Does Hell Really Exist?

At some point anyone who studies the Bible or takes religion seriously must grapple with the doctrine of hell. We make light of it in general today. We tell people to “go to hell.” We say things like “I would rather go to hell then Heaven, that’s where the party is.” The concept of hell has entered into popular media in one way or another through movies and television. But what about the real teaching from the Bible? What has God actually told us about hell? When we take the time to look we find that it is often quite a bit different than what has made it into popular culture.

On it’s face, the concept of hell can appear to be extremely unfair. After all, how many non-Christians have asked the question, “If you can’t get into Heaven without Jesus, what about all the thousands of people in foreign countries who have never been exposed to the Bible?” Now this is a good and thoughtful question. Any time a claim of exclusivity is made, people will ask the question “why?” Keeping in mind that I think the number of people in the world who truly have never heard one bit about Jesus is smaller than we think, the answer to this question exists in the book of Romans in the New Testament.

Romans chapter 2:12 says, “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.”** God does not hold people accountable to a law or standard to which they have never been exposed. This would in fact be ridiculous, and the people protesting the question about Jesus above would be rightly justified. In fact we see that God provides enough of His light to everyone, that they are able to freely accept or reject Him based on that level of knowledge they possess. If someone who grew up in Iraq all of his life, where the Bible is illegal, chooses to follow the light (or level of knowledge) he has been given to its fullness of truth, he will end up at Jesus Christ.

You will note here the last part of that Bible scripture in Romans 2:16, “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” It is true that no one comes to God except through Jesus. What we need to keep in mind is that we (as human beings) don’t know exactly how Jesus saves everyone. We must keep in mind though, that the examples I have been giving above relate to people who have little or no access to the truth of the Bible proper. You and I who live in America, are without excuse. There is a church on every street corner, a Bible in every hotel room. We are spoiled beyond belief because we have 24-hour access to the fullness of truth; and we can know with confidence that we are going to Heaven if we accept Christ and turn away from our sins.

If we are honest about it, when we read the revelation of God to mankind through the words of Jesus in 1st century Palestine, we must accept that there is an actual place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” If such a place did not exist, but Jesus still emphatically warned us about it many times in the New Testament, then God would either be a liar, or a prankster of the worst kind. No, I’m afraid we must take Him at his word. So then, how would this God that we have established as a fair and righteous judge only a few paragraphs ago, send any of His creation to this place? He doesn’t. People that end up there choose inwardly to go. By this I mean that at any and every point they must reject what knowledge about God that they have been given. Consider an example below of someone who would theoretically be in danger of hell. This is a fictional example, but we will name him Jeff for purposes of teaching.

Jeff is a typical American in many respects. He has a decent job, he is a hard worker, he loves his family and his kids. But he doesn’t abide by church at all. In fact, if his friends mention God he delights in arguing with them that there is no real reason to believe in the existence of an all-powerful creator. When Jeff was younger he was exposed to the teachings of Jesus and the gospel, but decided that he would rather live his own life, his own way. In effect he thought, “God you stay out of my life, and I will stay out of yours.” This rejection is totally Jeff’s own choice. God has given him chance after chance, to which Jeff has shrugged his shoulders and ignored the truth. It isn’t that Jeff is a “bad person” in the cultural sense. All of us do some things that are good, and some things that are less than good. No, Jeff’s problem is that he has rejected that light that God has given him. He knows the 10 commandments, he realizes that he breaks some of them from time to time… but hey, who doesn’t – right?

What Jeff needs to understand is that God has provided a way for him (and us) to be saved under grace. That way is through Jesus Christ, and Jeff is missing it. But worse than just ignoring it, he is rejecting it. This is one way – and I think a common way – that a person can end up in hell. This is why it is important for practicing Christians to conscientiously have discussions with non-believers that put them outside of their comfort zone. We have been given the roadmap to Heaven, we must share it.

But as C.S. Lewis mentions, it is okay to think and talk about the examples of Jeff and people like him as an exercise for learning. We use terms like fairness and unfairness, but I think these words lose their thrust when we realize that the ENTIRE human race is born with a sin nature, and if God were truly being "fair" (instead of offering us grace), He would be justified in condemning everyone.  But more important than this is to consider where you and I stand on the issue of Jesus. Have you accepted or rejected your own gift of salvation from God?

** Keep in mind that regarding the Bible, when you read the term “law”, it means God’s law handed down to Moses (i.e.: the 10 commandments). Not the law of government, which can change based on whoever is in power at the time.


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