Published by DonDavidson on

The unbelievers are tormented with fire which burns constantly. They have nothing to drink but boiling water, and nothing to eat but foul food that chokes those who try to consume it. They are surrounded by fierce hot winds, and the little shade that exists offers no comfort from the heat. They are bound in long chains and shackles, and cry out for death—but they cannot die, nor can they escape. They are condemned to live this way forever.

This description of Hell is not from the New Testament. No, this description is drawn from the Koran, which describes Hell in great detail.

The New Testament is vague about what Hell is like. If you do a deep dive into the New Testament, you will find that the verses which talk about Hell can be divided into the following five categories:

1.      A large number of verses speak of “judgment,” “wrath,” and “condemnation,” as well as “Hell” and “Hades,” but without specifics.

2.      Another group of verses associates the fate of the damned with “fire,” as in John’s Gospel where Jesus says: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch; and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” (John 15:6)

3.      A third group of New Testament verses speaks of “death” and/or “destruction,” such as Matthew 10:28.

4.      Jesus sometimes spoke of Hell as a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” and as an “abyss” or a place of darkness.

5.      Finally, a few verses speak of “punishment” or “torment,” none more graphically than Jesus’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:22-31.

In that parable, Jesus pictures the rich man as being tormented in the flames of Hell as he requests an absurdly trivial favor from Lazarus—that he would dip his finger in water and cool the rich man’s tongue. When Abraham informs the rich man that this is not possible, he requests a different favor—that Abraham would send Lazarus to the rich man’s five brothers, to warn them to repent, because “if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” And here we come to the real point of the parable, for Abraham refuses this second request by saying: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead”—a subtle reference to Jesus’ own resurrection, which many people have dismissed, both then and now.

Before I became a Christian, and even more so after my conversion, I was very troubled by the idea that God—whose very nature is love (1 John 4:8)—would torture anyone for eternity. What possible good could come from that? But after doing this deep dive, I realized that most New Testament verses are far too vague to lend any real support to that idea, and the few that remain can be easily explained away as symbolic.

For example, “fire” can be a means of “death” or “destruction,” and it can also symbolize:

guilt and/or remorse, as in Romans 12:20 and Proverbs 25;21-22;

wickedness, as in James 3:5-6;

wrath or judgment, as in Nahum 1:6;

God’s presence and/or His Spirit, as in Zechariah 2:5 and Acts 2:3.

“Weeping and gnashing of teeth” do not involve pain, but regret and anger. (“Gnashing of teeth” always refers to anger in the Bible, as in Job 16:9 and Acts 7:54.)

However, Revelation’s reference to the “second death” (see, for example, Revelation 21:8) makes the most sense to me—those who are not saved simply cease to exist. No pain, no torture, and they can never hurt anyone again.

If you would like to read a more detailed discussion of this topic, please read Chapter Five of my book, Beyond Blind Faith, entitled, “What Hell Is Really Like.” You can read a sample portion of that chapter here, and you can purchase the book on Amazon.com. (The e-book is only 99 cents.) You can find a list of chapters here, and a description of the book here.


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