father-in-law's graveside, I was reminded again that the grave only ends one's life on earth, but not in eternity. I also realized that I had by faith invited Jesus Christ to become my Lord and Savior, and my eternal existence had already been determined. My prayer now is for my friend, who at this point has rejected the gift of salvation. At this moment in time, his eternal existence hangs in a balance between heaven and hell. His only hope while he is still breathing on earth is that he will come to see his need to invite Jesus Christ to become his Lord and Savior before he breathes his last. You may be in the same position, and God in his grace is offering you one more opportunity to spend eternity with him. Do it now, before you stop breathing on earth.

 


Bibliography:

Have You Heard the Real Story of the Rich Man, Poor Man? Series: Jesus, Savior of the Lost, by Ron Ritchie, Discovery Publishing, 3505 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA 94306-3695.

"Everything You Wanted to Know About Hell But Were Afraid to Ask (Why There Has to Be a Place of Eternal Punishment)," Norman L. Geisler, Discipleship Journal, Navigators