What’s the Hell?

By: Jason Wermuth
Saturday, June 5th, 2010


Many people talk about it, but there are so many visions of hell today that it is hard for the average Christian to know what to believe.

Is there a hell?

Well scripture certainly seems to give the impression that there is some sort of eternal punishment for those who reject Christ. But what is hell?

In Greek, there are really two main terms that are translated “Hell,” Gehenna, which is language of a lake of fire and Hades, which is reminiscent of the Hebrew term Sheol and really is more of a reference to the place of the dead, a pit or simply a grave. So first, when one reads their English translation of the Bible, it is hard to know, when reading the term “Hell,” if it is a reference to Hades or Gehenna. The difference does seem to matter. In this video, N. T. Wright talks about Hell from his perspective. I will use this as a point of departure. Watch the video and then meet me on the other side:

This post is not my attempt to explain Hell. I would actually like to know what you think about hell. Is N. T. Wright “right” that hell has been blown up into the fiery, eternal place of punishment by the western church? Is Hell as Wright says, “what happens when human beings say to the God in who’s image they are made, ‘We don’t want to worship you’?” Is it adequate to say the Hell is the “progressive shrinking of human life?”

Using some of the commonly held beliefs about hell as examples, do you believe that hell is

1. A literal burning lake of fire where unbelievers will burn for eternity;

2. A metaphorical reality whereby one will suffer as if s/he were burning for eternity, but really it is more of a separation from God with no literal fire;

3. Hell is actually an annihilation of the soul, a total destruction of the person (the second death);

4. All persons will be saved at the end (this is what Origen believed);

5. There is no hell;

6. Other…

I leave the explanations to you. What is hell? How do you justify your belief?

Tags: , , ,

Jason Wermuth
This entry was posted by on Saturday, June 5th, 2010 at 5:00 am and is filed under Biblical Studies, Theology, Worldview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

13 Responses to “What’s the Hell?”

  1. Jeff Doles says:

    I understand hell more along the lines of the Eastern Orthodox (or at least, what I understand their view to be), that hell is being unprepared for the glory of God. I blogged about this early last year: “The Light of Heaven, the Fire of Hell” http://www.thefaithlog.com/2009/01/light-of-heaven-fire-of-hell.html

  2. Jeff, that is a very interesting perspective. I see being unprepared for the glory of God as the reason one is in hell, but what is hell like? What is the biblical vision of hell? I will check out your blog entry on this for the answer to those questions.

    Thanks for the reply.

  3. David says:

    I think Hell is that place where the seed which has refused to “fall to the ground & die (to self)” will remain, for an eternity, abiding ALONE.

  4. Andrea Dankone-Barna says:

    As I read the above questions I felt a very strong stirring inside of me. I feel these are so important questions and so many of us really don’t dare to face them, to look into our own hearts to see what we really believe the answers are for them. I don’t pretend to understand it all, to have all the answers. What I know is that I have been on this quest for 17 years -I was born again exactly 17 years ago today – seeking the Lord about these questions myself. I have received some understanding, have lived through some terrible/awesome experiences that have helped me see a little bit more clearly.

    Since I was born and raised in the communist Hungary I was never exposed to “religion.” I met the Lord in a supernatural encounter in 1993. I have been married for 19 years and my beloved husband is not saved yet. With seventeen years of intercession and tears for him already behind me having a clear understanding of hell and salvation has a great importance to me. I have led so many to the Lord during this time… nevertheless I cannot give up.


    If hell is the place for sinners than maybe first we have to look at what sin is.

    At this point I would like to share with you my “salvation” experience. It happened in June 1993. I was teaching at a high school in Hungary at that time. One of my co-workers invited me to a “cool place.” I loved this lady, we were/are friends. We had never talked about God before this invitation. I did not ask her what that “cool place” was and she did not give me more information. I had no idea that we were going to church. Church was connected anyway in my mind with certain buildings and forms. We went to another school next day. When we entered the cafeteria of the school I saw some 100 people standing and singing. But as soon as I entered the place something happened. I was taken into another dimension. I KNEW I was standing in the presence of GOD. I “saw” Him and just kept saying:” Yes, You are REAL! You ARE! “ I was shaking, sobbing unconditionally. I really don’t remember anything around me. I was lost for hours in His Presence but it seemed only moments to me. The only thing I heard at the end of the service was the Pastor say: ”If you have never surrendered your life to God NOW is the time to do it!” The next moment I was standing before all the people repeating the words of the Pastor, although I did not understand what I was doing.

    You see, it wasn’t even about my sins. I didn’t know that I had to get saved because of my sins. I repented of THE sin, the root of all sin. I knew that until then I lived a life completely ignorant and independent of the living God. In that moment I knew He must have me, my life, completely. I belong to Him, He has all the right for me. I did not want to live another moment apart from Him!

    God put His axe to the root of all sin: my independence, my self-life. He became my King, and I surrendered to His Kingship fully. Yes, later I learnt His name, I learnt about my sins. Since then I have a burning desire to get rid of all of them. I passionately hate them, because they hurt Him, they separate Him from me. And they hurt me, separate me from Him too.

    So in this sense hell is a place where there are souls who are unwilling to accept His Kingship, His rule in their lives. They choose self, independence.

    The scripture says that Jesus is” the desire of the nations” they just don’t seem to know this!

    NKJ Haggai 2:6 ” For thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; 7 ‘and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.

    I wonder how guilty I am in their ignorance or even in their rejection of Him? How guilty are we, the Church, His Body? By His grace I saw Him in His glory 17 years ago. But to many I am/we are the only Christ they can see and encounter. Do I/we represent Him really the way I am/we are supposed to so that when the nations see Him in me/us they could be drawn to Him? Sela…


    Several years later I had another experience that taught me a lot. As I was worshiping Him one day I was “caught up” in the Spirit and was literally standing before Him, before His Judgment Throne, in His Glory. In His light I saw myself. It was a terrible experience. I saw my filth, I saw my sins, I knew I was rotten to the very core of my being. Even my DNA was full of sin. It wasn’t just some “filthy rags” you could throw off. If I wanted to get rid of all of it I would have stopped existing. There would have nothing left of me. I knew I deserved hell. I WANTED to go there. Jesus did not say a word, just looked at me with His beautiful, loving eyes, arms ready to embrace.

    But there was also a little thought in me. “You died for me! You have paid the price for me! I have accepted Your sacrifice! I have given you my life. I love You!” In the light of my condition these thoughts seemed so presumptuous I can’t even tell you! I felt just to think these thought was sin. Yet, they were just as much engraved in me as my sins. They did have power and served as an anchor, keeping me there. These two forces, I felt, were tearing me apart. The pain was so intense that it is hard to describe. I wished I could have just stopped existing. On one hand I was ready to go to hell, away from His Presence, from this pain and burning. I knew because of my sins I deserved hell, to be separated. And I would have done anything to stop the pain. On the other hand this little thought about what He did on the Cross for me was keeping me there. I longed for Him with my whole being. After what seemed to be a whole eternity He had mercy on me. The Lord came down to me, embraced me, and finally all the pain was gone.

    When we are truly born again the Cross, the revelation of it becomes our anchor. It must be engraved into our deepest parts. A mental agreement cannot keep us safe when we will stand before Him. He does not send anyone to hell. We choose hell, we go there freely.

    NAS Hebrews 6:19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, 20 where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

    NAS Micah 7:9 I will bear the indignation of the LORD Because I have sinned against Him, Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me out to the light, And I will see His righteousness.

    When He came down and embraced me He “executed justice for me.” I truly belong to Him because of the Cross and my surrender to His reign in my life. I saw His righteousness manifesting not just in Him but in me too!

    NAS 2 Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

    I can see that those who are not born again, who don’t have this anchor inside of them, they cannot remain in His Presence. And heaven is full of His Presence.


    How much I wish! And I know this is God’s desire too!

    NKJ 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance,

    For a long time when my understanding of His nature and heart was still very lacking and distorted ( of course it is still lacking and distorted… but more clear than ever before) I used to wrestle with God so much… If my children were sick and they needed to take a medicine to stay alive I would even force it into them, no matter how they protest… “Why don’t You just show Yourself to everyone and when people see You with their own eyes, then they would surely surrender to You?!” But now I understand that the matters of the heart are so much more complicated and so harder to deal with them! Can any human being reject Jesus when they see Him? My answer is yes. I can see Him with my natural eyes and still be blind, but because the eyes of my heart are blinded, I am unable to see who He is.

    NKJ 2 Corinthians 4:3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

    NAS Ephesians 1:18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

    We need to see Him with the eyes of our heart. And God has called us to open the eyes of those around us: as we live in Him, as we pray, wage spiritual warfare for them, gradually light will enter their minds and heart, the grip of the darkness will weaken, until their will become so free one day that, they will be able to choose Him, to SEE Him. If we followed His directions, if we truly laid down our lives for those around us, God would be able to fight a much more intense fight for everyone still lost. But He needs us. As I look back on these 17 years of my fight for my husband and see His steps, I see His wisdom as we move forward together. Little changes year after year. I am filled with more hope than ever before! And I am more in need to have my heart enlarged, to be enabled to love more, than ever before!

    NAS Acts 26:16 ‘But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’

    NAS John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.


    Before hell I would like to look a little bit at heaven itself.

    When we die, physical death is not able/doesn’t have the power to change/alter the condition of our spirit and soul. If we did not have any connection to God we won’t have that even in the invisible world. We go to hell. But if we have been born again once then we will go to heaven, we will stand before Him. We had a foundation laid down for us in Jesus Christ but we will have to give an account of what we built on this foundation. In His light we will see light, and our God is all-consuming fire.

    NAS 1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.

    At that time the wheat will be separated from the chaff. Of course we don’t have to wait so long, the Lord prefers to do this while we are still on the earth. If we desire His judgments now we won’t be judged like this then. It is so much less painful to go through the fire step by step, here, than having to go through it all at the same time. As His judgments remove the wood, hay, straw they also clear the foundation for real building. Through His judgments we are healed, restored, built up that now He could use us in building and governing His Kingdom on the earth.

    Our reward in heaven is based on what we have built. And we cannot build anything apart of Him. Our building, life stands if we have drawn close to Him, if we have become like Him. I believe there are realms/regions in heaven that correspond to the state of our soul when we get there. Just as close we are to the Lord here, on the earth, we are going to be so close to Him in heaven. If I didn’t desire intimacy with Him here, how can I think that I would want it there? The outer circles of heaven are like darkness compared to the inner circles, like where the throne is. Just think of a person who has nothing else but a born again experience and one walking faithfully with the Lord for decades. The difference truly can be light and darkness. The Bride will be the closest to Him. A Bride with no spots and wrinkles on her wedding garment. Those who have purified their soul.

    I am sure you remember the story Jesus shared about the king and the wedding.

    NAS Matthew 22:10 “And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. 11 “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And he was speechless. 13 “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

    The wedding of the Lamb is going to be the most wonderful event ever. Jesus and His Bride becoming one! The man without wedding clothes was sitting at the table, was in heaven, with those who had the white garments! So I don’t think it’s salvation/ going to heaven that is discussed here. He is in heaven! But because he did not have his soul purified he won’t partake of this great wedding! His place is the outer circles of heaven, which is darkness compared to the light of the center, where the Lamb and the wedding is.


    I see hell as a “place” where evil abounds. In contrast to that heaven is the place of all GOOD, positive, holy.

    NAS James 1:17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.

    The earth is the place where both evil and good are present, where the war between these two manifest. If we think evil is so prevalent in our world then how much more terrible it must be in hell! As human beings, as long as we are alive in our physical body, we are part of this war, and we participate in it with the choices we make. Our soul/heart as a result of our choices is either under the reign of evil or of God. When we leave the physical realm we enter the “kingdom” we are part of.

    But I have also questions…

    According to the scriptures all things exist in/through God and there is nothing that is not in/through God. Then what is hell’s “relation” to God?

    KJV Romans 11:36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

    NAS Acts 17:28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’

    NAS 1 Corinthians 8:6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

    NAU Ephesians 1:22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

    NAS Colossians 1:17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

    NAS Psalm 139:7 Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.

    And what exactly will the time these scriptures talk about look like? How does hell fit in these scriptures?

    NAS Philippians 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth,

    NAS Revelation 5:13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

    NAS Ephesians 1:9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.

    NAS Ephesians 4:10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.

    NAS Revelation 21:5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”

    • Matt says:

      Good Lord! ;)

      • Andrea Dankone-Barna says:

        I am so sorry Matt if you find my post too long and overwhelming. I guess this is just a too important question for me. The life of the one human being I love most depends much on my understanding of it. And as an evangelist by calling my life centers on it too. I poured my heart out because I was hoping that this would be a place for fruitful discussions with like-minded people. … will see…

    • Andrea,

      Thank you for your reply. You definitely have a wonderful testimony there and you should proclaim it from the mountain tops. I particularly like this contribution: “hell is a place where there are souls who are unwilling to accept His Kingship, His rule in their lives. They choose self, independence.”

      I have often thought of hell this way. Not that God sends people to hell, but they choose hell themselves in the way they live and in their denial of Christ. I might say, hell is when the darkness of this world becomes that final unfortunate actualization of ones human existence. When the soul is solidified in the state of despair and brokenness. This truly grieves God’s heart, because he wills that no one should perish without knowing the Truth and being renewed by its power.

      • Jeff Doles says:

        C. S.Lewis said, in The Great Divorce, “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.’”

        Everybody will get what they have bargained for, but not everyone will be happy with what the get.

      • Andrea Dankone-Barna says:

        Thank you for the encouraging words.
        I feel we have so much to learn… People who reject God are hurting people. Sins done by others to them, and their sinful responses, even from the time of their conception, and also generational lines of curses, iniquities, regional powers of darkness cover the eyes of their hearts like veils. God is looking for someone to stand in the gap for them, to cry out for them between the porch and the altar… “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing or saying!” “Father, WE repent for those sins! Forgive US!… We thank You, for the power of the Blood! … ” I stand in the gap with my intercession halting the flood of His righteous judgment and create the legal base for His love, power and mercy to come into their lives and set them free. I see them with God’s longing heart and I want to know what I can do, how I can fight for them. And yes, I testify, I speak with my life, with who I am about His nature and goodness and love. The same time there is spiritual war going on in the heavens for each and every soul. If each of us would take just ONE life, one soul… Even if it takes years, or decades of prayer and tears, and pain. For it hurts to love no matter what… Hurting people hurt others…

      • Yes Jeff, great quote from Lewis there. We will all get something. The question is what? For those who “get what they bargained for,” what precisely do you think they will get?

        I find it very fascinating that even in this discussion, it doesn’t appear like any two versions of hell have really lined up and no one has yet defended the “literalist” position.

        Great stuff.

  5. Rick Lannoye says:

    Not only would *I* say there is no Hell, but Jesus himself would most certainly affirm there is no such place!

    I’ve actually written an entire book on this topic–Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There’s No Such Place As Hell, (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of Did Jesus Believe in Hell?, one of the most compelling chapters in my book at http://www.thereisnohell.com), but if I may, let me share just one of the many points I make in it to explain why.

    If one is willing to look, there’s substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: “You don’t know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!” Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

    So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn billions of people for an eternity!

    True, there are a few statements that made their way into the copies of copies of copies of the gospel texts which place “Hell” on Jesus’ lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

    • Rick,

      Very interesting perspective. Thank you for commenting.

      I am curious what kind of text-critical evidence you would cite as evidence that Jesus’ mentions of Gehenna were later additions? As far as I know, there are no early manuscripts that omit such material. I am sorry that at the current time I don’t have time to read your book, but I am interested to hear the gist of your argument.