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Eight Myths about Hell


The reality of hell and eternal punishment is not a popular topic, even among Christians. Part of the problem is that the nature of hell has been horribly distorted in our culture and portrayed as an experience that is far from what we read in the NT. When I’m asked why I believe in hell, my response is three-fold.

First, I have such unshakable and robust confidence in the inerrant truth of every word in the Bible that the matter is already settled before I even read the text. I believe, as the Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16, that “all Scripture [even texts such as Revelation 14:9-11] is breathed out by God and [is] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Second, by God’s grace I have come to understand, at least to some degree, the immeasurable magnitude and majesty of God’s holiness and beauty and authority and the honor that is due to him from all of his creatures, including you and me.

Third, again by God’s grace I have come to understand the immeasurable horror and ugliness and self-centeredness of humanity’s sin and depravity and wickedness.

So I can honestly say that to the degree that you and I struggle with the concept of hell and eternal punishment is the degree to which we don’t understand God’s holiness and honor, on the one hand, or the horror and depravity of mankind’s sin, on the other. In other words, if hell strikes you as unreasonable or unfair or disproportionate, it can only be due to the fact that either you don’t believe the Bible is inspired and true, or you don’t believe that God is infinitely holy and just, or you don’t believe that mankind is morally depraved and has committed cosmic treason and is thus deserving of eternal condemnation.

As noted, contributing to the problem of hell are the numerous myths or false beliefs that surround it. Here are eight of them.

Myth #1 – There is widespread belief among non-Christians that hell is a place where they will be united with their unbelieving friends and drink beer all the time in an endless party. The fact is that hell is a place of utter isolation, loneliness, and deprivation.

Myth #2 – Another false belief is that hell is the place where Satan and his demons exercise their authority to rule and reign. The fact is that hell is the place where Satan and his demons suffer eternal punishment. Satan and his demons are inmates in hell, not its warden or guards. See Matthew 25:41 for one clear statement to that effect.

Myth #3 – Directly related to the previous myth, there is the notion among many that in hell Satan and his demons torment human beings who also are there. No. There is not one text in the Bible that suggests Satan and his demons afflict or torment human beings. They themselves, instead, are the object of God’s punishment. There have been numerous books written by people who claim to have visited hell in which they describe a scene where demons are tormenting humans who have been consigned there. This should be the first indication to all careful, Bible-believing readers that such an experience is fabricated.

Myth #4 – Yet another misconception is that there are people in hell crying out for mercy who want to reconcile with God. Nothing in Scripture indicates this is so. Instead, those in hell are eternally defiant of God and hate him all the more with each passing moment.

Myth #5 – One of the more blasphemous notions about hell is that there are people in hell who don’t deserve to be there. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God’s justice is impeccable and he never consigns anyone to punishment in hell who does not fully deserve to suffer there.

Myth #6 – A related myth is the notion that there are people in hell who wanted to go to heaven while they were still alive, but God wouldn’t let them. That is utterly false. Jesus himself made this clear when he said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. . . . whoever comes to me I will never cast out . . . . For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:35, 37b, 40).

Myth #7 – A seventh myth is that there are people in hell who will eventually be released and granted entrance into heaven. As much as we might wish this were true, it isn’t. The Bible does not teach the doctrine of universalism, that is, the idea that everyone will eventually be saved and given eternal life in the new heaven and new earth.

Myth #8 – Finally, there is the myth that in hell people will be rid of God and have no experience of him. That is not true. It is true they will have no experience of God’s loving and gracious presence, but they will most assuredly experience his presence in justice and wrath. In fact, we read in Revelation 14:10 that they will be tormented “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb,” that is, in the presence of Jesus Christ. As John Piper has said, Revelation 14:10 is not saying that “those in hell have the privilege of seeing what they enjoy, but that they have the remorse of seeing what they rejected.”

I’ll conclude with two brief observations. First, I can’t read biblical portrayals of hell and eternal punishment or think about it without feeling a deep and unrelenting agony in my heart. We should never talk about hell without weeping, for it is real and people are going there. This is not a subject for joking or lighthearted banter. It is an issue that should provoke within us both anguish and an urgent commitment to share the gospel with those who remain in unbelief.

My second reaction is one of unfathomable gratitude. When I read about hell in a passage like Revelation 14:9-11 I’m reading about what I deserve. God would have been perfectly just and righteous had he chosen to consign me to eternal torment. But in mercy he has drawn me to faith in his Son. In mercy he has poured out his wrath on Jesus in my place, a wrath and judgment that Jesus lovingly and willingly embraced and endured. Every single one of us deserves damnation. God owes us nothing but justice. The fact that he has given us mercy instead, and forgiveness instead of condemnation, ought to awaken in us the most heartfelt and passionate gratitude and praise.



To those who doubt the eternal nature of hell, discounting the severity of the punishment is applying a human perspective to our infinite and holy God, as Sam touched on in his introduction. A crime against us might only be worthy of a temporary or finite punishment, but a crime against the eternal Giver of life is worthy of an eternal punishment. Unlike the animals, we were created in God's image, and part of that is that our souls cannot be extinguished. The price of having a soul with free will is that there are consequences for decisions. Since those who reject God will be angry with Him when punished, or even just unrepentant, their resulting anger at Him or self-righteousness is a perpetual new sin, deserving of ongoing punishment anew. Their pride, darkness, and hate spirals downward forever. If hell is some definite annihilation of the soul, after that how then into eternity would God express His righteous justice, wrath, mercy and grace, which are as much of His nature as His love? Without wrath, there is no justice, or grace. His eternal love, grace, and mercy will sustain us in Heaven as much as it does now. Our awareness of hell and of God's continuing punishment of those souls there, and our deserving of the same, will forever be part of the reason for our praise of God for saving us through Christ. If hell is not ongoing, neither can be Christ's redemption. The blood on the Lamb will never go away, and neither does hell.

There are dangers whenever we apply a human perspective to the ways of God. That includes seeing God's unconditional pre-election of a remnant of human beings to save as meaning that He also pre-destined anyone for hell. Each and every one of us would have fallen in Eden the same way as Adam and Eve if we were given the time and the opportunity. Such is the unavoidable nature of free will in a physical body in a physical world. Praise God for giving us Christ to cleanse our free will and make it possible for us to use it to serve Him eternally in our new bodies.

Hello, Dr Storms. I agree with almost everything that you have written here, but I do have some reservations about the wording chosen for Myth #6. “there are people in hell who wanted to go to heaven while they were still alive, but God wouldn’t let them.” You responded to this myth by pointing to Jesus promises in John 6 and I heartily agree that Jesus will not turn away anyone who comes to him, but should we not make a distinction between coming to Jesus and wanting to go to heaven? Many people desire to go to heaven, that is to an afterlife where they are reunited with their loved ones in eternal bliss, but they have absolutely no desire for Jesus Christ or righteousness.

Sam, how do you reconcile your Myth #6 with Jesus' warnings in Matthew 7:21-23? Are there not people who think they are following Christ and on their way to Heaven, but are actually on a path of self-reliance and pride? Are you saying those people really don't want to be serving God in His eternal Kingdom?

Dear Sam,

I have a comment about your appeal to God's holiness.

The Scriptures just as clearly associate God’s holiness with his love, justice, and compassion as with his wrath:

Isa. 5:16
But the LORD of hosts is exalted by justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness.

Hos. 11:9
I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

The reason why passages like these can appeal to God’s holiness as the explanation for the fact that he’s going to act in justice and compassion is that God is love, and there is no trace of lovelessness in him. God is just, and there is no trace of injustice in him. It simply cannot be proven from Scripture that God’s holiness leads to a doctrine of infinite and inexhaustible wrath. For example, in the entire OT, there is only one verse in which “holy” (referring to God) and “wrath” occur together: Hos. 11:9, which I quoted above. The words “holy” and “anger,” where God’s holiness is being referred to, also occur in the same verse only twice in the OT. The first is Hos. 11:9, above, and the second is this:

Ezek. 43:8
They they defiled my holy name by their detestable practices. So I destroyed them in my anger.
These words of God in Ezekiel reveal the potential fierceness of God’s holiness—when it is confronted with acts of high-handed and arrogant intrusion on that which is holy (see Ezek. 43:6-9). But this fierceness results, as in Isa. 26:10-11, in the intruder being destroyed, not tortured. The same pattern holds in the other well-known OT stories of people arrogantly intruding on or attacking that which God has set apart as holy.

For example, Numbers 16 tells the story of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who form a coalition to rebel against Moses. Their claim is that anyone ought to be able to participate in the holy offerings, not just those appointed through Moses (Num. 16:3). They’re essentially mounting a hostile takeover of the things of God. The result: the earth opens up and swallows Korah and his family, and the rebels are instantly consumed by fire from the LORD (Num. 16:28-35; 26:9-10 || Isa. 26:11). The same thing happens to Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, when they arrogantly offer unauthorized incense: “fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them” (Lev. 10:2 || Isa. 26:11). The “outbreak against Uzzah,” who arrogantly reaches out to steady the ark of the covenant, which no one is allowed to touch, also results in instant death—although the text doesn’t say by what means (2 Sam. 6:6-7 || 1 Chron. 13:9-10).

All of these stories go to show that if you appeal to God’s holiness in order to justify the idea that God has plans to torment people forever, all you accomplish is to bring to light strong biblical precedent for the idea that instant destruction is the standard penalty for high-handedly trespassing on that which is holy to God.

Thanks Sam, you make some important (and obviously unpopular) points here.

My concern will come as no surprise. I can't let this opportunity pass by without noting the gastly injustice in the Calvinistic doctrine of reprobation in this context of eternal destruction.

"Orthodox" Calvinism insists that Esau, and perhaps millions of others, were born with no actual hope in the gospel because they would not have been chosen to receive the irresistible grace of repentance and faith and would be found guilty (and deserving of hell) at birth, because of Adam's sin. Matters are made even worse by the so called "higher" forms of Calvinism, which teach Jesus did not make a definite atonement for the sins of the reprobate and/or the reprobate are not held accountable for Adam's sin...instead they are thrown in hell for no reason other than the good pleasure of God!

A few quotes from creedal statements and commentaries would show that this is not a straw man mis-characterization of what Reformed theology teaches.

Its time for some "reformanda" if you know what I mean. See A Prehistoric Final Judgment?

Not only is the rich man crying out for relief, look how he acts towards Lazarus - he still considers Lazarus a servant even though Lazarus is resting in Abraham's bosom. He still thinks he can order Lazarus around. Even in his torment, even while seeing Lazarus beside Abraham, the rich man still sees Lazarus as "less".

And another note - Lazarus seemingly has no knowledge of this. He never interacts with the rich man, the text never indicates that Lazarus even knows what is going on - and rightfully so - he is resting in Abraham's bosom.

"Send Lazarus to be my personal slave - have him dip his finger in water and quench my thirst!"
"Send Lazarus to my brothers - they will listen ."

The rich man does not see himself as deserving what he has been given - he sees himself as "better than that."

Even in punishment - he sees himself as better than the poor man with sores.

This is actually a great parable to show us not only how undeserving we actually are, but how we often see ourselves in light of our own undeservedness.

By nature, we are the rich man and see ourselves accordingly - as deserving.

By grace we are the poor man and see ourselves accordingly - as undeserving.

Re: The Rich Man and Lazarus
Sam, you say he is only crying out for relief, but doesn't the fact that he wants Lazarus to go tell his family mean there is regret and a new understanding of what he has missed? I agree, I don't see him crying out for forgiveness, but I do see him accepting that he deserves to be there.

A) "First, I have such unshakable and robust confidence in the inerrant truth of every word in the Bible that the matter is already settled before I even read the text" - - Traditionally this approach was been part of the problem and not the solution.

B) Myth #4..."those in hell are eternally defiant of God and hate him all the more with each passing moment." - - Which verse is this from?

Is there a way to receive your blog by email?

While everlasting torment is probably far to heady a subject to take up in a comment section, let me at least mention in passing Jesus' statement in Matthew 8:12 "where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth" and Mark 9:48/Isaiah 66:24 "their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched." While these don't strictly require a belief in eternal torment, I think at least that is their most natural meaning. So also, though the "smoke of their torment rising forever" doesn't specifically *say* their torment itself goes up forever, that is the most natural understanding. While this may not convince you that there is eternal torment, I don't think we need to appeal to philosophy to see an origin of the belief in everlasting torment. It is not a doctrine I delight in -- I also tend to think most sin doesn't *feel* like it deserves such strong condemnation -- but I follow it from Biblical convictions. I think as I grow in appreciation of God's glory and holiness I will more fully appreciate the importance of this doctrine as well.

Urban, the rich man is crying out for relief from his pain and torment. But that is far different from crying out in repentance for his sin and a humble longing to be forgiven and restored to intimate fellowship with God.

Additionally, treating Rev. 14.11, "the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever," does not say such torment ever ceases but that "its smoke rises forever." Reconciling The Apocalypse with the whole of scripture this verse speaks about finality. Eternal Conscious Torment would level the ground of punishment into a uniformity whereas the scriptures portray an individualized (commensurate) type of punishment.

Myth # 9: Eternal punishment means everlasting torment. These two concepts are not the same. If you think they are, you should say it up front to define your stance. The bible is inspired and means what it says. Repeatedly, in the O.T. the imagery is "ashes" and cessation of existence. So how did Christians come to view the unredeemed as suffering eternally? I blame the reliance of philosophy (ultimately Aquinas from Anselm) and not reading the bible carefully enough. Rev. 20. 10 you may point out has language that seems to confound my position since the unredeemed will join that company. However, since we know what the bible says about humans "perishing" in a multitude of places, we have to differentiate between the various parties so not to confuse the devil and his angels from humans. I do not believe in Universalism but neither eternal conscious torment as biblical teaching.

Just a quick thought on number 4. The rich man and Lazarus clearly indicates someone in hell that is crying out for mercy. How did you miss that?

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