Why is there No Clear, Biblical Description of Hell?

· Bible, Love, Mu-church, spirituality

Roads to Heaven and Hell, religious tract,1896In a recent blog, I remarked that when one goes through all of Scripture, gathering onto one page the many verses pertaining to “Heaven” and “Hell“, and then compares them to each other — they paint an inconsistent, even incoherent, picture.

Have I got something against Hell? (Or Heaven, for that matter?)

Not at all. But I DO have something against mixing Mediterranean or European folk-lore in with biblical truth. As far as I’m concerned, learning that most of what people today believe about “Heaven” and “Hell” came from Dante‘s The Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost is a deal-breaker as far as my continuing to propagate these traditional misconceptions — no matter how defiantly people hold onto them, absurdly espousing their non-biblical depictions both of the Afterlife and of God Himself.

But it’s natural for “people with inquiring minds” to simply want to know what’s going to happen after people die in the flesh. Some are afraid of being conscious of the fires of Hell, some are afraid of being conscious of worms eating through their corpse, while some are afraid of losing consciousness altogether. Fear drives a multitude of people to persuade themselves that the Afterlife exists and is not fearful. Little do they know that, fundamentally, they may be correct — but never for the reasons they devise for themselves.

“But,” Christians often feel, “surely the Bible settles these issues? If the Good Book has any purpose, it’s foundational purpose is to prepare people for Eternity? Right?”

Not to get into it here, but the Bible’s stated purposes are not to prepare people for living in Eternity but to prepare people to live on earth — now. Not that Scripture doesn’t give certain “hints” and “whispers” about what happens to human beings after their physical death, but its primarily focus is shaping how we live and experience and righteously use our human lives here and now.

Yet the question remains, “If the Bible doesn’t give us an explicit picture of “things to come”,  why not?

The answer is simple: in terms of God’s desires and purposes for us here and now, we don’t need to know or understand precisely what happens after the life of this flesh is over. Actually, since all God does is good, we can rest assured that if knowing details and specifics about life in Eternity had some significant value to human beings today, God would have told us.

One of the greatest barriers to people accepting this rather humble and inoffensive perspective is that many feel that information about what happens “later on” is crucial for evangelism. That is, if you can’t “warn people” about “the unquenchable fires of Hell”, they won’t be motivated to “repent” and “become Christians”. All I have to say to that is that I don’t expect this blog or anything else I ever write or say will change their dogma. Since the ideas about Heaven and Hell that they’ve chosen to champion aren’t found in the Bible, nothing less will persuade them either.

Still, the idea that people can be “scared into Heaven” is deeply embraced in countless churches everywhere. That doesn’t excuse the wrongness of that perspective, a wrongness that disregards that the power that God holds over humankind to bring them to repentance is not fear but blessing. Far from remembering what Paul wrote in “Romans”, many Christians have never even heard that “it’s the goodness of God that brings men to repentance”.

Bottom line: Why doesn’t the Bible clear up this cloud of “not-knowing” in respect to Heaven and Hell?

Because what matters is not tomorrow, nor the Day After Tomorrow, but NOW — how I choose to live Today in the Power of the Presence of Jesus Christ, sharing with others the transforming Power of His Love.

Emil & Shell Swift


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  1. India

    Dear Em & Shell:
    Awesome, intriguing article! I guess what comes to mind is that I am to busy trying walk in love & obedience for today so that when I stand before the Lord at the end of my life I do not hear the Lord speak from Mathew 7 “7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
    I love the Lord & as He gives me grace, food, peace, contentment & His presence for today. I do not worry about eternity! His grace is truly sufficient. Love you!

  2. laren stoltenburg

    To hit the like comment is not enough, and at the same time I really don’t have words to make a comment. For awhile now I’ve been questioning all i’ve ever been taught about hell, it just doesn’t seem to fit in with the Good News, and God’s mercy that endures forever. I just finished love wins and Hope Beyond Hell and now your article. Maybe some clarity has taken place, but bottom line…it’s good to know I’m not alone. THANK YOU

    • emdog

      Thanks for your response. I think this is a good track for Believers to be pursuing at this time — one indicator of its being a good track is the “quality” of resistance I’m getting. People who give me a knee-jerk, negative reaction tend to merely spout a few proof-text verses, but don’t engage with my basic point: That too much of the modern, “christian” concept about “Hell” comes from poetic sources and NOT the Bible… which means to me that we need to put on the brakes and reconsider the whole thing carefully and biblically. I can’t accept tha the “foundation” of the Gospel of the Kingdom is the fear of Hell. God’s goodness leads men to repentance, and throughout the centuries, threats of Hellfire have been used to manipulate and control the subjection of church followers (as well as their finances.) The whole, historic “hellfire” enterprise is a dirty one and indefensible without some radical “cleansing” (technical term: “deconstruction”.) Bless you, Laren! Em

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