What will hell be like? There’s a lot of popular misconceptions about hell that have been fueled by artistic speculation in our culture, or half baked ideas that come from a desire to make hell more palatable to those who feel embarrassed by the idea.
To be sure, the topic of hell is never a pleasant one. But I believe what we have to say about hell is important, because it holds up a mirror to our theology, to show who we think God ultimately is. In this podcast, I will explore some key ideas and objections to the idea of hell, and attempt to provide a better understanding of what hell actually is like.
Popular Ideas And Objections To Hell
It’s fashionable these days to scoff at and dismiss the doctrine of hell, especially as it relates to the notion of eternal conscious torment.
How could a loving God do such?
And, traditional answers around divine justice and retribution against sinners who love their sin just don’t seem to add up. No matter how technically correct such doctrines might be as extracted from a study of Scripture, something in our hearts tell us things just can’t be this way.
It’s a concept that just doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. Especially in light of the death of Jesus on the cross, where God makes an atonement for sin.
Jesus died. Therefore, how, could men suffer everlasting torment forever and ever? That just doesn’t seem fair in light of the cross. And no matter how egregious and numerous our sins might be, how can infinite everlasting punishment be justified for man’s finite number of sins?
Especially when we consider the many metaphors and images used to describe hell. Throughout the Bible, there’s many different descriptions of hell. It’s a place of fire and brimstone. A place of darkness. A place of isolation and loneliness, where you are considered forever outside the city of God, away from God’s presence and all of humanity. It’s a place where the worm dies not, and you are cut off from paradise. Hell is described as a fiery garbage pit, and ultimately a place of destruction.
Hell is so bad, that no single metaphor or description will ever suffice to describe it. No wonder there will forever be a weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And no wonder we recoil at the idea of hell. One theologian once said that hell is so bad, that our minds cannot even conceive of how bad it truly will be. Whatever the worst idea of what you think hell will be like, hell will still yet be worse. No wonder people object so strongly to the doctrine of hell.
This argument is quite attractive. I understand the appeal. The math just doesn’t seem to add up in our hearts. As a result, we might doubt the theology of hell, no matter how “clear” the Scriptural evidence for such a place might be. And, while I think there’s certainly a place for the careful study of such things, sometimes I believe something more is needed.
A Fresh Perspective On Hell
Lately I’ve been wrestling through some pretty heavy things in my heart. Not only things from my personal life, but as I observe the lives of others, and things happening in the world at large. And in this, I feel I’ve had something of a revelation about the nature of hell and why it doesn’t sit well in our hearts.
I believe it’s ultimately just because our hearts just aren’t where they should be. Our hearts don’t see, feel, or understand as they should. Our hearts haven’t become aligned with God’s heart, and aren’t able and don’t want to comprehend the magnitude of what it means, and what it ultimately says about God.
The doctrine of hell is offensive, even to a Christian, because we simply focus on the wrong thing. We are too busy thinking about hell, and how awful it is, when we should instead be enraptured by beauty and glory of God, and how truly wonderful He is. Only in understanding God and who He is will we truly ever begin to comprehend the doctrine of hell.
In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah saw in a vision in which he saw angels, flying around the throne of God, crying out, “Holy, holy, holy!”
This vision was Isaiah’s undoing. The instant he received a glimpse of the beauty and splendor of God in all His majesty and holiness, and looked upon things that even the angels could not look at. And in seeing what even they would not look at, Isaiah was finished. He was completely undone. His revelation of God was such that it instantly brought about a revelation about his human condition, and the condition of his people. And from there Isaiah saw what judgments must ultimately come his nation.
This produced in Isaiah what the apostle Paul would call a, “godly sorrow.” It’s a sorrow that sees the beauty and splendor of God, and the endless destruction we’ve sown in this world. It weeps over a world where things are not as they ought to be. A world where the knowledge of the glory of God is supposed to cover the world as the seas, but instead we find something else together.
As saints, we should weep over the things that aren’t, but could be. We should carry about us a godly sorrow. It’s a heart that breaks with the heart of God, longing for the way things ought to be. Our longing for the shalom of God in a world where that shalom has been destroyed should truly grieve us.
And I believe regarding hell, that we read of a “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” this is probably not because of a liquid molten fire that burns the skin of humanity for all eternity, but because for eternity men will cry the tears of misery, missing out on a profound beauty that will forever escape them.
There will be a weeping and gnashing of teeth because on the day of judgment they will instantly be given a glimpse of the beauty and glory of God, of which Revelation 20 states, “from whom heaven and earth shall flee,” and all of lost human will live the rest of eternity knowing what could have participated in, but shall forever be cast away from. And this will fill their hearts with the deepest of sorrows.
Their sorrow will be a sorrow that afflicts them forever and ever. And that will cause them an anguish of soul for which there will be no relief for all eternity. They will enter into unending grief, a grief that comes from our humanity that was created in the image of God, forever lamenting over how wrong things are, what could be, only to never find relief from that grief.
Hell in its essence is eternal heartbreak, because not only will you be unable to indulge in the lusts of your flesh, you’ll forever be away from the presence of He alone who can satisfy the deepest longings of our humanity. You’ll be forced to live forever away from the ultimate source of love, joy, and beauty.
In closing, I want to share a quote that aptly sums up a correct understanding of hell. It comes from Tim Keller’s book, “The Reason for God.” Keller states:
“Modern people inevitably think hell works like this: God gives us time, but if we haven’t made the right choices by the end of our lives, he casts our souls into hell for all eternity. As the poor souls fall through space, they cry out for mercy, but God says “Too late! You had your chance! Now you will suffer!” This caricature misunderstands the very nature of evil. The Biblical picture is that sin separates us from the presence of God, which is the source of all joy and indeed of all love, wisdom, or good things of any sort. Since we were originally created for God’s immediate presence, only before his face will we thrive, flourish, and achieve our highest potential. . . . To lose his presence totally, that would be hell—the loss of our capability for giving or receiving love or joy.”