The word Hell originally meant "the hidden place".
Hela was the Norse goddess of the dead.
It is used in the English versions of the New Testament to translate two words:
Hades and Gehenna.
It is always important to observe in which sense the word is used.
[GEHENNA occurs seven times in the New Testament, HADES eight times.]
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the rich man was in Hades, not Gehenna (Luke 16.23).
Capernaum is to be cast down to Hades, not Gehenna (Matt.11.23).
But when our Lord said,
It is better for thee to enter into Heaven with one eye,
than having two eyes to be cast into Hell,
the word is Gehenna (Mark 9.47; also Matt.5.22).
Hades was the name of the Greek god of the dead.
His abode was called THE HOUSE OF HADES and later simply HADES.
Thus Hades in the New Testament came to be the Greek word for the Hebrew SHEOL,
the dusty region beneath the earth
to which the earlier Hebrews believed their spirit (NEPHESH, identified with the breath) would go when it left the body.
Hades therefore became the name for the intermediate state of the dead between
death and the General Judgment.
It included Paradise, Purgatory, and Limbo.
(Medieval theologians believed that besides Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell (Gehenna) there was the Limbo of the Fathers where the righteous men were who lived before our Lord's death.
The "spirits in prison" to whom He preached (I Peter 3.19) were there, and they were delivered by Him and transferred to Paradise so that the Limbo of the Fathers was empty.
There was also the Limbo of children occupied by the spirits of unbaptized infants.
As belief in Limbo is mere speculation, we need not consider it further.)
Hades was often translated by HELL in Tudor English.
He descended into Hell
in the Apostles, Creed represents "ad inferos", Hades.
It was only Calvin who held that our Lord went to the abode of the lost,
for he did not believe in Hades but only in Gehenna and Heaven.
Gehenna was originally the valley of Hinnom on the western side of Jerusalem.
Because this valley,
which had been used for the worship of idols,
became the rubbish heap of the city where large fires were always burning,
the name Gehenna came to be applied to the abode of the Devil and his angels and of condemned spirits of men,
which was believed to be a place of everlasting fire.
In the New Testament there are many references to this belief,
and most Christians have always believed that those who were condemned at the General Judgment would be cast into fiery torments and suffer them eternally.
We must now consider how far this belief is necessary to the faith.
It is God's will and purpose that all men should be saved and have eternal
life (I Tim.2.4, 4.10;
John 3.16-19; II Peter 3.9).
But He will not save them against their will.
He has given them free will,
and it is His unchangeable purpose to preserve that free will.
If man has free will at all, he must be capable of continuing to misuse it to the end.
In that case God has failed with him.
Our Lord has died in vain for him, which was the most bitter part of His sufferings.
But it was inevitable if man was to have free will at all.
God Himself could not have given man free will which should not be free,
for as we have seen,
God cannot do what is contrary to His own nature (pp. 29, 140).
Every person, therefore, whether man or angel, who has free will,
has with it the possibility for final disobedience and impenitence;
and the impenitent cannot be in Heaven.
For Heaven is not a place but a state.
The impenitent, by his very impenitence, is in Hell wherever he is.
Even Marlow saw this when he made Mephistopheles say to Dr. Faustus, "Myself am Hell".
So the possibility of final impenitence and permanent banishment from the
presence of God,
from all that is good, and true, and beautiful,
is the necessary consequence of belief in free will,
of the belief that morality and holiness exist,
of the belief that we are rational persons.
And the conclusion of reason is fully supported by revelation.
Our Lord said,
It is better for thee to enter into life with one hand,
than having two hands to depart into unquenchable fire (Mark 9.43);
Then shall He say to those on the left hand,
Depart from Me ye cursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt.25.41).
Our Lord also said of Judas Iscariot,
Good were it for that man if he had never been born (Mark 14.21).
He that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost hath no forgiveness forever,
but is guilty of an eternal sin (Mark 3.29).
suffering the vengeance of eternal fire,
and Rev.20.10, 21.8,
which explicitly speak of eternal punishment,
may be regarded, perhaps, as representing Jewish rather than Christian teaching.
But apart from these passages the New Testament certainly teaches that it is possible for a man to be finally lost.
St. Peter says,
If the righteous is scarcely saved,
where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (I Peter 4.13),
and Hebrews 6:4,
It is impossible to renew again unto repentance
those who have once been enlightened ...
and have fallen away.
Cf. also the explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt.13.41).
Universalism the belief that all men will necessarily be saved is contrary
both to Scripture and reason, and has been condemned as a heresy by the Church
at the 5th Ecumenical Council.
It was because the alternative was so terrible that our Lord died to save us from it.
But though we must believe that the possibility of final and permanent condemnation lies before us and must treat our earthly life and conduct with the seriousness which this possibility requires, we must not include in this belief ideas which do not necessarily belong to it.
God condemns no one to Hell.
He does not intend anyone to be lost (I Tim.2.4; II Peter 3.9).
He was willing to die Himself rather than that anyone should be lost.
In many minds the remains of ancestral Calvinism still unconsciously suggest that belief in Hell means belief that God is a tyrant who condemns some of His creatures to eternal torture;
but the orthodox teaching of the Church and the Bible does not support any such belief.
The Church does not require us to believe that any particular person is lost or even that any one will necessarily be lost at all, except the devil and his angels (Matt.25.41), and perhaps Judas Iscariot (Mark 14.21; John 17.12).
Sentimental pity for those who have never had a chance is quite out of place
Hell is not for those who have never had a chance (Matt.25.44; Luke 12.48)
but as the passages from the New Testament quoted above show,
for those who have had every chance and have deliberately thrown it away.
No one will be condemned because he knew nothing of Christ.
Matt.25.32 ff. shows that the heathen ("all the nations") will be judged by the extent to which they followed the light that was given them.
Some have imagined that even in Hell there may be mitigation of punishment
(punishment, indeed is not the right word, for the purpose of punishment is reform),
but we have no evidence for speculations about this.
We do not know how St. Paul's saying
God shall be all in all (I Cor.15.28)
can be reconciled with belief in the possibility of final condemnation.
It cannot mean that there is no such possibility,
which would be contrary both to Scripture and reason.
So far as we know, our fate for eternity depends upon this life.
If a "second chance" is given to any one, we have no evidence for it;
and it would be the height of rashness to presume upon it.
The kind of person who hopes for a second chance would, if he were given one, hope for a third chance and so on.
The theory of a "second chance" for those who have really had a first chance (we know nothing about the fate of the others) is not in accordance with either justice or mercy.
We need not believe that Hell is eternal physical torture.
The references to ETERNAL FIRE call the fire eternal, not the punishment, except Rev.20.10, which cannot be regarded as a sufficient basis for such a doctrine.
All language dealing with eternity and the spiritual world must be symbolic,
and the use of the word "fire" is certainly symbolic.
We must ask ourselves what sort of future a man is to expect whose life here has been devoted wholly to cruelty, or lust, or avarice, or ambition, and who finds that he cannot satisfy the desires which occupy all his attention and cannot put others in their place.
An eternity of utter boredom, of ceaseless regret for evil pleasures that can no longer be indulged, without hope or mitigation, would be as terrible as the tortures of Dante's Inferno.
But we need not believe even this.
Some have thought that the spirits of those who have refused eternal life will altogether cease to exist
Fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna,
where the word translated soul is ψυχή,
and that immortality is only given to us on conditions,
as was taught by Arnobius, a Christian writer of the fourth century.
This is contrary to the belief in the necessary immortality of the spirit;
but, as we have seen, the necessary immortality of the spirit is not a Christian doctrine, and the arguments in favour of it are not entirely convincing.
But the theory that αἰώνιος,
aeonian, the word translated EVERLASTING or ETERNAL,
does not mean eternal but only "till the end of the
age", proves too much.
For if this is true of Hell, it is also true of Heaven.
The same word is used for eternal life (Mark 10.30; John 3.15; etc.).
We are not to think of Hell as the doom of other people
but as the possible doom for ourselves.
It is this alone which the New Testament places before us.
It gives no support to the ghastly notion of St. Thomas Aquinas and others that the sight of the tortures of the lost is part of the blessedness of the saved.
The difficulty of believing in Hell is partly due to an insufficient hatred of sin.
Hell is the necessary consequence of sin,
which has reached its end by excluding from the person all that is good.
Those who will be acquitted in the general Judgment (which will confirm
and make public the decision already given in the Particular Judgment) will
be those who have been forgiven.
The RIGHTEOUS are not those who have not sinned,
for there are no such persons,
but those who have been freed from sin
and reconciled to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Matt.25.22 shows that these will include many who in this life were outside the covenant of God (παντὰ τὰ ἔθνη, all the nations), but who, having lived according to the knowledge that they had, will have been saved through Jesus Christ, though they did not know Him (Acts 4.12: cf. Isa.45.4).
The eternal life, which our Lord promised,
is not something that is to begin after the end of this world.
It begins already in this life.
It is union with God, which grows more and more here, and in the intermediate state, to be made complete when the Resurrection of the Body and the General Judgment are followed by admission into Heaven.
It is not absorption.
We are to continue forever as persons.
Heaven is not the Nirvana of the Buddhists because the Buddha offered men escape from life,
[As his teaching is commonly represented, but some Buddhists deny this.]
whereas our Lord came that they might have life and might have it more abundantly (John 10.10).
Union with God will include union with our fellow men.
We expect that every society of men of every kind, which has in this life helped to fulfil God's purpose will be found in Heaven in a completely satisfying and eternal form;
as Browning says in "Abt Volger".
["There shall never be one lost good!
What was, shall live as before;
The evil is null, is nought, is silence implying sound,
What was good shall be good, with, for evil, so much good more;
On the earth the broken arcs;
in the heaven a perfect round."]
Above all, eternal life will bring us to the Beatific Vision,
to the full enjoyment and worship of God
and the employment therein of all our powers.
This is the purpose for which we were made, and is therefore the environment to which every part of us will be completely adapted.
In our present existence we cannot imagine this, and it is useless to speculate about it.
The symbolic language of the Revelation and other parts of the Bible about Heaven is not to be taken literally.
The reality is such as no human language could possibly express.
The love, by our capacity for which we see most clearly that we are made
in the image of God, will be completely satisfied;
and therefore we shall be wholly occupied in the worship and the service of God.
We shall no longer be capable of the slightest opposition to His Will;
and for that reason the condition of changelessness,
which seems to us now so difficult to reconcile with happiness,
will be the condition of perfect joy;
for St. Augustine's words will have been fulfilled,
and our heart will be no longer restless
because it will have found rest in the Beatific Vision of the Trinity in Unity.