Q: Do people in hell have a chance to get out?
This question, submitted at our February 6 Q Morning, raises a number of significant issues. Beyond the basic question about the finality of hell, it is a fundamental question about the justice of God. I won’t pretend that I can plumb all the implications of the question here, but let’s try to address it.
Hell is the place of final judgment for all people who do not put their faith in God. That means that Christians believe that the Bible is serious about hell. In fact, no one talks about hell more in the Bible than Jesus. Hell is presented consistently as an eternal place of separation from God.
Hell involves eternal torment and destruction. I would suggest reading Jesus’ description of it in Luke 16:19-31. Jesus describes a man in torment in “Hades” (used 10 times in the New Testament)–a New Testament word rendered as “hell” in many Bibles. Our English word “hell” is a cognate of the words “hole” and “hollow”. Jesus also spoke of “Gehenna”–a word describing garbage dumps where waste was burned outside ancient cities. This word is used 11 times in the New Testament.
Other places where hell is described in the New Testament–
Matthew 13:40-42–40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
Matthew 25:41 also describes hell as eternal: 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Revelation 20:12-15 also describes hell in this way,
12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
All these passages describe hell as a final state, a place of destruction and torment. As much as we might be comforted by the thought that hell is not a final designation for all “whose names are not found in the book of life”, it would not be faithful to what the Bible says.
Perhaps the reason why Jesus spoke so often of hell was his compassion on all who would hear his words. It doesn’t answer how an eternal destruction is fair for someone who lived 20 or 40 or 70 years. Unfortunately, it does mean there are no “passes” or “exits” for those who go there.
Hell is a final place where the choice of people to turn away from God is made complete. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end; those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it. It’s not what God wants, but God in his goodness allows people to make this choice for themselves.
That’s it on this subject for now. Hell is difficult to handle in a soft way. It’s definitely an extreme sort of subject. Many thanks to whoever asked this question!