“Hell isn’t as popular as it used to be.” That is the opening line to the article “The Campaign to Eliminate Hell” written by Mark Strauss for National Geographic. I realize hell is not a popular destination on anyone’s bucket list, but that is not what Mark is writing about.
Mark is referring to the view of some modern scholars that hell is not a place of eternal conscious torment. They reason that such a view is inconsistent with the nature of a just and loving God, and those who hold to the traditional view of hell have been influenced by earlier church scholars like St. Augustine.
The issue is not which church scholars got it right on the idea of what hell is; the issue is, are we to trust the reason of man or what God has revealed to us in the Scriptures? Do the Scriptures teach hell is a place of eternal conscious torment?
Hell is not eternal. According to the Scriptures, hell (some translations use Hades) will be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14) and those in it “shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). These are just a few verses regarding the eternality of the lake of fire.
In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells a story about two people in the afterlife, the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man speaks, a commonly accepted sign of consciousness, to Father Abraham and says he is “in agony in this flame” (v. 24) and describes his location as a “place of torment” (v. 28). Many hold this narrative to be an actual account, but even if it is a parable (parables typically do not contain proper names like Lazarus regarded as a reference to an actual person) it is a parable about a place of conscious torment.
When the book and the movie Heaven is for Real came out I wrote an article about them. They tell the story of Colton Burpo who is almost four years old, and while undergoing surgery for appendicitis claims to have had an out of body experience and visits heaven. I said then, “I believe heaven and hell are for real, not because of Colton Burpo or anyone else. I believe, because I believe the Bible.”
The faculty of reason is part of God’s image in man. He gives us the ability to reason, in part, so we can understand what He has revealed to us in the Scriptures and Creation, not to explain away the reality He has revealed.
When we do kick the bucket the lake of fire is the default destination for those who have rejected the Lamb of God (Revelation 20:15).
The question for me is not why a just and loving God would send someone to hell, because He doesn’t. The question that plagues my thoughts is why do people ignore the mercy of God freely offered in Christ, and stubbornly choose to go to hell?