Is Hell Real? - The Basics
People across the world are asking, "Is hell real?" Can there really be a physical location of burning torment and punishment that is spoken of in the Bible? Only three in ten adults (31%) see hell as an actual location: "a place of physical torment where people may be sent."1 This article answers common questions about hell and its existence. Since the Bible is the basis for the doctrine of hell, you will see it addressed and quoted in this material.
Is Hell Real? - Why Was It Created?
The question of why hell exists has perplexed many people through the ages. Countless have asked, "If God is so good, why would He create a place like hell?" This is similar to asking, "If our government is so good, why would it create prisons?" The answer seems simple enough - places like hell and prisons exist because some people will choose to do the wrong thing, and because of that, they need to be punished. It is fairly easy to understand how this reasoning applies to the existence of prisons, but does it really pertain to hell as well?
In the biblical Creation account found in the book of Genesis, no mention is made of a place called hell. Everything that God made during the time of Creation was good. However, the Bible tells us in Matthew 25:41 that hell was later prepared for "the devil and his angels" (see also Isaiah 14:12). God did not create hell for man; it was never His intention that any man or woman should go to hell. In 2 Peter 3:9, we learn that God does not want "anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
What is hell? Hell is a real place. We know this from many verses in the Bible, several of them spoken by Jesus, Himself; and we know that the wicked and unrighteous will go there when they die. So once again, we are back to the main point that God is good, and life in hell is terrible, so why would God create such a place? Even though hell was initially created to hold Satan and the angels that fell with him, there will also be men and women in hell.
Is Hell Real? - Why Does Anyone Go There?
Is hell real? Hell is a place of eternal separation from God, and people go there when they die because they chose to separate themselves from God while living on earth. God created us with the free will to make our own choices, and separating ourselves from God is one of the choices we are free to make. Our free will is a wonderful gift from God in that He does not force us to love Him or to follow Him. Without our free will, we would be nothing but puppets or robots, which does not please God, and certainly does nothing to better our lives.
While God desires that everyone would choose to love Him, some people will choose not to. These people will die in their sins and be separated from God forever in hell. Many would say that this is unfair, and that a loving God would never set up a system such as this; however, it is precisely God's love for us, and the fact that He is perfectly just, that tells us why hell exists, and why men and women will choose to go there. God loves us so much that He respects our freedom of choice. If we choose not to love Him, then why would He want to force us to live with Him eternally in heaven? Wouldn't living for eternity with someone we don't love be hell anyway? God wants to spare those people who don't love Him from having to live with Him and be under His rule for eternity.
Is Hell Real? - Is It Punishment For The Wicked?
The question, "Is hell real?" is answered "no" by a lot of people. These people would like to believe that when we die, we don't go to a heaven or a hell, we simply cease to exist. However, wouldn't a God who sends us into nonexistence at death be just as "cruel" as one who allows us to freely choose our own destiny, which could be hell? Even atheist Friedrich Nietzsche said that he would rather choose eternally conscious suffering than nonexistence.
God's perfect justice also demands that there be a hell to punish the unrepentant and wicked among us. As Walter Martin said about the existence of hell and eternal punishment in his book, The Kingdom of the Cults, "They make much to-do about God being Love but forget that because He is Love, He is also Justice and must require infinite vengeance upon anyone who treads underfoot the precious blood of Christ, who is the Lamb slain for lost sinners from the foundation of the world."
What kind of a loving God would He be if the wicked were never punished? Why would He have sent His Son to die for our sins, if we could reject that redemption and not eventually pay the price? What incentive would we have to do good and love God if we knew we could reject His Son and choose to do evil all of our lives and never be punished? We would not want this lack of justice in the streets of our cities and towns, so why do we expect God to mete it out in the overall universe?
1Survey results from The Barna Group, 1996.