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MythBusters: Hell Edition

I ran across this interesting piece of insight into hell by Pastor Joe Thorn.  Hell is one of the most misunderstood realities by the general population.  Myths abound about it, but after reading this article, I consider the myths busted!

Joe writes the following:

Over the years I have encountered a number of myths about hell attached to people’s theology. Some are taken more seriously than others, but they are all active myths that bear bad fruit in people’s lives. This is a brief, five part corrective.


Myth #1: Hell is a Place Where Satan Reigns

Many people think of hell as the place where the Devil reigns. It is viewed as his home, or castle, or fiery Bat Cave where he devises plans to destroy the church and rule the world. If it’s not a war room, then it’s some kind of dungeon where the Devil inflicts misery on those who have been sent there to suffer (think, Farside comics).

But hell is not the devil’s castle, and he occupies no position of authority there. Hell is the devil’s ruin. It is his future, everlasting prison and place of judgement (Rev 20:10).

I think one of the reasons people hold onto this idea of the devil ruling in hell is because, if he is in hell he isn’t anywhere near us. So, at least in their mind, it removes him from any place of influence or danger. He isn’t here, he’s there, so we don’t have to give him much thought at all. But the devil is here. He is a very real, and present danger. Peter says that the Devil prowls our cities, suburbs and countryside looking for people to devour (1 Pet 5:8). He does not reign in hell, but he does seek to reign over you and ruin you.

In all of this our gospel hope and confidence is that the devil has been cast down and bound through the ministry Jesus, is destroyed by Christ’s work on the cross, and that the church has been set free from the bondage and deceit of the Devil and will eventually trample the deceiver underfoot. The devil has been beat, but is awaiting his final judgment. Hell is his end, not his stronghold.


Myth #2 Hell is Where Sinners Party

Last year Ed Stetzer showed us that most people today aren’t concerned about the afterlife. They aren’t asking the question earlier generations used to ask, “Where will I go when I die?” But that doesn’t make the reality of our immortality and the eternal state any less important. In fact that culture shift makes developing a biblical theology of the afterlife and the ability to communicate it that much more important. Some will balk at such doctrine and flippantly dismiss it. This leads us to the second myth about hell.

I have actually heard this myth quite a bit. When discussing salvation from sin, death and hell with those outside of the Kingdom some have said, “Man, I’d rather party in hell with all my friends than hang out in heaven in white robes with a bunch of uptight religious people.”

Of course, I don’t believe that this reflects anyone’s real theology of the heaven and hell. It’s simply a retort that reveals more about how they view themselves and religious people than it does their view of the afterlife. It is often a way of dismissing the claims and promises of Jesus. But it comes up enough to warrant dealing with it here.

Hell is not a dark, comfortable pub where you can hang out with friends and talk about the meaning of life (or hell) throughout the ages. Nor is hell some kind of everlasting rave thumping with house music and lit with glow sticks. Hell is no party. Hell is not what you make it. Jesus describes hell as a place “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It is a dark, endless, joyless, place of judgement.

Scripture tells us that it is appointed to us all to die, and after that face judgment. As sinners who have broken God’s law we can expect the Judge to find us guilty and sentence us to that place of “outer darkness.” Our hope is not that we can persuade the judge to see things our way, or just give us a pass. There is no probation or work release program that we can hope for after death. Our only hope before God is that he will look to our advocate, Jesus Christ, who alone provides the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness we lack. Though guilty, we are judged to be righteous in Jesus, and are rescued from the judgement of hell and ushered into the presence of God and his people.


Myth #3 Hell is Temporary

Among those who take hell a bit more seriously we sometimes find the myth that hell is temporal, and not everlasting. The reasoning is often that hell is punishment for sins committed during at the most several decades, and that justice would prohibit everlasting punishment for crimes committed over the course of an earthly lifetime. After punishment has been met, whatever divine punishment demands, a person is either welcomed into heaven, or simply annihilated.

But, Scripture is pretty clear on the everlasting nature of hell. It is a place of eternal destructionpunishment, and fire. There is no work release program or hope of probation in hell.

We are created as immortal beings and will go on living after death in the presence of God and his grace, or experiencing his just and righteous anger. As incurable, habitual sinners we continue in our sin, lawlessness and idolatry even in hell– and so judgment continues.

Hell is an everlasting judgment, and our only hope of escaping such a curse is by trusting in the One who became a curse for us. Those who are united to Jesus are set free from condemnation and find everlasting life.


Myth #4 Hell is the Absence of God

You’ve probably heard this myth as well. The worst part about hell, some people reason, is that you are alone. Hell is isolation, and since we are made for fellowship (with God and others) this is what makes hell such a terrifying judgment.

Of course, the truth is that there is no place our omnipresent God isn’t. It isn’t the absence of God that makes hell terrifying, it is his nearness that makes it so. Hell is not the absence of God, but the absence of his mercy and grace. Oh yes, God is present in hell to exercize perfect justice and judgment.

Our gospel confidence is that in Christ our sins have been atoned for, and we are at peace with God. In Christ we have the true and lasting intimacy with God we were created for. Therefore, the nearness of God is our good, and we can draw near to God as he sits upon a throne of grace and expect grace, not judgement.


Myth #5 Hell is for Bad People

This is the most dangerous of all the myths about hell. “Hell is for bad people.” Of course, this is a tricky one, and it depends on what we mean when we say “bad people.” In my experience “bad people” simply means “other people.” People who have done worse than us, at least in our own estimation. Hell is for the bad, the worse, the worst. Hell is for Hitler and Hussain, John Wayne Gacey or Kim Jong-il. It’s not for us regular people. Good people. The one point of agreement we should have with this myth is that hell is for bad people. And we are all “bad.”

Jesus said no one is good, but God. The Apostle Paul wrote that no one is righteous, all have turned away from God and become worthless. Yes, we are all bad and worthy of eternal condemnation. While one woman might be practically worse than another, or one man’s sin might be more heinous than another’s, we are all equally sinners and in desperate need of God’s mercy.

Hell is for bad people, if by bad people we mean people like us. Our hope is not that we will become good people, or even better people. Our confidence before God is not that we will somehow stand out among the evil people in the world. Our hope and confidence before God is the gospel– the good news that everyone who believes in Jesus is united with him, counted righteous in him, and forgiven through him of all sin.

So, in one sense hell is for bad people, but in another sense so is heaven. The former receives those who have rejected the truth of God, while the latter receives those who have received Jesus.


I appreciate Joe’s insight!  Although Joe originally published these myths as five separate blog posts, I decided to put them together here for you.  You can read the original posts here:

  1. Hell is a place where Satan reigns.
  2. Hell is where sinners party.
  3. Hell is temporary.
  4. Hell is the absence of God.
  5. Hell is for bad people.


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