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Bible Correspondence Course - Lesson 6
Bible Correspondence Course - Lesson 6

Even if you are a Christian, you may go to hell. Some of your loved ones are already in hell. But don’t be alarmed. “Hell” is not what most people have imagined! The Bible reveals the reassuring TRUTH about this most-misunderstood subject.

MILLIONS are utterly confused about “hell.” What is it? Where is it? Who really goes there? And why?

Is “hell” a literal place – a geographical location?

Is it somewhere in the interior of the earth, in the heart of the sun, in remote space?

Or does the word “hell” simply reflect a troubled mental state here on earth?

A recent survey showed that 71 percent of Americans believe in heaven, but only 53 percent are persuaded of the reality of hell.

Why the difference?

Probably because many of those who believe in a heaven simply cannot bring themselves to think that a merciful, loving God would consign anyone to a place of eternal torment!

Common Ideas About Hell

A survey in New Zealand indicated that 60 percent of New Zealanders believe hell is simply a state of mind. Only 26 percent believe hell is a literal place.

In San Francisco, random passers-by were asked: “How do you picture hell?” Some of the answers reveal the utter confusion surrounding the subject in the minds of the public.

First person: “Honestly, I have doubts there is such a place. I feel hell is a means of scaring people so they will lead a better life… If there is such a place, I suppose it is craggy and filled with people feeding furnaces or breaking rocks.”

Second person: “The idea of hell is one of the greatest means in the world for teaching children good. Personally, however, I think it is just a Biblical term.”

Third person: “When I was young I had a clear picture of what hell is like – flames and a devil with horns and a pitchfork. But a person gets over this, just as he does with Santa Claus.”

Fourth person: “I would rather not think about it.”

Fifth person: “I have never thought of it except as I have seen it staged in operas or plays.”

Sixth person: “I picture hell as a big, hot, uncomfortable desert. I think it does exist. Not down in the ground. But since someone put us here, then he could easily have a place for us afterward.”

Seventh person: “Hell is a place of unhappy confinement, like a prison. Not necessarily with flames. More a torment of the spirit. I believe it is an actual area, although not necessarily down any more than heaven must be up.”

Here are vague ideas about hell, but almost no real knowledge. Probably the clear majority are those who would just “rather not think about it”!

What Clergymen Think

Many theologians today do not believe in a literal “hell.” Said one: “The essence of hell is separation from God – not really torture, but torment.”

Another described hell as “a condition of human existence.”

An Australian cleric declared that the nineteenth century concept of an ever-burning hell fire makes God out to be worse than Hitler.

Then there are those theologians who view hell as “the loss of communication, insensitivity to spiritual values, the realization of how far short of our capacities we have fallen, the memory of some of the things we have done.”

On the other hand, Pope Paul VI warned that “those who refuse the love of God are going to the fire that is not extinguished” (Credo of the People of God, issued June 30, 1968)

The “Fiery Inferno”

Almost everyone assumes one of two extremes concerning “hell.” One group totally denies that hell exists. Hell is passed off as an ancient superstition which has no bearing whatever on modern life.

The other group, including most so-called Bible fundamentalists, pictures hell as a terrible place of never-ending torment where the devil rules and his demons gleefully “roast” sinners like millions of wieners on a barbeque spit. There is bitter weeping and wailing, agonized cursing, shrieks and screams from those in eternal torment – according to this concept.

Here is a summation of this popular belief from the Encyclopedia Americana:

“As generally understood, hell is the abode of evil spirits; the infernal regions… whither lost and condemned souls go after death to suffer indescribable torments and eternal punishment… Some have thought of it as the place created by the Deity, where He punishes, with inconceivable severity, and through all eternity, the souls of those who through unbelief or through the worship of false gods have angered Him. It is the place of divine revenge, untempered, NEVER ENDING. This has been the idea most generally held by Christians, Catholics, and Protestants alike. It is also the idea embodied in the Mohammedans' conception…The main features of hell as conceived by Hindu, Persian, Egyptian, Grecian, and Christian theologians are essentially the same" (from the article on “Hell,” emphasis ours throughout lesson).

But why do people believe what they believe? From where or from whom have these popular ideas come?

From the Philosophers

A few influential men since the time of Christ left writings and teachings which became so universally believed that they became the accepted doctrine of the Christian-professing world. One of the most important of these influential writers was Augustine (A.D. 345-430).

Augustine reasoned that there should be a temporary cleansing of imperfect souls in purgatorial fire. He, like other influential men of the Christian-professing church, was influenced by “pre-Christian doctrine” – the doctrine of the ancient pagan philosophers – and other early church fathers (see Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., article “Purgatory”).

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) wrote a tremendously popular poem, La Divina Commedia, in three parts – Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Although Dante's purpose for writing his Comedy was to ridicule the religious concepts of hell which were prevalent during his day, his writing nevertheless tremendously influenced popular thought and teaching. “Of all poets of modern times,” says a modern author, “Dante Alighieri was, perhaps, the greatest educator. He possibly had a greater influence on the course of civilization than any other man since his day… he wrote, in incomprehensible verse, an imaginative and lurid account of a dismal hell – a long poem containing certain phrases which caught the attention of the world, such as 'all hope abandon… ye, who enter here!' ...His 'Inferno' was based on Virgil and Plato” (Dante and His Inferno).

And so Dante wrote from the ideas and concepts of the philosophers Plato and Virgil and the prevalent “Christian” concepts of his day.

But who were Plato and Virgil?

Says the Encyclopedia Americana: “Virgil, pagan poet, 70-19 B.C., belonged to the national school of pagan Roman thought, influenced by the Greek writers. Christians of the Middle Ages… believed he had received some measure of divine inspiration.”

Plato, born in Athens, Greece, 427 B.C., was a student of the renowned Socrates. Plato's famous literary work Phaedo taught the immortality of the soul – the foundation for other writings on the doctrine of an eternal hell where wicked “souls” are supposedly punished forever.

So the world's concept of “hell” is admittedly a product of human thinking – of pagan speculation – as men puzzled over the eventual fate of the wicked.

What About the Billions of Mankind?

Before we examine the Bible to see whether the common ideas about hell could possibly be true, let us consider where this concept of hell, if true, would lead us.

On this earth there are more than four billion people. The most populous lands are China, India, and other parts of Asia. But in spite of the efforts of Western missionaries, more than half of all the people on the earth have never so much as heard the only name by which men may be saved (Acts 4:12) – the name of “Jesus Christ”!

Literally billions of people on this earth have lived and died without having known anything about “salvation” – without ever so much as having seen a Bible.

Now if all the “unsaved” go immediately to a fiery hell at death, then more than half the people who have ever lived on this earth have been consigned to this terrible punishment without ever having had a chance to escape it!

Can you really believe that is the method an all-wise, all-merciful loving God is using to work out His purpose here below?

What is the TRUTH?

We face these alternatives: Either the Creator reveals the TRUTH on this subject in His inspired Word, or else we must fling up our hands and confess we just don't know. Either we believe what the Bible says, or we must – if we are rational and honest – admit ignorance.

What does God say about “hell” in the Bible? You may be surprised! So be sure to read and write out all of the scripture references given in answer to the questions in this lesson. PROVE the truth of God for yourself.