A Sober Look at Hell

When was the last time you had to have a hard conversation with someone you loved? Maybe you found yourself torn because you didn’t know what to say or you didn’t want to be misunderstood. At the same time you knew that silence was not an option because then you would be failing to be a good friend if you saw a clear and present danger and chose to say or do nothing.

All of us would prefer to think on the happy moments of life, but life is not always so. Nobody wants to sit with family in a court room. Nobody wants to see a loved one consumed by substance abuse. No one wants to see a friend slowly destroy themselves. In those moments, we have a choice. We can simply affirm people’s life choices and pretend every choice is equally good, or we can be honest. We can dare to speak truthfully, and risk everything for the sake of godly love.

Contrary to popular opinion, love is not merely accepting people’s choices no matter what. I am not a loving father to my children if I allow them to explore culinary options with my cleaning products because they wish to. I am unloving if I stand idly by while they poison themselves. Love in that instance speaks words of warning, words of caution. Love looks like honest speech.

Today, I want to have a hard conversation about Hell. What must first be established is the source of our information. If we content ourselves merely to our senses, or the abilities of our rational faculties alone, we will fail to understand fully what God has said. Nature can only reveal to us so much. As it is with every subject, we as Christians submit ourselves to the Scriptures. As theologian Charles Hodge once wrote, “If we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, all we have to do is to ascertain what it teaches on this subject, and humbly submit.”

What does the Bible teach about Hell? The first and most clear point is that Scripture teaches that Hell exits. Jean-Paul Satre most famously noted in his play “No Exit” that “Hell is other people.” Certainly, there are some individuals who delight in making others miserable. But this is not what Scripture teaches about Hell. Though the idea of a place of eternal suffering for the wicked is taught in both the Old and New Testament, we do well to focus on the words of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus Christ taught more about Hell than any other figure in all of Scripture. After His infamous words of salvation, we are warned of judgment and condemnation for those who reject Jesus and His teaching (John 3:18). The Lord warns his disciples to “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28 ESV) Though some have throughout history made the false assumption that words like this lead to the annihilation of the wicked, Christ repeatedly (as well as others in the NT) make clear that Hell entails the conscious and unending state of suffering for the wicked.

Jesus regularly uses the image of a “fiery furnace” and “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:50 ESV) He parallels the eternality of the wickeds suffering with the eternality of the righteous in glory (Matt. 25:46) He even quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah when he warns about leading others into sin (Isaiah 66:24). There, Christ warned that Hell is described as the place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:48 ESV)

We could consider the warning of the future resurrection and judgment of the wicked in Daniel 12:2. We could consider the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and its function as a foreshadow of what awaits all that reject Christ (Jude 1:7). We could even consider the language of Satan’s future suffering in the lake of fire which is described as the place where “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” and Revelation’s explanatory note of how this is the “second death. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:10, 14-15 ESV) This last note makes plain that the second death is not annihilation.

What do we observe in this brief summary of Scripture’s teaching on Hell? Hell is simply more horrific than anything we could ever imagine. It is the place of utter darkness, yet fire. It is the abode of ceaseless agony where demons and Satan himself suffer endlessly alongside the wicked. In short, none of us want to be there.

Why bring this up? Simply out of love.

I don’t want to go to Hell and I don’t want you to go there either. Hell is a reminder that our sins will be judged righteously by God, and if we are not believing in Christ for our salvation we are doomed. If His righteousness does not cover our unrighteousness, we are doomed. If Christ does not bear the penalty of our particular sins, we will suffer for them.

Likewise, Hell reminds believers that whatever atrocities we may face on this earth, none of it compares to what awaits any who deny Christ. May we be warned rightly and seek Christ today, for the words penned in Hell’s Gates by Dante in his Inferno still ring true, “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.”