Is hell real?

by Nathan Bailey

So, what is hell like? Lots of people think of "hellfire and brimstone" -- a big, burning, hot place smelling of sulphur, overseen by an evil looking dude with a horn-rimmed head and a pointy tail. Others think of it as a cold and slimy place with dungeons looking like something out of a good B-grade horror movie.

Well, I can't speak for the temperature or the decor -- I haven't been there myself, and don't intend to even visit -- but I can tell you that satan is hardly going to be "happy at home" in Hell.

Hell will be just as horrible and unpleasant for satan and his minions as it will for those unfortunate enough not to have a relationship with God. But why will it be so horrible? What could be so bad about it?

Well, the Bible doesn't say too much about the exact nature of Hell (I probably should do a more thorough study and expose' some of the highlights here, but until then...), although it does refer to "the fire of Hell" and "the Pit". I think that it's fair to presume that Hell won't be a pleasant place to be.

But mankind are spirtual beings, not just a mind and human flesh and blood, but a spirit too. And that is the part of us that is eternal - our body will rot away and our mind with it, but the spirit will live forever. So, at least in my opinion, physical pain isn't going to feature too highly in Hell.

Recall for me, if you will, the most special relationship you have ever been in -- how you and your partner joined together to become more than just friends. Something special happened together, and your relationship was rich and bountiful. You enjoyed your time together, and whilst you had the occasional argument, they were always resolved eventually -- you understood each other, loved each other, and that always overcame the problems. You and your partner were together, and nothing could tear you apart.

Now, imagine for me, again, if you will, that your partner is ripped away from you -- you break up in a terrible and tumultuous way. What once was love is now intense hate, and even the site of each other raises despite. All the places where your heart joined with your partners are now hanging like shreds, painful reminders of the way things were, constantly agonising you with a memory of a relationship so special and a unity so true that now is no more.

That, I think, is what Hell is like. We, as mankind, were created by God. He created us to have a relationship with Him -- it's built into our specification. Or, as some like to say, inside everyone there is a God-shaped void, that only God can fill. Once time ends, and our eternal destiny begins, we will all have chosen, forever, what our future will be. For those who end up in Hell, they will experience the pain, the agony of missing the fulfillment that was built into their design.

Like an abscess in a tooth, or an ulcer in the stomach, the void will eat away at them, seeming to ever growing bigger and more painful. Inside, that which only God could fill will never be filled. They have chosen their future, and God could not interfere. And so, their destiny, their Hell, is an eternity without God.

I do not think the physical will be the source of torment, I do not think that God would willingly incur torture on His creation -- and who would propogate/inflict the torture? All who are in Hell will be suffering. No, I think the only true pain of Hell will be that those who are there will not be feeling God's presence -- that the God-shaped void that is so integrated into their being will be so painfully void for all eternity.

Addendum: In more recent times I have given thought to the reason why people go to hell. As I emphasized above, I believe it is much more a choice made by man, rather than God sending man there. More specifically, I believe that our eternal destiny is a consequence of a series of choices in our lives. It's not just that people reject God, and so, by His sense of justice, He is forced to send them to Hell. No, I believe that it is much more tragic than that. I think people willing, knowingly choose hell.

As we go through life, we are constantly confronted with choices which allow us to move closer to God, or to move further away from Him. To move closer is to expose our hunger for truth, and our need for intimacy, our craving to fill the God-shaped void. To move away is to reject any sense of dependence, to embrace complete independance, ignoring any longings for deeper meaning as fulfilled by an outside entity, seeking instead to view and interpret the world solely through one's own eyes.

And so the reprobate choose their own eternal destiny. It is not that they wish for a painful eternity, it is that they constantly work towards a sense of self-definition, apart from God. Each step away from God hardens the heart, leaving it less sensitive to the next probing invitation of His love. Each rejection more firmly embarks the individual on a path apart from God. And so, death comes, and they receive, not some harshly handed out judgement, though judgement may come, but what they have sought for and worked towards all their lives.

In my mind, the true tragedy is not that hell is a place of torment, but that people would choose such a destiny, to willingly desire to be apart from God, when the immeasurable, undescribable, indefatigable love of God continually pursues us, offering us the richest, most meaningful, most fulfilling relationship that we could even begin to imagine.

Further reading

Read about overcoming secret sin, self pity and other essays on Christianity - covering hell, sex, drinking, gambling, smoking and tithing!

© Copyright 1994-2012, Nathan Bailey, All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to print these articles for personal use, in whole or in part, provided the extract references the original URL,, so that people can find the latest version.
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