Is hell a real place?

by Babs Sanya - 13 February 2017


I’m a gIs hell a real place?reat fan of the BBC Saturday Live Kitchen programme that airs usually as we have our late Saturday morning breakfast. One of the strands within the programme is for the chefs in attendance to cook a special meal for the guest star. Viewers are invited to vote on a choice of meals between a heaven-choice and a hell-choice, the view being that the heaven-choice is clearly the preferred meal choice for the guest star. 

Non-believers often argue "Hell is not a real place" and treat it lightly. The Bible, however, clearly presents hell as a real place of torment and punishment in the afterlife.

Now one might define a ‘real place’ as some place where you can go to physically (today), ie you can put in some address or GPS coordinates of the place into your satnav (or smartphone) and relax as you are driven there. One may suggest that our inability (at least at this time) to physically visit a place does not necessarily mean that such a place does not exist. It may however just be that we are unable (at this time) to physically travel there, in our physical bodies that is. This would then introduce the realm of the supernatural into the discussion; since hell as a place becomes real when we die, just because we do not see it now does not mean that it does not currently exist.

It is also somewhat incomplete to discuss hell without alluding in a similar fashion to the existence of heaven as a real place.

Heaven is generally considered a good place, perhaps somewhere ‘up there’ in closer proximity to ‘where God resides’ (which is where people point to when speaking about heaven) while hell is not a good place, and generally people point downwards when referring to hell. Furthermore people (largely) would like to see themselves ‘as going to' heaven. What many disagree upon (of course) is the precise mechanism for getting to heaven.

The Bible teaches that entry into heaven is not about being "a good person" or "doing good works", rather it is only achieved through an acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. In contemplating the question as to whether hell is or is not a real place, we ought to base our views and opinions on what the Bible, and Jesus in particular, have to say on the matter.

There are two descriptions of hell in the Bible: one is of burning fire, the other is a place of "outer darkness", where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth".

Jesus often used the word Gehenna to describe hell (see below); from that we get the image of a lake of fire, and the concept of perpetual burning (Mark 9:43-48). The evil ones there are full of remorse and torment. 

Gehenna, from the Hebrew Gehinnom, is a small valley in Jerusalem and the Jewish and Christian analogue of hell. The terms are derived from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. The Valley of Hinnom is the modern name for the valley surrounding Jerusalem's Old City, including Mount Zion, from the west and south. It meets and merges with the Kidron Valley, the other principal valley around the Old City, near the southeastern corner of the city. 

Gehenna was initially where some of the kings of Judah sacrificed their children by fire.

1. Thereafter it was deemed to be cursed (Jeremiah. 7:31 and 19:2-6).

2. Gehenna is a destination of the wicked.

3. This is different from the more neutral Sheol or Hades, the abode of the dead.

In the King James Version of the Bible, the term appears 13 times in 11 different verses as "Valley of Hinnom", "Valley of the son of Hinnom" or "Valley of the children of Hinnom". (Source)

Let us reflect on Jesus’ encounter with the centurion who came to Him for help in healing his servant. His servant was lying at home, paralysed and suffering. However instead of asking Jesus around to his home to do the healing, he simply asked Jesus to "just say the word and my servant will be healed". Jesus was amazed at the centurion’s faith because he clearly believed in the power and authority of Jesus’ spoken word. He knew that it was sufficient for Jesus to simply say the word for his servant to be healed.

"When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth' " (Matthew 8:10-12).

In this scripture reference, Jesus is describing hell as a place of "outer darkness", where there would be "weeping and gnashing of teeth", which clearly doesn't sound like a nice place that anyone would like to visit, nor spend eternity.

Perhaps one of the most graphical descriptions in the Bible about the existence of hell is in the story of a certain rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man enjoyed a life of rich luxury when he was alive, while Lazarus was a very poor sores-infested beggar who sat at the gate outside the rich man’s house. The beggar had a very hard life, full of suffering and neglect, in particular by the rich man, who apparently offered him no help or assistance. He was so poor and apparently helpless that the dogs came and licked his sores. In any case, the rich man and Lazarus both died; the poor man was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom while the rich man found himself in hell (hades), where he was in torment.

A few things can be understood from the dialogue that ensued between the rich man and Abraham. The rich man was in torment and in a lake of fire or flames. There is a great gulf, a chasm that exists between heaven (where Lazarus and Father Abraham were) and hell (where the rich man found himself), preventing people in one location from crossing over (as it were) to the other side. This story and other references made by Jesus about hell declare that hell is a real place. 

The topic and concept of hell is something that needs to be spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14) and accepted as a matter of faith and trust in the word of God. While hell is not a place that you could plot into your satnav and drive to it is a place that you can find yourself in for eternity. You can however avoid hell by repenting of your sins and accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour. Human beings were never intended to go into hell because it is an eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). However those who choose to reject Jesus may one day find themselves there like the rich man. It is interesting to know that despite his many appeals to have Abraham send Lazarus to go to warn his brothers, Abraham’s reply was, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them”. The reference to Moses and the Prophets is a reference to the Bible. It is advice that you also need to heed.

Answers to Questions
Webpage icon Time to get up and get going
Webpage icon What is the book of Judges about?
Webpage icon Jesus was just a good man, not God
Webpage icon What you need to know about the church
Webpage icon The fall of mankind explained
Webpage icon The book of Joshua
Webpage icon Fasting
Webpage icon The book of Job
Webpage icon The Holy Spirit
Webpage icon Death before the fall
Webpage icon Is God morally relative?
Webpage icon What is the book of Numbers all about?
Webpage icon What the Bible says about suffering
Webpage icon Do all religions worship the same God?

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