If you’re like me, you’ve grown up thinking a certain way about it without having given it much thought. The traditional Christian view of hell is basically that of an eternal opposite of heaven—that it is a real place where people are separated from God and suffer immense torment for all of eternity. The key points here are first that it is real and second that it is eternal.
You might not even know where that way of thinking came from; I certainly never gave it much thought before. But the Bible is actually pretty quiet about hell.
There are other views that I never stopped to consider until coming to college.
Some people believe that a loving God would never allow people to suffer in hell forever, and instead someday everyone will be saved. According to this view, there might be a temporary place of suffering that would serve to show people the error of their ways but that place would not be what we traditionally think of as hell and it would not last forever.
The problem I see with this view is that it believes everyone, regardless of their beliefs during life on earth, will be somehow made to see the right way. To me, this goes against the idea of God’s gift of free will to us. If every single person were to end up saved, it wouldn’t be much of a choice, and God doesn’t want us to serve him because we have to. He’s too much of a gentleman for that.
Others think that the souls of the people who don’t choose Christ are simply annihilated after death and cease to exist. This could be seen either as an act of mercy, since this would save those people from suffering in a place like hell, or the ultimate act of punishment, because there would be no chance for redemption.
I don’t agree with this because I believe all human souls are eternal, regardless of whether they choose a life with Christ or not.
I don’t claim to have the right answers; I have very little experience studying theology and I didn’t stop to consider this issue until recently. But maybe the Bible is quiet about the subject because it’s not something we need to focus on too much. Regardless of whatever the alternative to eternal life with Jesus may be, is there even a contest as to which one is better?
Eternal suffering or eternal joy with Jesus.
Being coerced into serving God or having the freedom to make a choice.
Ceasing to exist or singing with the angels forever.
Whatever view you might take on hell, I think the more important thing is the view you take on Jesus. I know that he has saved me, and so I know when my life ends here I will be with him in heaven. Whatever the alternative is doesn’t matter to me. So maybe instead of worrying too much about the theological details, the important thing is to understand the incredible gift we are offered.
In other words, let’s fix our eyes heavenward.