The October issue of Smithsonian magazine (page 14) contains a book review and discussion of portrayals of hell dating back to 400 BC. The pictures in the magazine are horrible scenes of torture and suffering with many of the images related to Catholic teachings on purgatory. All of the pictures reflect a belief that hell is a physical place with physical torture techniques applied to those rejected by God. But is hell a physical place?
We see the same portrayals in our newspapers with cartoons showing little men with horns and pitchforks doing nasty things to those condemned to eternal torture. We get frequent letters from unbelievers and people with doubts questioning the concept of hell. They argue that it is impossible to believe in a God who would punish anyone with eternal physical torture, especially those who never had the opportunity to hear the gospel. Because the media continues to feed those images to the public, a high percentage of our population believes that the Bible teaches this physical abuse.
There is no question that the Bible clearly indicates that there is eternal punishment for those who choose to reject God. But there is a difference between eternal punishment and eternal punishing. A person executed for a crime is penalized eternally, but the execution is not eternal torture.
Jesus spoke of the difference between these two in Matthew 10:28, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” There are numerous other passages which speak of hell as a separation from God and all that goes with God–love, peace, joy, etc. Torturing is not something God does. Then is hell a physical place or is it more likely an eternal separation from God and everything that is good and pleasing?
–John N. Clayton © 2018