Problem: Hell is real and eternal, and billions will go there
Verses: Revelation 14:9-11, Revelation 13:7-8; Status: Serious

Quite often, the Greek or Hebrew words translated as "Hell" simply mean "the grave". It's harder than you might think to show that (according to the Bible) Hell is a place of eternal torture where millions of unbelievers will go. But there are some verses that make this crystal clear. This is Revelation 14:9-11:

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name." (ESV)

That seems clear enough, but Ernest Geoffrey Seddon, in The Heresy of Eternal Suffering, writes that it is only the smoke that remains forever. But he ignores the "no rest" part of the verse, which surely implies the consciousness of the damned.

While one might suggest that this verse only applies to those who worship the beast, that in itself would be a huge number of people, as we are told by Revelation 13:7-8:

Also [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. (ESV)

This passage certainly seems to say that worshippers of the beast will be in the majority. This surely means millions of people; probably billions.

Other verses that explicitly describe Hell as actual fiery torment include Matthew 5:22 ("the hell of fire"), Matthew 13:42 ("the fiery furnace ... weeping and gnashing of teeth"), Matthew 25:41 ("eternal fire"), Mark 9:43 ("unquenchable fire") and Luke 16:22-24 ("I am in anguish in this flame"). Although these verses do not make it explicit that the damned suffer in Hell eternally (as opposed to simply being consumed and destroyed by the eternal fire), the verse from Revelation does.

Some philosophical musings

Although I know there are people who vehemently disagree, I think it's obvious that the torture of millions of people is something a benevolent superintelligence would neither do nor allow. This is clearly not just.

And while Christians think that all have sinned against God and deserve punishment, there's no reason for the punishment to be so disproportionate.

Some say that sin against an infinite being deserves infinite punishment. But this is completely backwards: the more powerful someone is, the less significant a crime against that person is. It's better to steal from a millionaire than a poor starving orphan. It's better to kick a man than a child.

Aware of the difficulty, some Christians reinterpret Hell as a place of "seperation from God". I don't see what difference it makes precisely how Hell is described. If the lives of the damned aren't worth living, and if they would choose annihilation if they could, the whole thing is still unacceptable. Whether the pain is physical or mental doesn't matter.

Updated: 2011-09-08

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