Is there really such a place called Hell?
I was recently interviewed about my book, Eternity: Heaven or Hell?, by Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date. We discussed what has become a very controversial topic among many Christians, and that is the duration of time those in Hell will spend. Eternal or limited? I share from the Bible why I am convinced that Conditionalism is the biblical view of final punishment. Tempers can flare over this topic, so I ask you to read this interview in blog format as a good Berean, testing the Scriptures to see what God will teach us.
The Reality of Hell
Chris Date: Let's talk about chapter 4 which is the chapter on Hell. We Conditionalists are sometimes accused of trivializing Hell, softening it, weakening its significance, that kind of thing. But, the way that you open this chapter suggest that you don't think what the Bible says about Hell is trivial at all. In fact, you talk about how Hell has been trivialized by the world. Tell us about how Hell has been trivialized by the world and why you think it is instead a very important topic.
Dr. Reagan: Hell has indeed been trivialized by the world, as I point out in that chapter. I give a lot of examples of people trivializing it, and sadly I could have given many, many more. It's just unbelievable the way people shrug off Hell, saying such crazy things such as, "Oh, yeah, I know I'm not doing very well in this life, but so what? I'm going to spend eternity partying in Hell!" AC/DC in their 1979 song "Highway to Hell," they actually celebrate it.
I also see this flippancy so often on television. I was watching a famous star who was celebrating his 75th birthday. The people who were there on TV were honoring him, and they said, "We also have some video celebrations." The first video said, "Hey, buddy, how are you? I'm sorry I can't be there, but I'll meet you in Hell and we'll party forever." This is the trivialization of Hell!
Then there's the frequent use of Hell mainly thought of as just a curse word and not a real place. What I try to do is to emphasize that Hell is a very, very real place. It's a horrible place. It's horrible beyond anything that we can possibly imagine. It's not to be taken as a joke.
I think another reason Hell has been trivialized is because the Church has ignored teaching about it, and so most people don't know much about Hell.
Absent From the Pulpit
Chris Date: That touches on the next question I was going to ask you, because you also mention at this point in the chapter that it seems pastors seldom preach about Hell nowadays. Why do you think that is?
Dr. Reagan: Would you want to preach about Hell if you believe the Traditionalist Viewpoint? I believe the reason the average pastor hardly ever mentions Hell, and certainly never devotes a sermon to it, is because he is embarrassed by it. I give him credit for one thing. I give him credit for believing what he thinks the Bible teaches concerning Hell, but that is not what the Bible teaches. When you read the various verses on Hell, the Bible does not teach eternal torment. If you believe that, well then who would want to get up and delivers a 45 minute sermon on how God is going to torment people for all of eternity? You'd be turning God into a cosmic sadist, like someone who enjoys pulling the wings off of butterflies. And so, I think they are uncomfortable with teaching Hell, they are embarrassed by it, and so therefore they just ignore it.
Hades Versus Hell
Chris Date: You go on in the chapter to make a very important distinction, and one that I think is too often over-looked by Traditionalists when it comes to this debate over the nature of Hell. I can't count for example the number of times I've been challenged by Traditionalists based on the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, as recorded in Luke 16. What's this important distinction that you talk about toward the beginning of the chapter?
Dr. Reagan: That parable is one of the greatest sources of confusion about Hell. You are right when you say that people are so confused about that parable, and that has to do with translation. The Bible makes it very clear that there's a difference between Hades and Hell. In the Old Testament, Hades is called Sheol, and in the New Testament the Greek word is Hades. Hades is a temporary holding place of the spirits of the dead. When a person who is unsaved today dies, he goes to this place called Hades, to a compartment called Torments, and his spirit is held there until the time of his resurrection. At the final resurrection for all those who died in unbelief, that time he is condemned and put into Hell. So, nobody is in Hell right now. Hell today is empty.
The first people to go to Hell will be the False Prophet and the Antichrist. The third being will be Satan himself. Hell, also called the Lake of Fire, was originally created as an eternal abode for Satan and His demonic angels. But, there's a difference between those two. The problem is that the King James translators as well as even some modern translators often translate Hades as Hell. They don't do it consistently, but rather mistranslate it rather inconsistently. Sometimes they will call it Hell, and sometimes they will call it Hades when these are two entirely different places. For example, at the end of the book of Revelation is says that Hades is going to be thrown into Hell, so we know they are not the same place. We need to keep that clear, but again, there is a lot of the confusion and it's due to improper translation between the words Hades and Hell.
Chris Date: Yes, that has definitely been a source of a lot of confusion. I'm hoping one day to see that confusion cleared up.
In the fourth segment of Rethinking Hell's interview of me concerning the Conditionalist View of Hell, Chris and I will discuss how important it is for Christian unity to discuss different views of Hell with love and civility.