The Bible’s Viewpoint
Is Hell Hot?
“MAN will burn, burn, burn!” In the darkened room, the speaker, his shirt aflame, stretches out his arms and takes a few steps toward his astonished listeners. Thankfully, the demonstration lasts only a few seconds. But with the help of his inflammable powder, the preacher has managed to make a big impression on his audience by his convincing evocation of hellfire
Like him, many other religious teachers—especially in Christendom—say that God has this eternal fate in store for the wicked. But is that really what the Bible says?
Good and Wicked in Same Place
“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17, King James Version) Here, instead of the word “hell,” more modern translations such as Lamsa and The Jerusalem Bible have preferred to retain the word that appears in the Hebrew text, “Sheol.” But to what exactly does “hell,” or “Sheol,” refer?
The Bible book of Ecclesiastes gives more information about Sheol. It says: “All that your hand finds to do, do it with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) If those in hell, or Sheol, cannot think or know or act, surely they cannot be suffering.
It is not, then, surprising that even faithful servants of God went to Sheol. Jacob thought he would go there when he died, and Job hoped that God would hide him there and thus bring his sufferings to an end. (Genesis 42:38; Job 14:13) Would these two faithful servants have hoped—or even asked—to go to a burning, fiery hell along with the wicked? Certainly not!
What Is the “Fire”?
But how do we understand Jesus’ words when he said that those who do not do the will of God will go into “the fire that cannot be put out,” or into ‘a fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’?—Mark 9:43-48; Matthew 13:42.
In discussing this place, Jesus did not use the word “Hades,” the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Sheol.”a Rather, he used the word “Gehenna.” This word referred to a refuse dump close to Jerusalem, called the Valley of Hinnom, where a fire was kept burning to destroy the garbage. It was a fitting term to make Jesus’ listeners think, not of eternal suffering, but of complete destruction, annihilation by fire.
The Revelation given to the apostle John speaks of a “lake that burns with fire and sulphur” into which are thrown all those who practice bad things. (Revelation 21:8) If hell exists, this must be it, since the wicked go there. But this same Bible book tells us that death, inherited from Adam, and Hades will be thrown into this same lake of fire. Can these two abstract things suffer? No. But the fire here can and does represent their disappearance, which will take place once they have ‘given up those dead in them,’ that is, after the resurrection of the dead.—Revelation 20:13, 14.
These last examples show that fire is only a symbol for annihilation, or eternal destruction. So there is no suffering in the lake of fire, or Gehenna, any more than there is in Hades (or, Sheol), where faithful servants of God, as well as wicked people, go. But if we go a little deeper into the subject, we will better understand why we cannot believe both in the Bible and in the existence of a hellfire.
Incompatible With God’s Personality
What would you think of parents who kept their children imprisoned day after day, or even tortured them? If you would be disgusted by such acts, should you not also be disgusted by a god who would cause his children to be tormented forever in fire?
The fact that the true God is not like that is seen from the reproofs he addressed to the Israelites who had ‘burned their sons and their daughters in the fire.’ Jehovah insisted that this was ‘a thing that he had not commanded and that had not come up into his heart.’ (Jeremiah 7:31) Since God had never thought of such things, how could we imagine that he would create a hellfire for his creatures?b Yes, if cruelty and torture disgust us, how much more must they disgust God, who is love?—1 John 4:8.
The doctrine of hellfire also goes against justice. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul explains: “The wages sin pays is death.” (Romans 6:23) Moreover, he tells us: “He who has died has been acquitted from his sin.” If death completely removes a person’s indebtedness, why should he then suffer eternally for only a lifetime of sin?—Romans 6:7.
Thus, the Bible shows that hellfire, as it is generally understood, does not exist. And this knowledge allows us to form a relationship with God that is based on love and not on terror. We suggest that you keep on examining the Bible and learn how to please him properly in order to be among those who will see that wonderful day when Hades, or Sheol, the common grave of mankind, will disappear forever.—1 John 4:16-18.
b Some may point to what Jesus said about the rich man and Lazarus at Luke 16:19-31 as proof of hellfire. But these words of Jesus are a parable and, therefore, are not to be taken literally. For more information, see the book Is This Life All There Is? published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Blurb on page 18]
What would you think of parents who tortured their children?
[Picture on page 19]
Is this the Bible’s hell?