How to even begin? We don’t take this subject lightly. We hope you don’t either. The concept of hell makes us just as uncomfortable as you. But not liking an idea doesn’t make it any less true. We are not here to give you our personal opinion on the afterlife. We’re here to open the Bible.
What Is Hell?
What is hell? Though we’ve reduced “hell” to a word we use when we stub our toe, hell is not a joke, nor a place reserved only for fairy tales, nor a cute subject to celebrate on Halloween. It is a real place for real people, and it’s real scary.
Hell is the place of eternal conscious punishment for sinners. The New Testament describes hell as a place “in flaming fire” prepared by God for “those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8 NIV). They will be “punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:1:9 NIV).
Jesus frequently warned people of the turmoil of hell. It is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28), where “maggots never die” (Mark 9:48 NLT)—a place of “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41 NIV).
Hell Is Hard to Handle
Hell is so hard to handle psychologically that we don’t bother with it or we belittle it. It’s natural that some of what the Bible says doesn’t sit well with us emotionally; we expect this to be the case. The Author of Scripture is our Creator, who isn’t exactly like us. Surely there will be times we find his thoughts and plans perplexing (Isaiah 55:8-9).
But we mustn’t let this incite us to doubt what God says, or toss his words out altogether. If anything, such perplexing subjects give us reason to listen to God more closely.
The Psalms instruct us to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). The aim of the Bible is that we would know God and his goodness. Every topic within the Bible serves that purpose—even the topic of hell. But we have a problem—our hearts are always inclined to think the worst of God. Because of our sinful hearts, when we come to the Bible, we have a chronic misconception problem.
We Are Not Good
This is certainly the case when we hear about hell. We immediately think poorly of God—because we are at root narcissistic, unable to hear the diagnosis of our sinful condition due to our false self-evaluation. By nature our sin will always persuade us to make God out to be the bad guy.
However, hell should not make us question the goodness of God, but our own. That there should be such a place as the Bible describes does not indicate that God is a tyrant, but that we are thoroughly rebellious. It does not mean that he is unjust, but that our crimes are incalculable. It shows not how intolerant he is, but how intolerable we are.
If hell is real, we will come to one of two conclusions. Either God is cruel and unjust, or we actually deserve the hell he has prepared. By nature, we’re inclined to choose the first.
But the teaching about hell actually supports the idea of the goodness of God like every other teaching in the Bible, and we would like to explain how.
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