Hell is infinite distress.
In the English translation of the Bible's Old Testament, the word Hell normally corresponds to the Hebrew sheol, which was simply the place of the dead. But in the Greek New Testament the word used is either Gehenna (the garbage dump outside the walls of Jerusalem where fires were kept eternally burning to consume the refuse and keep down the stench) or Hades, the Greeks' dark, gloomy underworld. The modern English word appears to derive most directly from "Hel", goddess of the dead in Germanic/Norse mythology. When the Anglo-Saxons later embraced Christianity, the existing word in the language was reused in the new Christian concepts.
According to G. K. Chesterton, Hell is God's great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice. To Christians, Hell is a place where the souls of the wicked are punished eternally for all the sins they perpetrated during their lifetime on Earth. Since all have sinned (Rom 3:23), Hell can not be avoided on one's own merits, but through the love gift of Jesus one can know, love, and serve God and share eternity with Him in Heaven.
Christian and Muslim religious traditions often emphasize the Gehenna aspect: Hell is extremely hot and filled with fire and brimstone. Opinion varies on the question of whether, while Hell itself is eternal, experience of it purges away the sins of sufferers to the point of eventual redemption. See purgatory. A minority of Christians do not believe in an eternal Hell as punishment, believing instead that the souls of the wicked are annihilated. This view, which is directly contradicted by Scripture, is referred to as Annihilationism. Other deniers of Scripture question whether Hell has a literal burning fire, or it is merely separation from God and therefore has the same torment as if there were a burning fire. This view has been supported by writers such as J.P. Moreland, although the Bible clearly contradicts this view and other symbolic interpretations of Hell. In truth, Hell is a real, spiritual place where God is absent and the wicked are punished for their sins.
Hell in the Bible
- Matthew 13:41-42 - The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.'
- Matthew 25:41 - Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
- Matthew 25:46 - And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
- Mark 9:43 - And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into Hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched.
- 2 Thes 1:7-8 - And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Revelation 20:10 - And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
- Revelation 20:14-15 - And death and Hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Atheism and Hell
Atheists often disagree with the Christian belief of eternal punishment in Hell, yet they never explain how justice is accomplished relative to evildoers who escape punishment on earth (see: Atheism and justice). And rather than repent and accept the gospel message, they engage in denialism about their sin and attempt to suppress the truth of God's existence. See also: Atheism and hatred of God
The journalist and ex-atheist Peter Hitchens and fear of hell
The journalist and ex-atheist Peter Hitchens, who is the brother of the late atheist Christopher Hitchens, said upon seeing an art exhibit of Michelangelo's painting The Last Judgment he came to the realization that he might be judged which startled him. This started a train of thought within Peter Hichens that eventually led him to become a Christian.