According to the Bible, hell is the eternal place of punishment for those who die outside of Christ (Mt. 5:30; 10:28; 18:9). Hell is separation from God and eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power (Mt. 25:46; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). It must be noted that hell is a place that was originally prepared for the devil and his angels who sinned and would be cast there (Mt. 25:41; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Sometimes in the King James translation and others, the word hell is supplied where the Greek word is really hades (Mt. 16:18; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 20:13-14). Hades refers to the place of the dead, and is not to be confused with hell or the word Tartarus (from the Greek word tataroo) which is the concept of eternal punishment (2 Pet. 2:4). The word Tartarus was the name of the subterranean region, doleful, and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer for their evil deeds. It is paralleled by “Gehenna” for the Jews. The word most often translated hell in the New Testament is Gehenna (cf. Mt. 5:22, 29; 23:15, 33; Mk. 9:43, 45, 47; Lk. 12:5; Jas. 3:6). Gehenna was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, once celebrated for the horrid worship of Moloch, and afterwards where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction (Strongs 1990).
Accidentally, arbitrarily, or intentionally?
The question is sometimes asked if an individual will go to hell accidentally, arbitrarily, or intentionally. Those who will experience the horrors of hell will do so in spite of all that the God of Heaven has done to keep them from going there. Moreland, in his discussion with Lee Strobel concerning the reality of hell in relation to the loving nature of God, makes some profound statements regarding human choice and hell. Moreland states: “You have to understand that people’s character is not formed by decisions made at once but by thousands of little choices they make every day without knowing about it. Each day we are preparing ourselves for either being with God and His people and valuing the things he values, or choosing not to engage in those things. So yes, hell is primarily a place for people who would not want to go to heaven” (Strobel 178). People have choices. God, in His eternal wisdom, has made man in His image (Gen. 1:26). God did not create robots, but has given man the freedom to choose. Sometimes man makes the wrong choice. Dr. Moreland further noted that while people may not consciously reject heaven and choose to go to hell instead, they do daily choose not to care about the kinds of values that will be present in heaven (Strobel 178). Hell cannot be described as a sentence, but as the end of a path already chosen in this life here and now, day by day (Strobel 178). Though hell is eternal in nature, God does not arbitrarily chose individuals to go there (This idea is portrayed in Calvinism, but is false.).
In fact, God is delaying the coming of His Son and wants Christians to pray for others to be receptive of the truth which saves (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Atheist Dan Barker is noted as saying that if the Biblical heaven and hell exist, he would choose to go to hell (Barker 170). Secular writer Robert Ingersoll is reported as having said “If there is a God who would damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than go to heaven” (Butt 80). C.S. Lewis was correct when he stated that “there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end ‘Thy will be done.’” All that are in hell choose so (Butt 80).
The Bible rightly portrays humans as having the ability to choose what to believe (Jn. 8:24; Heb. 11:6). The Bible also shows that despite all that God has done to encourage humans to have faith in Him and the necessity of repentance, many will not turn from their deeds (Rev. 2:21; 9:20-21; 16:9, 11). Too many times the skeptic focuses on the reality of hell and tries to explain this harsh reality away, while at the same time ignoring the outstretched hand of God attempting to pull him or her away from the hell they so adamantly oppose. Someone has said that heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people, and I suppose that the same could be said of hell. Or at least, one could rightly affirm that to fail to prepare to go to heaven will lead one to hell. God does not take any pleasure in people being lost eternally (Ezek. 18:23). Jesus shed his blood to keep people from this eternal place of torment (1 Jn. 2:1-2). People go to hell because of sin (Isa. 59:1-2; Rm. 3:23; Jas.1:13-15); the payment for sin is death (Rm. 6:23).
The skeptic’s argument
The argument that an all loving God cannot send people to an eternal hell usually looks like this:
–The Bible teaches that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8).
-A loving God would not punish people forever in a place like hell.
– Therefore, there must not be a hell, or god must not be a loving God, or the Bible must be wrong.
The problem with such reasoning is a failure to correctly define terms. It is true that God is a loving God. However, love does not mean “always doing what avoids punishment or discipline.” When we redefine a term in a way that best fits our view and plug it back into the Bible, we will always draw a false conclusion. God is love, and He seeks the highest good for man at all times. God also is also holy and just. When one views the holiness of God in contrast to the sinfulness of man; one must have the same view that Isaiah had of himself when he came into the presence of a holy God (Isa. 6:3-8). The word holy means sacred and set apart. The best that we can offer up to God is still viewed as filthy rags when compared to the holiness of God (Isa. 64:8). There are some things that God hates (Ps. 9:11; Prov. 6:16-19; Mal. 2:16; Rev. 2:6). God is perfect and holy and just, and He does not have to forfeit one virtue in order to possess another, his hate toward somethings (righteous indignation) does not remove his love. God hates sin so much, and loves humanity so much, that He sent Jesus to pay the penalty for sin so that mankind could be redeemed. The justice of God would not allow Him to let man off free without the debt owed being payed (no one would respect a judge such as this). God provided the ransom to be paid (2 Cor. 5:21). A loving parent that never disciplines their child, even if the child is heading toward danger, cannot be viewed as a loving parent (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; Heb. 12:9). God is just and holy (Deut. 32:2-4; Ps. 89:14) and his justice demands that he punishes sin and those found in it.
Does the crime fit the punishment?
Many ask how living a bad life, even for a hundred years, equates to eternity in hell. Yet, many would readily recognize that it takes less time to commit a crime than the sentence for those crimes often bear out. When the atheist Dr. Antony Flew was in debate with Dr. Thomas Warren and the issue of hell was brought up, Flew stated that God could be just if he put someone through only one minute of punishment at the end of this life. Once Flew recognizes that one minute would be sufficient, how about 2 minutes, ten years, or eternity (Butt 222)? Who is in the best position to call a runner out at second base? The umpire, or the fan in the nosebleed section? Who should get to make the decision of how long punishment should last? Justice frequently demands that the time should be longer than the crime, once this is conceded the only thing that must be considered is who gets to make such a decision (Butt 78). If this is true of hell, the same time argument would have to be true of heaven. I have never heard any claim from a skeptic that eternal bliss in heaven is not deserved. Man has sinned and will ultimately be saved by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 2:11), but no one deserves heaven. However, God will allow those who appropriate the blood of Christ to their sin-sick soul to inherit eternal bliss. The same Greek word for eternal (aionios) is used to describe both heaven and hell (Mt. 25:46). God knows all the facts of the case, and the hearts of all that are involved (Ps. 44:21; Prov. 15:3). God is the righteous judge that will make all things right (Gen. 18:25).
The time to get life right is now and not in eternity. God has put up so many barricades in this life to keep one from going to hell. God has given His Word which will judge man (Eccl. 12:13-14; Rm. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10-11), and this Word warns us of the punishment which will belong to those who rebel against God. God has given mankind the church to encourage in this life and keep mankind from falling (Heb. 3:13; 10:24). God has given mankind the proof of creation so that men might know that there is a creator and that they might seek Him, though he isn’t hiding (Acts 17:28; Rm. 1:20-ff). However, when this life is concluded there will be judgment (Heb. 9:27). There will be no purgatory (or annihilation as some allege) but those who die in disobedience to God will be conscious of their punishment (Lk. 16:19-31). The truth is, hell is a spiritual reality and Jesus spoke of hell more than anyone else in the Bible. The truth of an eternal hell cannot be ejected from scripture. The time to appeal for a better estate than hell is now. Everyone who will be lost in hell will be lost in spite of all that heaven has done to save. There are no second chances after the grave, only sentencing in the verdict that is already known. Only in Christ is there found a dwelling place with God:
‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him’ (John 14:1-6).
Barker, D. Godless. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press, 2008.
Butt, K. Always Be Ready: Equipping Young People to Deal With Unbelief. Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, 2014.
Butt, K. A Christian’s Guide To Refuting Modern Atheism. Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, 2010.
Mounce, William. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.
Strobel, L. The Case For Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
Strongs, J. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1990.