Heaven and hell result from the interaction of God’s character and man’s free will.

GOD’S CHARACTER DEFINES OUR ETERNITY

The knowledge that there’s life after death is built right into us. The overwhelming majority of people of all times, places and religions instinctively know there’s something beyond the grave. The Bible says clearly that there’s an after-life – either heaven or hell.

Heaven and hell are the logical extensions of God’s character. Stated simply, this is the fateful pattern in sequential order:

  • God is holy and has established and communiated spiritual laws (see Topics 5 and 47)
  • God is love and gives us free will to make individual choices (see Topics 6 and 48)
  • God is just and declares our sentence – hell – for a lifetime of sin (see Topics 45, 48, 52, 54, and 55)
  • God is love and offers a Savior to free us from the sentence; if accepted, this gives us HEAVEN (see Topic 51)
  • God is just and will forever leave alone everyone who doesn’t want the Savior; this leaves them with HELL

Notice from this pattern that salvation is a gift, and hell is the residual. If the gift (Jesus Christ) is rejected, hell is all that’s left.

Hell is what’s left after God leaves. It’s a confinement together of all unforgiven sinners, Satan and evil spirits, left alone to fend for themselves in an environment of unrestrained evil and suffering, without God and unable to die.

HEAVEN IS BEING WITH GOD FOREVER

Heaven is both a place and a state of being. People there will have a different (perfect) body, and there will be no sin, pain or sorrow. They will experience God’s best and will be truly happy and content. They will enjoy God, his revelations and his people forever.

There are many references to heaven in the Bible but no detailed description of it. It’s beyond our ability to comprehend, and human words can’t describe it (see Topic 8).

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. – I Corinthians 2:9

We don’t know details, but we know that heaven is a wonderful place where a minority of people will spend eternity in the presence of God.

HELL IS BEING ABANDONED BY GOD FOREVER

Hell is the exact opposite of heaven. It’s the terrible place where people who don’t go to heaven will spend their eternity, totally abandoned by God.

In hell, people will be tormented by their stupidity for rejecting Christ in their earthly life. They’ll be in constant pain and suffering because of confinement in a place without any of God’s holiness, love or justice.

Hell is not specifically described in the Bible, but the Bible refers to it as God’s absence, place of darkness, place burning with fire, prepared for the devil, crying and gnashing of teeth, stark loneliness, condemned, utter ruin, torment, etc.

The Bible says emphatically that hell is horrible beyond words and that everyone should act now to avert it.

MOST PEOPLE BELIEVE IN HEAVEN AND HELL

A recent national Gallop Poll shows that:

  • 77% of Americans believe there’s a heaven
  • 58% of Americans believe there’s a hell

More people believe there’s a heaven than believe there’s a hell, even though the Bible says clearly that both are realities. This is perhaps the ultimate example of human ability to deny truth when it becomes too frightening to face. It illustrates how we hear what we want to hear and selectively believe what we want to believe. But, of course, our beliefs don’t in any way alter the facts of God’s design plan. A wise person will adapt to facts rather than deny them, even when the facts are unsettling.

If most people believe that heaven is the best thing that can happen and hell is the worst thing, as surveys always show, it follows that most people should double-check their assumptions regarding God’s entrance criteria. Nothing could be more fatal than acting on the wrong assumptions.

Some people speculate on God’s criteria, but the Bible is the only authoritative source for an accurate answer. Beyond any reasonable doubt, the Bible is God’s book (see Topics 18-26), and it states clearly what a person must do to keep out of hell and be invited into heaven (see Topics 59-62).

HELL IS THE TOPIC NO ONE WANTS TO TALK ABOUT

There’s very little conversation about hell, even though most people in America believe in it and regard it as the most terrifying risk of our existence. Hell is virtually a taboo subject. For most people, the very thought of it is too frightening to express except in occasional sick humor.

There are three primary reasons for this silence: (1) a deep-seated personal fear of going there, (2) courtesy which makes it very awkward to even suggest that a relative, friend or acquaintance might be headed there, and (3) perplexity over how a loving God could torment people in such an endless and horrible manner.

Regarding the first reason, no one – at least no one reading this handbook – need have any personal fear of going to hell, because the way to avoid it is clearly explained. The avoidance – through Jesus Christ – is free and easy.

Regarding the second reason, hell will always be a sensitive topic and rarely discussed, for fear of being offensive. That’s our culture and nothing will change it. Ironically, the most loving thing a Christian can do for a non-Christian is to warn him of hell and tell him about Jesus Christ. But because such a conversation could jeopardize the relation- ship, the subject of hell is usually postponed for some appropriate time that never comes.

Regarding the third reason, there’s a common notion that some day God will turn in a fit of anger and cruelly, unmercilessly and eternally torture people for all the bad things they’ve done. That’s not what the Bible says. God isn’t going to torture people in hell. In fact, he’s not even going to be there. And that’s the point! Hell is where God isn’t. It’s a place that won’t have any of his holiness, justice or love – a place God has abandoned to people who say they don’t need or want him.

If you believe what you like in the Bible, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Bible you believe, but yourself.

– Augustine

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Matthew 13:24-30
Jesus tells parable to illustrate how some people will go to heaven and some to hell

Matthew 25:41-46
Hell is eternal punishment, heaven is eternal life

Matthew 7:23, II Thessalonians 1:9
Hell is separation from God

Matthew 10:28
Both body and soul will be destroyed in hell

Mark 9:43, Jude 1:7, Revelation 20:15
People will suffer eternal fire in hell

Revelation 1:18
Jesus holds the keys of death and hell

Matthew 7:13-14
Only a minority of people will go to heaven

John 14:1-3
Jesus is preparing an eternal place for those who accept him

For help, see Topic 29.

Posted in God's Self Disclosure.