Hell: five questions and answers

1.    Why has God created hell?


The Bible makes it clear that God is an omnibenevolent Being as well as a righteous judge. God is not "all good" and He is not "only good". His nature also includes justice.


In his conversation with God concerning the impending judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham pleaded for the righteous nature of God.


Genesis 18:25 "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (NKJV)


David also spoke about the righteousness of God in his Psalms.


Psalm 9:8 He shall judge the world in righteousness, And He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness. (NKJV)


To execute His justice, God created a separate realm for those who violate His laws. This realm is hell.


Hell was originally created not for humanity, but for the devil and the evil angels who rebelled against God. However, hell was extended to include humans who followed the devil's rebellion.


Matthew 25:41 "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: (NKJV)


Only an eternal punishment is equal in degree to the sins committed against an eternal God. Sins committed against anyone are not the same in degree. Sin is always vertical before it is horizontal. The gravity of sin increases in proportion to the dignity of the person against whom it is committed. So, an eternal punishment is fitting for the crimes perpetrated against an everlasting Creator.


Sin is rebellion and betrayal against God’s sovereignty. God's sovereignty and justice demand an eternal hell.

The cross of Christ implies an eternal hell. If there is no hell, then there is no need for a cross or a Saviour. Christ suffered on the cross because of the unthinkable punishment awaiting those who sin against God. God loved us so much that He gave His only begotten son as a sacrificial lamb to atone for our sins.


Romans 5:8, 9 (NKJV)

8    But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9    Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.


Hell was not created for the worst people. Heaven is not for the good, and hell is for the bad. Hell is for impenitent people. Heaven is not for those who found charities, fed the poor, and paid their taxes, and hell is not for all the worst criminals. A penitent murderer goes to heaven; an impenitent orphanage founder goes to hell. The Bible teaches not that heaven is for the good and hell is for the bad, but that heaven is for the penitent and hell is for the impenitent, however good, or bad anyone has been.


"Impenitent" means someone who does not repent, someone who does not acknowledge that they are a sinful human and hence deserve God’s judgement. "Penitent," on the other hand, refers to someone who, in honesty and contrition, has bowed the knee to Jesus and acknowledged personal wickedness, holding nothing back.


Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ receives full and free forgiveness. All our bad deeds do not make us harder to save, and all our good deeds do not make us easier to save. What saves us is Christ, and therefore all we contribute is honesty, admitting we are sinners and casting ourselves on him.


In the eschatological discourse of Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus said that, when the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will separate saved and unsaved people from one another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. Then he will consign those who failed to aid the "least of these My brethren" to everlasting fire. This separation is stark, with no explicit provision made for fine gradations of merit or guilt.


Here, Jesus is not saying that salvation is based on works but that salvation produces fruits that are signs of inward transformation. None usually bother to do good for the "least of these My brethren" who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, and prisoners.


Finally, God has given all human beings the free will to choose an eternal life in God’s presence or an eternity in hell. A person can willingly choose to follow or reject God, knowing what consequences await. God respects the person's dignity by allowing him to make that choice. If free will is to be meaningful, there must be different choices; there must be a heaven and a hell. So, God also created hell.


Summing up our answer to the question, "Why did God create hell?" let us say that He created hell because: God is not "only good", He is a righteous judge. To enact His justice, a hell is necessary. Hell was originally created not for humanity but for the devil and the evil angels who rebelled against God. Hell is not for the worst people; it is for impenitent sinners. The cross of Christ implies an eternal hell. If there is no hell, then there is no need for a cross or a Saviour. God respects the person's dignity by allowing him to make that choice. For a meaningful choice, there must be different options—a heaven and a hell.


2.    When shall impenitent sinners be cast into hell?


Hell is the lake of fire, which is the final place of torment for unbelievers. Impenitent sinners are sent to hell only after the final judgement. The final judgement is known as the Great White Throne judgement. This judgement happens after Christ’s millennial reign on earth. In the judgement, the impenitent sinners will be tired, found guilty, and cast into hell with body and spirit.


Revelation 20:11–15 (NKJV)

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.  

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.

13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.

14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.


The parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19–31 is often cited as an example of the state of unbelievers after their deaths. The soul of the rich man is suffering in Hades. He is conscious and sensitive to pain, thirst, and despair. From this, we understand that the souls of the unbelievers who are dead are in Hades, waiting for the final judgement and eternal punishment.


2 Peter 2:9 then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, (NKJV)


According to Revelation 20:12, John envisioned all "the dead, small and great, standing before God", for the final judgement. That means their souls were resurrected with a body. They "were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books." After the judgement, all those who were "not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire." They were cast into hell with body and soul.


The souls of the dead do not go to hell immediately after their deaths. Their souls would go to Hades, where they would suffer pain and wait for the final judgement. Since there is no opportunity for penitence after death, they will be cast into the lake of fire after the final judgement.


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3.    Why would a loving God send anyone to Hell?


A common objection raised against Christianity and the character of God is, "How can it be fair for God to send people to be punished in hell for all eternity?"


As we said before in an answer to another question, the Bible says that God created hell for Satan and the wicked angels who rebelled against Him. It was not originally created for humans. But because human beings shared the same sin of rebellion, the same punishment assigned to Satan, fell upon them.


St. Thomas Aquinas introduced two terms to explain God’s will towards humans. They are the "antecedent" will and the "consequent" will of God.


Saint Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Dominican friar and an influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of scholasticism. He was born in AD 1224/1225 at Roccasecca, Italy, and died on March 7, 1274, at Abbazia di Fossanova, Fossanova Abbey, Italy.


Aquinas explained the difference between the "antecedent", and "consequent" will of God in this way:


"Hence it may be said of a just judge, that antecedently he wills all men to live, but consequently, wills the murderer to be hanged. In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts."


The argument of Aquinas may be explained in this way. The "antecedent" will of God is His will when He created humans and before they committed sin. God willed that humans would live eternally in the presence of God. But later, humans rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, joining with the devil. "Consequent" to the sin of humans, God willed to save some humans and let others suffer the punishment for sin.


The two words "want" and "will," which we commonly use, also have a similar distinction. If we ask, "Does anyone "want" to go to hell, the answer is a big "no". But if we further ask, "Do people "will" to go to hell, the answer is "yes". None "want" to go to hell, but many "will" to go to hell.


Jesus addressed the people in His day who "willed" to go to hell when He said,


John 5:39, 40 (NKJV)

39 "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.

40 "But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.


God did not give Satan and his followers a second chance to repent and go back to Him. But He graciously granted a second chance to humans to repent of their sins and come back to God. It reveals His love for humans.


John 3:16  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (NKJV)


Practically, people do not go to hell because of Adam’s sin; they go to hell because of their rejection of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. This rejection is their free choice. God actively sends no humans to hell. But he passively let some have their will.


C. S. Lewis, the Anglican layman theologian and writer, stated the matter this way:


"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 chose it."


The co-existence of "human responsibility" and "divine sovereignty" is a mystery that humans cannot comprehend, but it is a biblical truth. By "human responsibility," they are responsible for their choice of hell.


During our lifetime on earth, humans have freedom and opportunities to find God. They have the freedom to accept or reject God. This freedom ends with their deaths. After that, God honours the choices humans make in their lives. He executes human choices for eternity.


In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the soul of the rich man, who is in hades, requests Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family about the dangers of hell. But Abraham said:


Luke 16:31 "But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'" (NKJV).  


In other words, the siblings of the rich man have the Scripture and prophets to warn them about hell. They have the opportunity to repent of their sins. If they don’t believe the scriptures and prophets, no one can unharden their hearts. It is their choice, and they are responsible for it. God passively honours human choice.


The choice between heaven and hell is presented pictorially by Jesus in the following verses.


Luke 13:23, 24 (NKJV)

23 Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?" And He said to them,

24 "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.


Matthew 7:13–14 (NKJV)

13 "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.

14 "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.


In Luke, Jesus asks us to "strive to enter through the narrow gate". He also said that many "will seek to enter and will not be able." The Greek word for "strive" is "agonizomai" (ag-o-nid'-zom-ahee) which means to struggle in such a way to compete for a prize, to fight with an adversary, or to labour fervently. The Greek word for "seek is "zeteo" (dzay-teh'- o) which means to seek, desire, endeavour, enquire, or require.


Those who "strive" "to enter through the narrow gate" struggle hard, as in a competition to win the prize or fighting with an adversary who tries to stop it. Those who "seek" to enter through the narrow gate desire to enter and may put some effort into it. But they are not in a fight to win the prize. This pictorial illustration from Jesus Christ shows how hard it is to inherit the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, "for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it."


In other words, God doesn’t send people to hell. People march into it.


4.    Will those who have never heard of Christ go to hell?


Will those who never even heard of Jesus Christ be cast into hell?


In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he deals with this question. The core theme of the book of Romans is the declaration of the good news about the redemption of humans that God has provided in Christ. Good news is a further declaration about the riches and glory of God’s grace and the extent to which God has gone to redeem us.


In the first chapter of the book, Paul says that from the very first day of creation and through the creation, God has plainly manifested his eternal power, being, and character to every human being on this planet. In other words, every human being knows that there is a God and that he is accountable to God.


Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (NKJV)


Yet human beings disobey God, and hence, they are destined for eternal punishment. All human beings are guilty of rejecting God, whom they know. That means Christ is sent into a lost world that is already on the way to hell. He came to offer salvation from condemnation.


John 3:17 "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (NKJV)


Christ did not condemn anybody, but human beings were condemned already. He came to save humans from the condemnation that was already upon them.


Christ’s coming did not change the status of all humans, but only the destiny of those who accepted salvation through Him. Only "whoever believes in Him" will be saved and have everlasting life.


John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (NKJV)


God never punishes people for rejecting Jesus if they’ve never heard of Him. Humans march to hell, not because they have rejected Jesus. When someone rejects Jesus, he is rejecting the salvation offered by Him. The result is that they will not be saved from condemnation.


Humans are sentenced to hell, not because they have rejected Jesus. All humans are already destined for hell through rebellion against God. So, no one will be able to say on the last day, "I didn’t know that you existed," because God has revealed himself plainly. All humans have sinned against God and incurred His wrath.


The fate of those who die in infancy and the mentally disabled is unclear in the Bible. Many theologians believe that God will make an exception in these cases. God is a righteous God.


During the Old Testament period, it was believed that those who died in fancy would go to heaven. King David expressed this hope when his son died.


2 Samuel 12:23 "But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." (NKJV)


The same may be true for mentally disabled people.


5.    Are there degrees of punishment in hell?


Does hell have different degrees of punishment? There is no clear indication in the Bible of different levels of hell or different measures of punishment. But some theologians believe that there will be different levels of hell. One scriptural passage they quote is Revelation 20:12 and 13.


Revelation 20:12, 13 (NKJV)

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.

13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.


These verses say that the resurrected human beings will be judged "according to their works", "each one according to his works", and "by the things which were written in the books". This may indicate that the "lake of fire" is made up of varying degrees of torment.


A method of executing punishment that would match the crime was established in Mosaic law. This stands as a shadow for things to come in the future.


Exodus 21:24 "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, (NKJV)


The verse does not permit anyone to cause physical harm to another. The principle laid out in this verse is that the punishment should match the crime. It should not be an eye for a tooth or a tooth for an eye. An eye for an eye means that if someone harms another’s eye, the offender must compensate with an equal price. The punishment must match the crime.


Under the Mosaic Law, there were approximately twenty-one or twenty-three sins that deserved the death penalty. Other sins did not deserve the death penalty. So, there’s a distinction in God’s justice in executing the punishment for different crimes. God’s principle will be the same in eternity as well.


The Greek word used for "torments" in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:23 is "basanos" (bas'-an-os). The word "torment" has the notion of going to the bottom, the deepest level of torment. Thus, this narration also indicates that there are different levels of suffering in Hell, and the rich man was experiencing the deepest level of torment.


There are at least twenty-five references in the New Testament that speak of the various rewards in heaven and degrees of punishment in hell. Rewards and punishments will be executed according to the works done on earth.


Every sin is not equally heinous, but all sins are real violations of God’s moral values.


Hebrews 2:2 For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, (NKJV)


So, each individual sin would have the proper consequence. Some sins are greater and deserve greater condemnation.


The following verses from Jesus also indicate the possibility of different levels of punishment in hell.


Luke 12:47–48 (NKJV)

47 "And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.

48 "But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.


But the message of Jesus was not to seek a lower punishment in hell. Even the most comfortable area in hell is unbearable torture.


Last words


In conclusion, let us say that hell is real. No person who denies the existence of hell can be a truly regenerate person. Hell is a place of torment and punishment that lasts forever.


Everyone lives forever. But the locations where they live vary. The righteous, those whose sin has been exchanged on the cross for the righteousness of Christ, will enjoy never-ending bliss in heaven. The wicked are forever subject to the fury and wrath of God in hell. There, they may acknowledge the perfect justice of God but will never escape from it. Those who are in hell will know that their punishment is just and that they alone are to blame. But they will not get another opportunity for salvation.


As Christians, we should strive to rescue people from Satan's control so that they will not be separated from God and sent to a place called Hell.



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