Sabbath Ramblings: Hell.

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In my recent article about what exactly happens when you die, I'm afraid I may have finished quite abruptly in a bit of a cliffhanger—if you will pardon the pun. If you recall, or if you go back and read that article, you will see that, while I described what passage into the eternal afterlife will be like after departing one's physical body, and how one's eventual resurrection to live forever in a new heaven and new earth will manifest for those who believe in Jesus and have cast their burdens upon him…

…I didn't exactly explain what happens when you die if you don't believe.

Ah, so am I about to answer the classic “So you're saying I'm going to hell if I don't believe the way you do?” question?

Not exactly. Whether or not you are going to heaven or hell is between you and God. I'm not here to judge you or judge the answer to that question. It's not my role or responsibility.

But in this article, I would like to at least clear the air about how things will actually be, well, down there, which seems quite a logical next step since I've talked so much about Jesus's journey to hell as part of his Hero's Journey, what heaven will be like, and what death will be like.

Heck (sorry, I did it again), I'd be remiss not to address this topic. After all, if you were giving a friend directions to get to a restaurant, and you knew that one road led to the parking lot, but a second road ended at a broken bridge over a dark chasm, you probably wouldn't just tell them about the safe road. Instead, you would likely mention the existence of and warn them of the dangerous, wrong road.


What Will Hell Be Like?

One of the most well-known descriptions of hell comes from the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent.

In it, hell is described as a “most loathsome and dark prison in which the souls of the damned are tormented with the unclean spirits in eternal and inextinguishable fire. This place is called gehenna, the bottomless pit, and is hell strictly so­-called.”

This description is most likely derived from the words of Jesus in Mark 9:43, in which Jesus says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.” Gehenna was the Greek name for a valley southwest of Jerusalem, where pagan sacrifices occurred, including the burning sacrifice of children. In Jesus’ time, Gehenna was a garbage dump where trash from the city was continually burned. Thus, Hell is associated with a place of perpetual fire and pain.

But Jesus thought of hell as far more than just an evil trash-heap. Let's look at how Jesus viewed hell, since he spoke quite often about hell… more, in fact, than any other character in the Bible, and in quite bleak terms—and also, as a deity and the son of God, possessed a knowledge of hell that surpassed anything any mortal human might have.

In passages such as Matthew 10:28, Matthew 13:40~42 and Mark 9:43~48, Jesus not only referred to hell as a real place, but also described it in quite graphic terms, including as an eternal fire that burns but doesn’t consume, a never-dying worm that slowly eats away at the damned, and a lonely, all-enveloping darkness with complete separation from God the Father.

Jesus also says in Matthew 8:12 that sinners “will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”, and in his parable of Lazarus and Abraham refers to an uncrossable chasm that separates the wicked in hell from the righteous in Paradise. Luke 16:19~31 says:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“O, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

This passage implies that those in hell will not only suffer terribly, but will also remain entirely conscious and able to feel intense pain, able to retain their memories of life on earth, long incessantly for relief from their loneliness and pain, will never find comfort, cannot escape, and have lost any semblance of hope.

Again, it's important to understand that this fire and darkness is eternal, and not a temporary punishment or eventual “burning away” of one's sins, after which one is free to go. After all, in Matthew 25:46, Jesus says, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life”, Revelation 20:10 tells us of Satan being cast into a lake of fire and “tormented day and night forever and ever”, and Revelation 14:11 says, “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.”

Compared to accepting God's free gift of salvation, and simply believing in the deity, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (something so simple that a child can do it) this picture of hell that Jesus painted is quite bleak indeed—but it really isn't even the worst of hell.


Will There Be Different “Levels” Of Hell?

Before telling you what the worst part about hell will be, there is one question that I need to address, because I think it's important: the question of whether or not there will be differing degrees of torment or intensity in hell.

For the answer to this question, we can once again turn to the Bible.

In Luke 12:47–48, we are told, “That servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating.” 

Then there's Matthew 10:15, which says, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”

And in Matthew 11:21–22, it says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.”

Finally, Romans 2:4–5 tells us, “: “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath.”

Each of these passages implies that there will not only be greater and lesser amounts of suffering in hell, but in the same way that we can lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven here on earth (Matthew 6:20), we can also accumulate a greater intensity of wrath poured down upon us in hell, when, as Romans 2:5 says, “God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” I can't say I know exactly what that will look like, but, rest assured, these sections of Scripture do indeed indicate that sinners will be punished according to the magnitude of their sinful deeds and unbelief.


The Worst Part About Hell

But the intensity of the levels of suffering, the consciousness, the ability to feel pain, the memories of life past, the longing for relief, the inability to ever escape, and souls burning alive for eternity of hell are not the worst parts about hell.

There is indeed, in my opinion, one primary reason for which we should most greatly fear eternal damnation.

See, the chief punishment of hell is, as 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says, “…eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.” The Greek word for destruction used here is an interesting choice. It does not mean annihilation, which as nonexistence could technically not refer to an eternal disappearance, but rather refers to the loss of everything worthwhile. In 1 Corinthians, Paul used this same word to speak of the devastating temporal consequences of sin. Here, Paul uses the word to refer to the eternal consequences of sin: a penalty that is not annihilation, but rather eternal separation from the love of Christ.

This means eternal separation from the source of love itself, and a place of extreme loneliness the complete opposite of the glorious union with God that I describe here. Rather than the popular cartoonish portrayal of a Vegas-esque “party of sinners,” hell—also in a manner completely opposite of the fellowship, reunion, laugher, relationships and happiness I describe here—is actually a place where you are cut off from everybody, every friend, every family member, every loved one, every pet, every possession, and most importantly, God.

This amount of loneliness, combined with no hope, no good, no beauty, no pleasure, no satiation, no satisfaction, and complete, eternal separation from the source of all light and love should be terrifying to you. It means an eternity of solo darkness, separated from all humanity and from all that is true, good, and beautiful. Considering the hidden killing epidemic that loneliness is here in our mortal life, that amount of complete darkness and separation should, well, scare the hell out of you.

As C.S. Lewis so succinctly says in his book The Problem of Pain, which is an excellent treatise of why God would allow his creation to suffer pain in the first place, “To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being on earth; to enter hell is to be banished from humanity.”

Finally, as to why on earth God would have even invented such a concept as eternal damnation in the first place, which I'm sure you must be wondering or have wondered at some point, I'd like to acknowledge and quote @jamie_wagner7 on Instagram who shared this excellent thought on the matter in response to my death post there on Instagram from last week.

Here's what he had to say:

“…I struggled with the concept of eternal damnation for a LONG time (I think most people do). What has really helped me is to study and focus on the Holiness of God. When we can begin to see God for Who He really is, we start to see ourselves as we really are—sinful, utterly depraved. Part of God’s holiness is that He is just; He HAS TO judge sin. It is His mercy and grace that He put that judgement upon Christ and then He gives each of us a choice: either see our sin for what it is (an affront to the Holy God), our need for a Savior, and choose to be IN Christ (accepting the forgiveness offered because of His sacrifice) OR be judged ourselves for our sin. That’s what eternal damnation is—people who did not choose to have their sin judged in Christ but to be judged themselves. It’s eternal separation from God because He’s not going to force somebody to spend an eternity with Him if they don’t WANT (i.e. choose) to…”


Summary

So there you have it.

Hell is loneliness.

Separation.

Eternal suffering.

And completely necessary as an integral part of God's perfect and holy character and our own utter depravity.

I'm afraid I can't paint it any differently than that.

Yes, it's quite sobering to think about. But there's hope. As Randy Alcorn, author of Heaven writes, “For Christians this present life is the closest they will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to Heaven.” In other words, for those who believe in Jesus, you're about as close now as you'll ever get to experiencing hell. But for those who do not believe, the loneliest moment you've ever experienced in your life comes nothing close to what you'll experience for an eternity in hell, completely separated from your Creator.

What about you? What do you think hell will be like? Have you experienced a taste of union with God here on earth, and found it to offer just a tiny glimpse of what could happen if that intense feeling of joy, satisfaction, connection, and hope completely disappeared for all eternity? Sadly, many do not embark upon the narrow road to Heaven, but fortunately, the steps to begin down that road are simple. Just believe. Feel free to leave your comments, questions, and feedback below. I read them all.


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17 thoughts on “Sabbath Ramblings: Hell.

  1. B says:

    Fr. Ripperger, an exorcist near Denver, dedicated a few of his Youtube videos to this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRWXvwUxRlM

    What he has learned through his learning and interactions at work add much insight. It is not pleasant, but is important to hear and know.

  2. Ann marie says:

    Loved your summary and how well you quote the Bible, good for you talking about it.

  3. Gwenn Case says:

    I can see all of this, very well written. Here is my dilemma..my Mom died of pancreatic cancer in 2009. In the weeks leading up into her last days, she told me that I had to “give it all to God”. This sounds relatively easy, however it leaves me confounded. How? How do you hand it over? I live with guilt from all the stupid things I’ve done in life, I’ve asked for forgiveness, many times in prayer. But it haunts me, like a heavy weight on my shoulders. Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you for all of your insight, always enjoy learning from you.

    1. It's very simple. You just say this prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.

  4. Athena Blitz says:

    The explanations of the scripture Ben sites are are just his opinion… much scripture is symbolic in its meaning and a “life” or “death” without god imparts the idea pain, suffering and desolation. Eternal suffering was never god’s original purpose for man. Surprisingly Ben didn’t mention Ecclesiastes 9:5-
    For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
    I believe the scriptures indicate that god’s original purpose stands. Those who live a scriptural lifestyle will eventually gain that. Those who don’t, will die. Eternally apart from any loved ones and that paradise regained. That is just my opinion from years of bible study. I do not profess to lead a Christian lifestyle. Anyone can twist the scriptures to say just about anything they want it to. So full of symbolism, hidden meaning and human error. But anyone who believes he’ll is really hot- c’mon people! Wake up and smell the truth!

  5. James says:

    Ben, have you read the book “Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus”?

  6. Noelle Holmes says:

    I’m so glad you have added Christian Faith to your already impressive teachings on wellness- there really can be no “well” without it.💕

  7. Olivia says:

    Wow, Ben!! What an amazing article! So well-studied and well-written. Thank you and may God continue to be glorified through you.

  8. Robert Nelson says:

    Ben, I’m sorry man but when you die your conscious experience is over. There is no evidence or even good reason to believe in Iron Age fantasy. You’re only referenced proof is the Bible which does not constitute evidence.

    I want to believe in a heaven and a god but if he is up there he is silent and very cruel.

    I just try and enjoy my life for what it is. I don’t want to waste this time imagining an afterlife and missing what’s in front of me.

    Good luck on your journey

    1. James White says:

      Amen!!

    2. James Turner says:

      I agree with you Robert Nelson. At 70 years young, I am very healthy and happy. One life is enough for me. Ben and others can believe whatever they want.

  9. I’d like to share the Jewish view on hell. Firstly, I have a great deal of respect for Christianity. The sadness my friends feel for me, as a Torah-believing Jewish man who doesn’t follow Jesus, proves to me how much they love me and wish for me the best for eternity. It is these friends, who I think exemplify the great love that Christianity can and has imparted to the world. They also hope and pray for me daily and who can complain about someone praying for you :) I pray for them also, not for a heavenly destination which any biblically living Christian would automatically qualify for, but for them to see God’s hand in every event in their life and my prayer that it always be in an overtly sweet way.

    Firstly, Judaism is not primarily a religion of salvation, but one of redemption as the great Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks OBM, described as the “life we share as fellow citizens under the sovereignty of God.” Secondly, we also don’t believe in the concept of original sin. While we believe that Adam and Eve sinned, we don’t feel that we carry that sin with us and that we are not depraved. The world needs correction, that is for sure, but we believe we are born pure and that as Moses so eloquently stated in Deuteronomy 30:10-14 that we have the ability to transcend almost anything on an individual basis, for God and the path to Him is much closer than we realize. We do believe in what is called the yetzer hara, which is often translated as an evil inclination which can and does lead us to sin, but through following what Moses has to say in the above Torah section, we can turn about and repent which my teachers always described as the 3 step process of regret, remorse, and resolve.

    The Jewish concept of hell is not eternal. We believe hell is more like God’s washing machine. How long (though time isn’t experienced the same as it is here) you might be there is for how much cleaning your soul needs from its sojourn on earth. It is also painful to see what you could have achieved and to understand fully and feel the damage you may have done in your life. Death can be very traumatic for the soul for someone overly engaged and identified with the physical. In these cases, death itself is more painful than necessary and then one must undergo cleansing, but once the cleaning is done, you go to a much better place and are capable of receiving and enjoying the light and presence of God. For those who lived a Godly life immersed in charity, meditation, study, and love, our holy books describe the transition as “easy as plucking a hair from a glass of milk.” For those who never worked towards understanding and caring for their souls, it is understandably a hard transition. No matter every year on the anniversary of your death, your soul undergoes an elevation, we believe that the power of a good deed and growth achieved while alive exceeds any after death, so our prayers for loved ones who have passed and performing charitable acts in their name, we can help push them a little higher and little closer to God than would normally take place. Today, as I write this, is one of the 4 days of the year that we recite Yizkor, the prayer for the dead in the hope that our charitable works and prayers help to further them towards the light of God.

    Obviously this whole process can be mitigated quite substantially, by working on your soul, regretting and if possible correcting the mistakes you have made, having resolve to not repeat them, and to know you have a heavenly Father who in His compassion will meet you much more than half way to help you with the process. Much respect to Ben and all who are open about their faith and their path! I’ve never felt that one should shy from talk of religion (politics I avoid like the plague) as those who have faith in an Almighty God no matter the religion, have much more in common than they think.

    1. Thanks Jonathan…I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. Blessings.

    2. Matthew says:

      Jonathan, your description of hell and God, I believe, is closer to what the Orthodox Christians believe than the Protestant or Catholic Christians. I have recently converted from Protestantism (for 26 years) to Orthodoxy and have been practicing for about 2.5 years (now I am 29). The concept of eternal damnation and suffering is hard to reconcile with a loving God, for sure. And so, it is my opinion that things are more than what they seem at first glance.
      The image of God is within us, that is, the image of love. Therefore, we should all have somewhat of an understanding of love, although it could be distorted due to our inclinations to the passions and sin. But if there be anyone on earth who is actually fine with the idea of an eternal punishment of pain and suffering as the consequence of sin—no matter how small—must, in my opinion, use a great deal of cognitive dissonance or blind faith for such a reconciliation. Yes, the Bible does seem to offer some gruesome images to those who do nothing believe, but, as I said, there is more to this than we think—so I think.
      First, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is one of the only parables that Christians like to take literally. No other parable or illustration from Christ is taken with such a literal understanding. Christians take every aspect of that parable to mean precisely what Jesus said, when, quite uncharacteristically, they allow for more metaphorical interpretations for all of Christ’s other parables. Take the descriptions of the chasm, the burning, and the inability to cross the chasm. The chasm, many Christians think, depicts a literal chasm, separated by space. If this is so, then our relatives (who are burning in hell) are only yards away in agony, and we can see them and speak to them! Wouldn’t a metaphorical chasm be a more realistic interpretation? Hell is created in the hearts of every person. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “…the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Would it be appropriate to also say that the chasm between Heaven and hell also cuts through the heart of every person? Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21). Wouldn’t it also follow that the Kingdom of darkness is as well? In my opinion, the chasm that separated the rich man from heaven was not any physical or spacial or even insurmountable construct, it was the chasm within his own heart. Listen to his words, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” Then Abraham goes on to say that it is impossible for those where he (Abraham and Lazarus) are to go where he (rich man) is and vice versa. Perhaps it is impossible not because God fixed a chasm, but because the heart of the rich man was fixed.
      Sidebar: I don’t think there is another parable where Jesus gives a name to his characters. Lazarus (Christ’s friend) was interestingly the man who Jesus actually did raise from the dead, which contrasts Jesus’s parable when the rich man asks for Lazarus to be raised and is denied.
      Second, perhaps the separation is not an involuntary separation. See that the rich man in hell still did not ask to be brought to heaven. See how he still did not want to take responsibility for what he did in life or felt remorse. He asked Lazarus to do something for him that, perhaps, only he could have done for himself. The only way, again perhaps, to rescue oneself from the clenches of hell is to look at why and how one’s own self was responsible for putting them there. Again, this is all speculation. But all I hope to do here is to open up people’s interpretation. There are other equally valid interpretations of this parable as well as the other scriptures that talk about hell that do not end in a vast majority of people born going to eternal suffering. That is all.
      Forgive me brothers and sisters if I misled anyone or if I caused anyone to doubt.
      I appreciate your article Ben. I’ve listened to you for many years and have been keenly interested in the things that you’ve shared about physical well-being, mental and emotional well-being, and now spiritual well-being. Thank you.

  10. Jeff says:

    Great commentary Ben – – well done! I both enjoy and applaud you’re bold Christian stance. I especially enjoy the podcast where are you apply theology to every day life. Your life experiences as a warrior and extreme athlete how is uniquely equipped to you in the ministry you are now engaged in. I’ve always loved your take on health fitness, biohacking etc. however, putting your experiences in real world knowledge through the grid of the eternal adds dimension and power that is truly supernatural and a blessing to others. Keep up the great Work! :-)

    1. Jeff says:

      Please excuse the typos in the previous comment. Voice dictation on my iPhone many times comes up short… :-)

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