While not everyone agrees about what the Bible means when it speaks about hell, in Mark 9:46 and 9:48, hell is described as a place where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Repeatedly Jesus spoke of a place of outer darkness and a furnace of fire, where there will be wailing, weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28).
Because of the symbolic nature of the language, some people question whether hell consists of actual fire. Merrill Unger notices that, “Such reasoning should bring no comfort to the lost. The reality is greater than the symbol. The Bible exhausts human language in describing heaven and hell. The former is more glorious, and the latter more terrible, than language can express.”
Despite the horrors of hell, despite the unpopularity of the concept, down through the ages ministers have taught about hell and have tried to give insight into that nefarious sphere of existence.
Hell is a place of belated belief. In hell, “The pain of punishment will be without the fruit of penitence; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late they will believe in eternal punishment who would not believe in eternal life” (St. Cyprian).
Hell is a place of insatiable selfishness. “If you insist on having your own way, you will get it. Hell is the enjoyment of your own way forever” (Dante).
Hell is the place of satanic reward. The great evangelist Billy Sunday noted that, “Hell is the highest reward that the devil can offer you for being a servant of his.”
Hell is the final resting-place of inappropriate personal ambition. William Henry Davies wrote, “I had ambition, by which sin the angels fell. I climbed, and step by step, O Lord, ascended into hell.”
Hell is the place of eternal separation from God. W.R. Matthews declared that, “The essence of hell is complete separation from God, and that is the ultimate disaster.”
Hell is a place of utter despair. Martin Luther noted that there is the gnashing of teeth and despair, when men see themselves abandoned by God. “What do the damned endure, but despair?” asked William Congreve.
On the entrance into hell a sign could be posted that reads, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
Hell is a place without music, without laughter, and without joy or hope. “There are harps in heaven, but cymbals in hell” reads an ancient Irish Proverb.
Hell is a place without love, and without the capacity to love. A great Russian author asked, “What is hell?” and then answered by saying that hell is “The suffering that comes from the consciousness that one is no longer able to love” (Dostoyevski).
The reason why there is no capacity to love in hell is because self is the core of existence. One author has well said that “We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”
Hell is a place of incredible hatred. “Hell is where no one has anything in common with anybody else except the fact that they all hate one another and cannot get away from one another and from themselves” (Thomas Merton).
Hell is a place that is easy to get to. The road to hell is easy to travel. Jesus said “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in there-at: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).
Hell is a place full of sincere people who were sincerely wrong. It was James Boswell who observed that “Hell is paved with good intentions”.
Because hell is real, because hell is a horrible place, individuals are warned to flee from the wrath to come. In matchless grace, God has provided forgiveness for every sin for those who will come to the Cross of Calvary in humble repentance, and will believe in Jesus Christ as personal Saviour. “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!” (Martin Luther).
“In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopp’d my wild career:
I saw One hanging on a Tree
In agonies and blood,
Who fix’d His languid eyes on me.
As near His Cross I stood.
Sure never till my latest breath,
Can I forget that look:
It seem’d to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke:
My conscience felt and own’d the guilt,
And plunged me in despair:
I saw my sins His Blood had spilt,
And help’d to nail Him there.
Alas! I knew not what I did!
But now my tears are vain:
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain!
A second look He gave, which said,
‘I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou may’st live.’
Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief, and mournful joy,
My spirit now if fill’d,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill’d!”