WHAT MANY BELIEVE
“Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church) Some religious leaders say that hell is a state of complete isolation and separation from God.
THE TRUTH FROM THE BIBLE
“The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) The dead “are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) If the soul dies and is unconscious, how could it suffer “eternal fire” or even the pain of everlasting separation from God?
In the Bible, the Hebrew and Greek words often translated “hell” actually refer to the common grave of mankind. For example, when Job suffered a painful illness, he prayed: “I wish you would hide me in my grave [“in hell,” Douay-Rheims Version].” (Job 14:13, Holy Bible—Easy-to-Read Version) Job wanted to rest, not in a place of torment or alienation from God, but in the grave.
WHY IT MATTERS
Cruelty does not endear us to God; it repels us. “From infancy I was taught the doctrine of hellfire,” says Rocío, who lives in Mexico. “I was so terrified that I could not imagine that God had any good qualities. I thought that he was angry and intolerant.”
The Bible’s clear statements about God’s judgments and the condition of the dead changed the way Rocío viewed God. “I felt free—that a big emotional burden had been lifted off me,” she says. “I began to trust that God wants the best for us, that he loves us, and that I can love him. He is like a father who takes his children by the hand and wants the best for them.”—Isaiah 41:13.
Many have striven to be pious out of fear of hellfire, but God does not want you to serve him because you are terrified of him. Rather, Jesus said: “You must love Jehovah your God.” (Mark 12:29, 30) Moreover, when we realize that God does not act unjustly today, we can trust his future judgments too. Like Job’s friend Elihu, we can confidently say: “Far be it from the true God to act wickedly, and the Almighty to act unjustly.”—Job 34:10.