“If you’re going through Hell, just keep going. Don’t turn around. If you’re scared, don’t show it. You might get out before the Devil even knows you’re there.” Some of you might be humming that song right now. It is a catchy little tune with terrible theology. Though Rodney Atkins never claimed to be a theologian, sadly, these words reflect the way many people really do view Hell. We’ve made it into a joke, a punchline, or way to curse our fellow image bearers.
I recently read a work of fiction called “Inferno.” It is a poem by the 14th century poet, Dante Alighieri. It’s part of his 3 volume work entitled, “Divine Comedy.” In “Inferno,” Dante travels through the nine descending circles of Hell. Each level of Hell holds torment for specific kinds of sinners, ranging from gluttons, to thieves, to adulterers, to sodomites. His book paints a vivid picture of how he imagined Hell. Though written as fiction, Dante put forth some surprisingly biblical principles on Hell.
In a way, Dante’s journey through Hell inspired me to go on a journey of my own. I decided to take a close look at what the Bible actually says about Hell. With that end in mind, I looked up every reference to Hell in both Old and New Testaments. I found 54. I wrote out each scripture and what it said about Hell.
In light of Dante’s 9 fictional circles of hell, I want to share 9 biblical facts about Hell.
- Hell is the furthest distance from God. Throughout the Bible, there is an emphasis on it being a pit, of going down or descending into Hell. Hell is described as being low, whereas God and His heaven are always described in terms of ascending, going up, or rising (Deut. 32:2, Job 11:8, Ps 55:15, Is. 57:9). There are a number of verses similar to Psalm 139:8 which imply that even in Hell, God is there. Yet, in that context, again, Hell is still being used to describe the furthest distance from God. His point is not that God is in Hell. The point is that he cannot get away from the presence of God, even in Hell, which would be the furthest one could possibly go from Him. Part of the agony of Hell is the fact that the light of God’s presence is not there. In life, even the most hardened of atheists live out their days under the shared blessings of a benevolent and generous God. They enjoy the pleasures He created. They partake of the beauty of nature. They breathe His air. They use the gifts He has given, and they curse His name and deny His existence. Yet in hell, His absence is agonizingly felt by those who refused to acknowledge His overwhelming presence during their lives.
- Hell is a place of torment. Dante got this right. In his poem he says that he “mourns the wickedness that down there (in Hell) costs so much.” Wickedness is costly. Psalm 116:3 speaks of the “terrors of Sheol” (Ps. 18:5, Lk. 8:31, Lk. 16:23, Mt. 5:22). Hell is described as fire, as darkness, as anguish and gnashing of teeth. It is pain from which there is no relief.
- Hell is the destination of the wicked (Rev 20:15, Is. 5:14, Pr. 5:5, Ps. 55:15, Rev. 21:8). Any sin that was not dealt with at the cross by faith in Jesus will be dealt with in Hell. It will be punished by suffering in Hell, but never atoned for. There is only One whose suffering could atone for sin, and He has been rejected by every soul who has or will enter Hell.
- Hell is never satisfied. “Sheol and Abbadon are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied” (Pr. 27:20). Hell is described as an open throat ready for the wicked to descend into (Is. 5:14). Isaiah 14:9 describes Hell as being excited to meet its guests when they arrive, as if it is hungry for them. Habakkuk 2:5 describes an alcoholic man the following way: “He enlarges his appetite like Sheol, and he is like death, never satisfied.” These passages reminded me of a C.S. Lewis quote from “The Screwtape Letters” where the demon, Screwtape says, “We want cattle who can finally become food. He (God) wants servants who can finally become sons.” The Bible paints a picture of a Hell with an unsatisfiable appetite for the souls of men.
- Hell is no respecter of persons. It does not matter if you were a president or a beggar, in Hell your fate is the same. Isaiah 14 describes kings and leaders descending into Hell and being weak and helpless. All of the pomp and power they had enjoyed in life meant nothing at all once they crossed the threshold of death.
- Hell is worse than death. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus is addressing his followers and addressing the concept of persecution. He says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.” Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. Hell is. Luke 12:15 also describes hell as a fate worse than death. Towards the very end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, John tells us that Death and Hell will be thrown into the lake of fire. He calls this the second death.
- Hell is terrifying. Over and over in throughout the Bible, we hear about the “terrors of hell” (Ps. 116:3). Mark 9:48 describes hell as a place “where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” To experience an eternal death, fire that is not on its way to burning out…worms that gnaw and try to consume, but can’t die, is nothing short of terrifying. I think this is one of the worst aspects of Hell. Even if a person was burned alive, at some point there is the coming relief of death. The torment will be over at some point. But in Hell, time is not passing. There is suffering, but it is not advancing toward anything. It is stillness. Terror and torment that does not advance by one second, as if someone has hit pause on your most agonizing moment and it replays forever. A very sobering event in Luke 8:31 is the story of Jesus casting out a legion of demons from a man who had been possessed. The demons begged Jesus not to send them to Hell. Think about that. We often picture Hell as a place where Satan and demons are tormenting people. Not true. They will actually be tormented there themselves for all eternity right next to those who reject the gospel. If the most terrifying part of the human experience, the demons, are begging Jesus not to send them to Hell, that says a lot about what hell holds for those who end up there.
- Hell is final abandon. In one of the opening scenes of Dante’s “Inferno,” the archway of the gate to Hell is engraved with the following words: Abandon all hope, you who enter here. When I read those words, I stopped and really pondered them. Though they are from a work of fiction, they could be appropriately inscribed over the gates of Hell. No matter how difficult our lives are, we still have hope. We hope that our situation will change. We hope that in time, our grief will lessen. We hope that our relationships will mend. As long as there is life, there is hope. But to be in Hell, is to literally be without hope. It will never change. It will never end. There is no rescue coming. That thought is staggering. As I looked at what the Bible says about Hell, the word “abandon” kept coming up. Several times you hear a child of God (and Jesus Himself) declare that they will not experience “abandon” in Hell. Another way of phrasing this is to be “given over.” Ezekiel 31 describes people who had been exalted on earth but now had been “given over to death…with those who go down to the pit.” The fact that there is a time and a place where God lets go, where He stops holding on, and releases you to judgment, and is not coming for you…that is the point where you abandon hope. That is Hell.
- Hell is full of religious people. Isaiah 5:14 describes Jerusalem and her revelers being devoured by Sheol. You could not find a more religious place than Jerusalem, and yet many of its inhabitants would find themselves in Hell. In Matthew, Jesus tells Capernaum that they would be brought down to Hell. He tells them their judgment will be more severe than that of Sodom.These were devoutly religious people. How could they be condemned to hell? The answer is that though they were religious, they had rejected Jesus. Multiple times in the New Testament, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they will end up in hell (Mt. 23:15,Mt. 23:33). “On that day, many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name and do many mighty works in your name?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Hell is not a joke. It is not a song lyric. It is a reality. There are so many questions playing through my mind as I finish my own journey through scriptures on Hell. What am I going to do with what I have learned. How will this change how I live? If I truly believe what I just researched and wrote, how does that affect how I spend my time? Of all the things I learned about Hell throughout this journey, the most significant and hope-filled fact is that Jesus holds the keys to death and hell (Rev. 1:18). Where we end up forever hinges entirely upon what we do with Jesus Christ. We do not have to experience Hell. Because of Jesus. I pray that we might awaken to the reality of Hell. I pray that we who are in Christ will be bold and share Him. I can’t think of anything more important. I will leave you with a quote I love by Charles Spurgeon that sums up our task as believers in this world. “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”
*My blogs are written with the assumption that they are being read primarily by Christians. If you want to know more about what it means to be a Christian or about the gospel of Jesus Christ, click the link here: The Gospel