Summary: Although unpopular in today's culture of tolerance religious pluralism, the doctrine of hell is necessary for Christians and non-Christians.
Is Hell Forever? Perhaps an even more relevant question is whether there really is a hell?
According to a 2003 survey by Barna research,
76% of Americans believe Heaven exists,
71% of Americans believe Hell exists, but only .005 believe that they will be sent there. So, while many people believe that hell is a real place, almost no one expects to go there.
(“The Atlantic Monthly,” January 2004, 46). This confirms what most of us have experienced. Have you ever been to a funeral where the preacher or the family talked about their loved one being in hell? I’ve been to many funerals, some of people who died due to drug overdoses, or people who led very wicked and sinful lives. No matter how notorious the person, the loved ones always say, “he’s in a better place.”
It is difficult to talk about the reality of hell because we all have unsaved friends and loved ones who have died without professing that they knew the Lord. But when thinking about eternity, we must remember that we do not control people’s destiny. While it brings us great comfort when we know that a person has professed Christ as their Savior, ultimately their destiny is between them and the Lord. By the same token, we don’t know whether or not someone whom we think is not a Christian might have put theri faith in Christ just before death. I illustrate this with a man whom I know that was lost at sea and realized that he would likely die. When this realization hit him, the first thing that he did was give his heart to Christ. Fortunately, he was rescued and lived to tell his story, which serves almost as a “back from the dead” story. I wonder how many others who heard the gospel put their trust in Christ when they sense the oncoming dread of death. We will only know this when we are with the Lord. At that time we will trust him completely for his mercy and grace.
No one would want another person to spend eternity in hell, not even their worst enemy.
All Christians, regardless of their theological view on hell, wish that it were possible for everyone to go to heaven. CS Lewis expressed it this way: “It is proper to wish that all will be saved. I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully, ‘all will be saved’” (CS Lewis, as quoted by J. I. Packer in Hell on Fire, 174).
But then we come to passages like Revelation 20:11-15
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
“And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.” (Revelation 19:20, ESV)
This, and many other passages reveal that hell is real, and that it’s condition is one of eternal, conscious suffering.
The idea of ETERNAL CONSCIOUS SUFFERING is difficult to comprehend, especially in our day of post-modern thinking, inclusiveness, tolerance and acceptance of “anything goes.”
SOME seek a theological way out. The two most prominent views that provide a seeming “way out” of the biblical teaching on hell are:
UNIVERSALISM, espoused by Rob Bell, Joel Osteen, and others. This view teaches that in the end, everyone will be given a chance and will choose to be saved and will spend eternity in heaven.
The second view is ANNIHILATION, which teaches that sinners will be judged byt the Lord and then their existence will end. They believe that mortals do not possess an eternal soul at birth, and that only those who become Christians will live forever. Clark Pinnock and John Stott are two prominent theologians promoting this view.
Both strain to find biblical evidence to support their view.