The pop-culture view of hell as a place where sinners go to burn for all eternity is neither right nor wrong. The Bible, the holy text of Christianity, offers primarily metaphorical descriptions of hell that through the centuries have been re-translated and reinterpreted to have widely divergent meanings. Because no living human being knows what happens when people die, it is impossible to know what hell is really like or if it actually exists. While Christians of many denominations can often agree on certain aspects of hell, there remains plenty of variety in their perceptions.
Hell's image as a pit of fire comes from the Bible's repeated use of fire-related terminology when referencing hell. For example, in the New Testament of the Bible, Matthew 13:50 describes hell as a "furnace of fire ... [with] weeping and gnashing of teeth." The book of Mark (9:48) describes hell as a place where "the fire is not quenched.". The final book of the Bible, Revelation (20:15), says that hell is "the second death, the lake of fire."
The pain and torment of hell notwithstanding, Christians also believe that hell is a place of total misery and hopelessness simply because its inhabitants are cut off from God's love. Prayers will not help, as God has already passed judgement and determined your fate. Revelation 14:10 holds that individuals in hell “will be tormented with fire and brimstone." Some Christians dispute that God's love is ever inaccessible, even in death, but there is no biblical evidence of this.
A few Christian denominations, such as Catholics, view hell as a place from which it is possible to escape; that is, hell does not have to last forever. However, the majority of Christians disagree and believe hell is a permanent, irreversible fate. Once you are in hell, you cannot get out. The book of Hebrews (9:27) says, “It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment.” Revelation 14:11 adds, “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever and they have no rest day and night."
Christians believe that all people get one chance -- a lifetime -- to seek God's forgiveness and live according to his will. If they fail to do that (e.g., willfully go against God), hell is a just punishment. It is what the Bible warned would happen; therefore, it is not cruel or unreasonable. Although this is difficult even for some Christians to reconcile with their view of God as wholly good and loving, it is a majority view. In "Christianity Today," Todd Mangum, associate professor of theology at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, wrote: " ... people commonly underestimate the appropriate punishment for defying an infinitely holy God."
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