Question: “Is Hell real? Is it eternal? Will lost souls perish for eternity or will they simply be annihilated?”
I’ve encountered many people who do not believe in hell, and it seems to me that this disbelief is becoming more popular. A 2007 Pew Forum poll found that only 59% of Americans believe in the reality of hell. I suppose most choose not to acknowledge hell because it seems incompatible with their concept of a loving and compassionate God. Bertrand Russell, in a 1927 lecture, spoke for many when he said, “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell“.
Is the idea of hell inconsistent with the message of Christianity? I submit that it is impossible to believe in Jesus Christ while disbelieving in hell. Nearly all Biblical teaching about hell comes from the mouth of Jesus. In fact, He spoke more about hell than He did about heaven. We must allow Jesus to shape our theology; not force our theology to change what Jesus taught.
Jesus said hell is prepared for the devil and his angels (cf. Matt. 25:41), meaning the devil will not be enjoying himself there. Rather, he will be screaming in agony along with his minions. The horrible irony is that the people who do not believe in the devil will spend eternity with him in hell. Hell is the destination of the wicked (v. 41, 46); that is, those who die in their sin without Jesus Christ as their Savior. It is a place of “black darkness” (2 Pet. 2:17) and weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30). Indeed, hell will be more terrifying than we could ever imagine.
To me, the most frightening aspect of hell is its duration. Many have fallen for the idea of annihilation, meaning that people outside of Christ will simply cease to exist. Yet Jesus described hell as a place where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48), meaning that hell will be a place of an eternal state of dying. There will be no relief (Luke 16:22-24). People can endure pain knowing it will eventually cease, but in hell people will have no such hope. Jesus used the same word “eternal” (aiónios) to describe both heaven and hell (Matt. 25:46). If hell is not eternal, neither is heaven. To reject Jesus’ teaching about hell is to reject Jesus Himself (cf. Mark 8:38).
The devil must look favorably upon mankind’s growing disbelief in hell. Yet one cannot believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God while simultaneously disbelieving in hell. Be warned of the wolves (cf. Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29) within the church who vehemently teach otherwise and attempt to ‘disprove’ hell through Scripture by performing complicated hermeneutical gymnastics full of error. One must wonder why they are so eager to minimize the Lord’s mission (cf. Luke 19:10). Jesus came to save mankind from eternal destruction (cf. Heb. 2:3), but if the godless have no fear of hell, why should they desire to spend eternity with God in heaven?
The horror of hell should deepen our gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice. There are few things that should cause us to love Jesus more than what He said about hell. It is because of Him that I do not have to spend eternity in hell. This knowledge must motivate us to “walk in the light” (cf. 1 John 1:7) and save our neighbors (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16). Behind every interaction with a non-Christian should be the ultimate desire to bring them to Christ. Indeed, it is impossible to love our fellow man while refusing to talk about both the consequence of sin (Rom. 6:23) and God’s gift of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9).
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 “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.” Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life. http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2religious-landscape-study-key-findings.pdf. Accessed 2 May 2013.