The Horror of Hell

by Tom Ascol

“There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell.” So wrote the agnostic British philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1967. The idea of eternal punishment for sin, he further notes, is “a doctrine that put cruelty in the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture.”

His views are at least more consistent than religious philosopher John Hick, who refers to hell as a “grim fantasy” that is not only “morally revolting” but also “a serous perversion of the Christian Gospel.” Worse yet is theologian Clark Pinnock who, despite still regarding himself as an evangelical, dismisses hell with a rhetorical question: “How can one imagine for a moment that the God who gave His Son to die for sinners because of His great love for them would install a torture chamber somewhere in the new creation in order to subject those who reject Him to everlasting pain?”

So, what should we think of hell? Is the idea of it really responsible for all the cruelty and torture in the world? Is the doctrine of hell incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ? Hardly. In fact, the most prolific teacher of hell in the Bible is Jesus, and He spoke more about it than He did about heaven. In Matthew 25:41-46 He teaches us four truths about hell that should cause us to grieve over the prospect of anyone experiencing its horrors.

First, hell is a state of separation from God. On the day of judgment, Jesus will say to all unbelievers, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire” (v.41). This is the same of language that Jesus uses elsewhere to describe the final judgment of unbelievers (see 7:23).

To be separated from God is to be separated from anything and everything good. That is hard to conceive because even the most miserable person enjoys some of God’s blessings. We breathe His air, are nourished  by food that He supplies, and experience many other aspects of His common grace.

On earth even atheists enjoy the benefits of God’s goodness. But in hell, these blessings will be nonexistent. Those consigned there will remember God’s goodness, and will even have some awareness of the unending pleasures of heaven, but they will have no access to them.

This does not mean that God will be completely absent fro hell. He is and will remain omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-8). To be separated from the Lord and cast into hell does not mean that a person will finally be free of God. That person will be forever separated from God in His kindness, mercy, grace, and goodness. He will be consigned to deal with Him in His holy wrath.

Secondly, hell is a state of association. Jesus says that the eternal fire of hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). People were made for God. Hell was made for the Devil. Yet people who die in their sin, without Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, will spend eternity in hell with the one being who is most unlike God. It is a tragic irony that many who do not believe in the Devil in this life will wind up spending eternity being tormented with him in hell.

The third truth is that it is a state of punishment. Jesus describes it as “fire” (v. 41) and a place of “punishment” (v. 46). Hell is a place of retribution where justice is served through the payment for crimes.

The punishment must fit the crime. The misery and torment of hell point to the wickedness and seriousness of sin. Those who protest the biblical doctrine of hell as being excessive betray their inadequate comprehension of sinfulness of sin. For sinners to be consigned to anything less than the horrors of eternal punishment would be a miscarriage of justice.

And that brings us to the fourth truth – hell is an everlasting state. Though some would like to shorten the duration of this state, Jesus’ words are very clear. He uses the same adjective to describe both punishment and life in verse 46. If hell is not eternal, neither is the new heaven and earth.

How can God exact infinite punishment for a finite sin? First, because the person against whom all sin is committed is infinite. Crimes against the infinitely holy, infinitely kind, infinitely good, and infinitely supreme Ruler of the world deserve unending punishment. In addition to that, those condemned to hell will go on sinning for eternity. There is no repentance in hell. So the punishment will continue as long as the sinning does.

The dreadfulness of hell deepens our grateful praise for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. Hell is what we deserve. And hell is what He experienced on the cross in our place.

Believing the truth about hell also motivates us to persuade people to be reconciled to God. By God’s grace those of us who are trusting Christ have been rescued from this horrible destiny. How can we love people and refuse to speak plainly to them about the realities of eternal damnation and God’s gracious provision of salvation?

Clearer visions of hell will give us greater love for both God and people.

Dr. Tom Ascol is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida, and executive director of Founders Ministries.

Soli Deo Gloria!

18 thoughts on “The Horror of Hell

  1. Pingback: The Horror of Hell - Reformata

  2. I’m glad Dr. Ascol clarified that Hell is not total separation from God. I’ve pasted a terrific quote by Dr. R. C. Sproul on the presence of God in Hell:

    “We need to realize that those who are in hell desire nothing more than the absence of God. They didn’t want to be in God’s presence during their earthly lives, and they certainly don’t want Him near when they’re in hell. The worst thing about hell is the presence of God there.” Dr. R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross. pp. 157-158 (emphasis added)

  3. Pingback: The Horror of Hell | The Hope That I Have

  4. Mike,

    Thank you for this great piece, brother. May I have permission to reproduce it on an evangelism site I run with a few brothers and sisters?

    Soli deo Gloria!

  5. In my quiet time this morning I was reading of the horrors in hell and God’s wrath against the unrepentant. It is sobering to say the least. Oh that the church would ‘resurrect’ the doctrine of hell! We must warn others of its reality. The thought of eternal damnation is simply overwhelming.

  6. I never considered that those in hell go on sinning eternally because they are unable to come to repentance, yet, it is so true! They must be punished for it eternally as well. As difficult as this was to read and absorb it opened my eyes to much. It gives me more reason to pray for others and to share the gospel.

  7. The thing is Mike, no one believes they are going to hell that aren’t saved. They say, ‘Why would a good God send me to hell? I never did anything wrong’. They don’t want to hear what the Bible says. They want to live their life the way they want to, and if they don’t murder, steal, and etc. then they really believe they will make it to heaven. The biggest LIE of the devil is just what I typed.

  8. WOW! Some of these are things I had not considered before and I cringe at the thought of them.

    Trully, these realities should compel us to share the good news of Jesus Christ!

    Thanks for this sobering reminder.

  9. Not only will the person in hell be unable to repent. They will have no desire to. Just like they have no desire to here apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. It is then that we will see how truly evil man is when God removes the common grace that he is restraining them with right now.

  10. R.C. Sproul is badly mistaken. God inflicting his wrath and removing all of his grace MAY be one in the same thing. Just as you do not create extremely cold temperatures by “removing heat” AND “injecting cold”, you simply remove all heat. R.C. Sproul should have said that hell MAY be the presence of God. Or it may be that God is not ACTIVELY PHYSICALLY TORMENTING PEOPLE. It may be just his mere presence that torments an unholy person. The unholy being in the presence of the holy. (eg. Isaiah becoming undone in the presence of the Lord, Adam and Eve standing in God’s presence after they’d sinned.)

  11. Matt,

    First you say that R.C. Sproul is badly mistaken, but you offer no proof. You have not shown from the Bible where you are basing your supposition. Also, this article was written by Dr. Tom Ascol, not R.C. Sproul. If you want to be taken seriously on making comments like this then you will have to offer exegetical proof. See the rules for commenting here.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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