God, what is Hell?

God, what is Hell?

Additional resource "What's down with Hell" video with James MacDonald.

Many who accept the concept, even the fact, of Heaven do not accept that there is a Hell. But the Bible clearly teaches the existence of both, and from the New Testament we know that Jesus Himself said more about Hell than He did about Heaven.

We don’t want to believe in Hell because we think that a loving God would never send people to such a place. But we need to understand the holy nature of God, which demands a just punishment for the sinful nature and evil actions of men and women. Yes, He is a God of Love, but He is also Light, i.e., righteous and just, and He is angry with sinners every day.

Scripture tells us that whenever God allowed even a faint glimpse of His glory, men fell at His feet as though dead. God told Moses, “No man can see me and live.” Even sinless angels veil their faces before Him. God is Consuming a Fire and no man in his sinful state can come into God’s blazingly awesome presence. This is why the Lord Jesus, as an innocent man, endured the wrath of God in the place of and on behalf of sinners. His cry on the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” speaks to us of the desolation in store for the lost sinner.

God’s justice cannot ignore sin. Sinners are to repent and put their faith in the only one who can save them. The alternative is terrible. Hell is a place prepared for Satan and his fallen angels, and for those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet the poet Dante called Hell “a painful refuge” from the presence of this holy God whom we cannot appear before in our sin.

We have all heard of the “flames of Hell." There is intense symbolism in the descriptions of Hell in the Bible, and one is of eternal fire. We shall not have physical, material bodies after death, and flames could not affect souls, but the description is intended to arouse in us a godly fear that will lead to the radical change of mind and direction which the Bible calls repentance.

The Bible also describes Hell as a place of eternal separation from everything that is good. Those who reject Jesus’ offer of salvation often say, glibly, that if they go to Hell at least they will have friends there. But there are no friendships, no relationships, in Hell, only an eternity of isolation and torment, absolutely without hope. Hell is the embodiment of God’s wrath, reserved for those who refuse the call of His free grace: “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?

If you were raised in the Anglican or Catholic church you may have learned to recite the Apostle's Creed, in which (in the original) you will find the line "He [Jesus] was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into Hell..." [1] That Jesus 'descended into Hell' is critically disputed and has been changed to 'he descended to the dead' in the modern version of the Creed. This disputed wording gives us good reason to look at what the Bible additionally says and provide another perspective on Hell.

We have read above that God is perfectly holy and cannot allow any sin to come into his presence. To allow such would mar his holiness. While Jesus was on the cross, God poured out on Him all his wrath [righteous anger and punishment] for every sin that mankind has ever committed or will ever commit. Jesus hung on the cross for six hours, and the Bible records:

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour [noon to 3:00pm] darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The darkness described is not just the passing of dark clouds but total nighttime blackness - in the middle of the day. For three hours Jesus endured total separation from God the Father - in other words, Hell. The righteous judgment and consequence of sin.

This total separation from God is the kind of Hell Jesus describes in such graphic detail and earnestly tries to to lead us away from. It cost Him his life! We read that at some point in the future everyone whoever lived, all the dead, great and small, will come before the throne of God for judgment. At that point everyone will see the awesome splendor of God; but for those who did not accept God's offer of grace, a complete and total pardon offered through the person of Jesus Christ, it will be too late.

This is the torment those who reject God will face: separation from God for all eternity, all the while being aware of what they could have received, that is, eternity in Heaven in the very presence of Almighty God. This is why Jesus describes Hell so graphically '...darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' Weeping over what could have been and gnashing of of teeth at the anguish of their condition. Have you made a choice yet? Tomorrow it may not be possible.

[1] For those who die 'in Christ' there is no purgatory, there is no time spent in Hell. Jesus did physically die and his body was physically buried in a tomb but Jesus 'gave up his spirit'. As we read in the narrative of the penitent thief who was crucified beside Jesus, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

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