Will people literally burn in Hell forever?

Will people literally burn in Hell for all of eternity?

C. S. Lewis said that if he could remove anything from Christianity, it would be Hell. I can understand his statement. How could a loving God send billions of His creations to a place where they will be burned alive forever for not believing the right thing? And what about all those people who have never heard of Jesus? It seems rather petty!

Atheists have long used Hell as an argument against Christianity. They argue that it is immoral, because no crime is worthy of infinite punishment. Many Christians would admit they are right. So what are we to say? Will people literally burn in Hell for all of eternity just because they didn’t believe in Jesus?

Some try to answer this by arguing that, no, the Bible actually teaches that people will be annihilated in Hell, that is, they will cease to exist. We will examine this position in detail in a later post, but for now, we will simply note that verses like Rev. 21:8 and Dan. 12:2 make it unlikely. Others believe in a literal Hell, but argue that just rejecting, or being ignorant of, Jesus may not be sufficient for such punishment. Even Billy Graham seems to have taken this approach recently (see video below).

Against this, Jesus said that He is the only way to eternal life (John 14:6) and that unless men believed in Him, they would be condemned (John 3:17-18). So it seems that if we believe the Bible should be taken literally, we must conclude that the Bible speaks of Hell as a real place of eternal torment, however this may offend our senses. But perhaps if we have not stopped to consider the nature of this torment that is the source of our moral confusion.

It is true that the Revelation speaks of a “Lake of Fire” where all unbelievers will be confined forever. It does not immediately follow from this, however, that this fire must be literal. Fire throughout the Bible often speaks of divine judgment (Gen. 3:24; 19:24; Ezek. 10:2; Matt. 3:10; John 15:6, etc.). In Revelation 9:17-18, horses are depicted as riding in judgment with fire coming from their mouths. Maybe the fire speaks of eternal judgment rather than literal flames.

This is strengthened by other Scripture. Isaiah 66:22-24 describes the eternal state of the wicked by saying, “their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (KJV). We still see the picture of fire, but the picture Isaiah presents is not a lake of fire into which people are thrown but of a dump where garbage is destroyed. Jesus also had the concept of a dump in mind when He spoke of the Lake of Fire in passages like Matt. 10:28. He used the word gehenna, which means “The Valley of Hinnom” and referred to a dump outside of Jerusalem where trash was burned.

It seems we have reason for taking the language used to describe the Lake of Fire as symbolic of judgment (just as the language used to describe Heaven probably also symbolic). But this should hardly cause us to think that Hell might not be so bad. The language was chosen to demonstrate the intensity of the torment those cast there will face. Seeing the language as symbolic, though, does allow us to understand better the judgment in light of the broader biblical data.

Both biblically and philosophically, we know that everything that is good comes from God. He is the source of love, kindness, compassion, etc. We know that evil is not a thing in and of itself but is actually a lack of goodness, just as darkness is a lack of light and cold is a lack of heat. We know that all people will be resurrected into physical, immortal bodies at the end of time (Dan. 12:1-2) and that believers will be resurrected to be like Christ (1 John 3:2). How, though, will the wicked be raised? Sadly, it appears that, having rejected God, they will not be raised as He is but as they are, and since all goodness is rooted in God, such people will have no goodness of any kind in them. Even the worst people history has ever known have had the moral law written on their hearts (Rom. 2:14-15). Yet it appears that these people will be totally separated from God—not from His presence, for the Bible says they will be in the presence of Jesus for all eternity (Rev. 14:10)—but from any kind of fellowship with Him. They will be eternally cut off.

Further, Paul says that when we sow into the flesh, we reap corruption (cf. Gal. 6:8; 5:19-21). What is the resurrection except the eternal reaping of what we have sown? Imagine the state these people will find themselves in: an eternity of anger, hostility, hatred, lust, envy, strife, bitterness, terror, and all things evil. They will be completely bent toward themselves. Can you imagine meeting a person who cared only for themselves in the absolute degree?

Their torment will be real and unimaginable, but it will be self-inflicted. Most amazingly, they will blame God forever, since they will have no concept of justice—only their own desires. C. S. Lewis once said, “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.’”

The torment of Hell is literal, even if the flames used to describe them are not. But in examining the nature of the judgment, it is apparent that no other end could be expected. Hell is not a place of justice, where the lost finally get what they deserve. Hell is a place where the lost are kept for, having finally been given completely over to themselves, being what they are.

What are your thoughts on the matter? What do you think an eternity without God and any of His blessings would be like?

10 thoughts on “Will people literally burn in Hell forever?

  1. Scripture I believe is clear that God has a holy and just wrath against sin we can’t minimize hell without minimizing sin and thus minimizing what Jesus did. We need to take scripture as we see it, not letting how we feel about a doctrine rule us. The cross was where God poured all his wrath out on his son so that the whole penalty would be paid. God is being 100% just in condemning sin and he proves his love in condemning his son in our place so we could come to him.

  2. ah, such a big, scary topic for people to comment on. My opinion on the matter goes like this. Our God is a loving God, and He proves that over and over every day in our lives as He has all throughout history. Biblical example after example have been written out for us, not to mention in our own lives and the lives of those around us. For years, I wrestled with the whole idea of “God creating people to go to an eternal hell”. I studied, prayed, asked, thought, etc., and nothing ever felt right in my spirit because I kept getting back to this one fact. Our God is a loving God. So would a loving God create people knowing that some of them would be “sent” to a place of eternal burning? Absolutely not. Period. It simply goes against every thing that we know about our God. I believe that the casting into the lake of fire . . .death, hades, and all that is true. However, I believe the eternal torment relates to an eternal separation from God. I mean think about it. Once a person realizes that everything they denied and refused to believe about God was actually true all along, and now they have been sent to a place where they can never, ever, ever, ever come into fellowship with Him. Weeping . . . gnashing . . . yeah, that makes sense to me. That’s hell. And for the record; God doesn’t sent people there. They went to this separation because they believed there was nothing to be separated from. Get the picture?

  3. There’s the doctrine of hell, and the doctrine of the cross, and one has nothing to do with the other. The cross was necessary for fellowship with God. It’s part of the doctrine we believe by faith when we accept every aspect of Who Jesus is. Since creation, a sacrifice has been required to cover sin and allow us to have fellowship with God. Jesus became the one time sacrifice so that no other will ever be necessary again. Every sin we have ever committed and will ever commit are covered by His sacrifice. What He did on the cross doesn’t keep us from hell. What we “believe” about Him and what He did on the cross is what determines our eternity.

    Hell is eternal separation from God. I have a life app. I used to give away a lot of money until I came to a place in my life where I no longer could. Some time after that, I became the one who was in need of help. The person who helped me financially also helped a number of other people, and I borrowed a good bit of money from him. His only requirement was for me to pay it back when he was old and needed it. Along the way, however, I hurt him . . . not intentionally . . . but it did happen. When I realized what I had done, I asked him to forgive me but he would not. I tried many times to right the wrong but could not. I called him and begged him to tell me anything I could do to make it up and he said that he never wanted to hear from me again and to just put his money in the bank. I was devastated and to this day there is no resolution. As a result, I smile, but am never really smiling. I can find no peace, no joy, and no happiness. The thought of his anger and pain consumes me every day of my life. In the middle of a laugh, I will burst into tears. I pray and ask God to change or soften his heart and to show me how to rectify the situation. So far, nothing has changed, and I live with the constant awareness that at any moment, either of our lives could be over, and there will never be forgiveness and fellowship.

    Imagine now that situation and those feeling magnified a million times over. If I have this kind of pain and agony from the loss of fellowship with one human being, imagine what kind or horror and pain comes from lost fellowship with God with no hope of EVER being able to reconcile.

    God is light. Darkness is the absence of light. Without Him, there is no light. Eternal darkness and hopelessness. That . . . is truly hell.

  4. I don’t know if you can separate the cross from hell cause the cross is where Jesus experienced hell. God’s wrath against sin was poured out on Jesus, that’s what he experienced. His cry was the cry of the damned for us. Sin deserves eternal punishment and that’s what Jesus endured. We do need to be restored to fellowship with God but for that to happen, we must be saved from his wrath.

  5. If there are no consequences for sin and hell is an alternative place to heaven . What was the point of Christ coming to earth.

    We are all born sinners, and without Christ none of us will enter into heaven.

    • Very true, Glenn. Hell may be an “alternative place to heaven,” but it isn’t an alternative anyone would want. With that said, we should note that there are serious consequences for sin, both in this life and the next. As noted in the post, Paul says we reap what we sow, and that surely is an eternal principle. Sin in this life will reap corruption in the next in Hell for the unbeliever for all of eternity.

      It’s a terrifying thought, and one that should drive us to reach as many for Him as we can.

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