I once read of a church sign that asked “what is hell like?” Immediately following that question was the invitation, “come hear our pastor this Sunday.” Some of you may feel there is some truth to this bit of humor, but I’d like to make a serious attempt to explain what Hell is like from a biblical perspective. Many verses give us imagery to help us imagine what Hell is like. All of them speak of it as a horrifying reality. It’s like being left outside in the dark forever. It’s like a wandering star, a waterless cloud, a perpetually burning dump, a bottomless pit, an everlasting prison. Hell is a place of anguish and regret. (Matt. 8:12; Jude 13; Jude 12; Mark 9:44–48; Rev. 20:1, 3; 1 Peter 3:19; Luke 16:28) But Hell is most often visualized as a place with fire.

These images are not literal descriptions, but images that help us understand that it is a place of torment. If taken literally the images contradict each other. There’s fire but total darkness. It’s a burning dump, yet a bottomless pit. I don’t believe the “fire” is necessarily a physical fire. Those in hell have imperishable bodies so normal fire won’t affect them. C. S. Lewis pictures it as eternal separation from God in his book, “The Great Divorce.” The bible teaches us “with God there are pleasures forever.” Outside of God, away from God is gnashing of teeth and deep regret over the loss of what might have been. Jesus says there is “a great gulf” between heaven & hell and no one can transit that gulf. The torment of hell might be described as the torment of having “to live with the consequences of our own decisions.”

Hell is often depicted by those who wish to paint God as a cruel, sadistic mad man as a torture chamber with God wielding the whip with some crazed laughter. The scriptures never present Hell to us in this way. People will not be forced against their will to experience agonizing pain inflicted upon them by another. The torment of hell is self-inflected. The great torment of hell comes from realizing we used our freedom to choose wrongly and that there is now nothing we can do to change those decisions. That’s why there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Everyone there will know that they are there by their own will. 2 Peter 3:9 makes it perfectly clear that God “wants no one to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

“God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16