WHAT IS HELL LIKE?
Let's start with the obvious. Hell will be bad. Whether it will be "worse than we could ever imagine," I don't know. I can imagine to a pretty horrific extent. But the separation from God and all things good and enjoyable will be worse than we could ever comprehend. As in, although we can imagine how terrible hell will be, we can't comprehend because we've never experienced separation from God, etc., etc..
I mention the generic obvious for this reason. A common unbeliever's reply to the doctrine of hell is, "There is no hell; I'm going through my hell here on this earth. This life is hell." This is what Ray Comfort says about that (in The Evidence Bible):
Skeptics who say this are trying to dismiss the reality of hell. They might like
to think that life as we know it couldn’t get any worse, but the sufferings in
this life will be heaven compared to the suffering in the next life—for those
who die in their sins. This life is the closest thing to hell that Christians
will ever know, and the closest thing to heaven that sinners will ever know.
This earth isn’t anywhere close to heaven or to hell. The way I see it is like this: when you’re in the middle of the United States, you’re neither close to the North Pole nor the South Pole. But if you fly to the South Pole to live until your death, your time in the U.S. is the closest you’ll ever get to the North Pole, and vice versa.
Hell is a strong word used for many earthly evils, like, "War is hell." In Darryl Worley's hit song, "Have You Forgotten?", he sings, "...when those towers fell, we had neighbors still inside, going through a living hell." One of the strongest curses known to man is, "You can go to hell for all I care." This is always taken seriously, but the person making this damnation doesn't even realize quite how strong those implications are.
Now I'm not going to try to downplay any of life's difficult consequences, especially ones I've never been through, like war and being inside a burning building. And, for those who think life is hell, they've probably lived a harder life so far than I have. But this statement shows an ignorance--as Ray Comfort said, "to the reality of hell,"--and it also shows a deep self-pity and a tendency to extremely exaggerate. Bottom line: hell will be worse than anything on this earth, as hard as that might be to comprehend. This is true, if for no other reason, than that it will be eternal, while every trial in this life generally passes, or at least wanes from time to time.
Now that I've established that hell will be "bad,"--not enjoyable, to say the very least, I might as well tackle this wisecrack remark that unbelievers often utilize: "I don't care if I'm going to hell, because all my friends will be there." This again shows the ignorance--and arrogance--to hell. It's as simple as the ole "If you're friends jumped off a cliff, would you too?" argument. Some would, I must admit, in this day of the power of peer pressure in which we live, along with the adrenaline-addict and "life has no purpose" phenomenon we are facing in society. However, this is the absolute dumbest thing a person could ever do. If a whole group of your friends decided to sit around and drink gasoline--followed with the snack of burning matches--it wouldn't be as stupid to follow the crowd in that situation than to follow your friends to hell and challenge the wrath of Almighty God.
However, like I've already said twice (using the term "ignorance"), this type of apathy towards hell usually roots in a misconception of hell. Some unsaved sinners might admit to you that there is a hell. But they don't realize that hell is not the “sinners’ heaven.” It is not a grotesque party. Judgment Day will not go like this: “Anyone who wants to party sinfully, go through that door—hell’s on the other side; but any pious Christians who enjoyed their persecuted and trial-filled life on earth--resisting temptation and the 'pleasures of sin for a season'(Hebrews 11:25), the sinless party is through this door—heaven.” No. Hell will not be a place where lewd acts are performed without reservation, conscious, embarrasment, or reproach. The Bible speaks of sinners enjoying “the passing pleasures of sin,”(Hebrews 11:25) not the pleasures of sin for eternity. Words such as damnation, cursing, wrath, punishment, torment, weeping, shame, contempt, tribulation, anguish, destruction, and gnashing of teeth show us that there will be no pleasure in hell.
So how long will this experience, which we've established won't be a party, last? Some Christians just don’t have the heart to say that “eternal punishment” will be “eternal.” But, the bottom line is—it will be. What the Bible says, I have to believe. Daniel 12:2 : "...everlasting contempt"; Matthew 25:46 : "...everlasting (or eternal) punishment..." ; Luke 3:17: "...fire unquenchable[it will never stop]..." ; 2 Thessalonians 1:9 : "Everlasting destruction..." ; Jude 7 : "Eternal fire..." ; Jude 13: "...the blackness of darkness forever..." ; Revelation 14:11 : "...for ever and ever." The list of references I'm certain goes on, but the point is made. Plus, if hell wasn't eternal punishment, Jesus wouldn’t have said numerous times to “pluck out your eye” or “cut off your hand” if those acts would keep you from going to hell. (Matthew 5:29,30; Matthew 18:9 ; Mark 9:45,47) Why go through life with impaired sight and one hand if you can just suffer for them a little while after death and then end up at the “party” later? That’s the absurdity behind purgatory. It's also how the theory of "annihilation-ism" can be discredited. You're eventually going to get relief, so why deny yourself your fleshly pleasure? These theories, of not-eternal punishment, insult the holiness and justice of our perfect God.
Now we see that hellish punishment will neither be temporary nor fun. So what will it be like? Well, it is important to note that neither heaven nor hell is a place where "spirits just float around." This is seen clearer on the topic of heaven than hell, for in heaven we will receive "glorified bodies" (Philippians 3:21), yes, our old bodies will be perfected in their resurrection.(1 Corinthians 15:42--note: this is just one reference to many of the "resurrection of the dead.") But, as I failed to realize before, those lost in their sins will also be resurrected! They won't be saved, no. The Bible says, "Those who did the good deeds [will receive] a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds [will receive] a resurrection of judgment." (John 5:29) It appears that Jesus is stating here that the unregenerate will be given bodies for the purpose of receiving punishment. John 5:29 is backed up by Acts 24:15, "That there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." These statements make sense, because the Bible seems to point to physical, conscious punishment: "Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9); "...destruction..." (2 Thessalonians 1:9); "Eternal fire..." (Jude 7); "Weeping and gnashing of teeth..." (Matthew 24:51); as well as spiritual punishments: "Shame and everlasting contempt..." (Daniel 12:2). But as I’ve stated in previous articles, I believe the wicked are suffering now, before they've received their bodies “for judgment.” So, the only thing I can say is: don’t underestimate God. I am sure He can inflict physical feeling pain on the soul. In fact, humans have difficulty separating the two sensations oftentimes (when you're in pain, you're in pain).
But how will this work? How will the unsaved be burned and scorched eternally? I picture (and yes, it’s gruesome) the unregenerate as similar to the Burning Bush, which “burned, but was not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2)
Also, eternal darkness will be there? How will there be fire and eternal darkness? First of all, it will be spiritual darkness—separation of God and His common grace (even if you are not a Christian on this earth, you are receiving “common grace” from God). But the Bible also says "the blackness of darkness forever." (Jude 13) That doesn't sound like spiritual darkness. Perhaps, the gift of sight will be removed. After all, Jesus said it would be better to enter heaven with one eye than hell with two. (Matthew 5:29) Those who are condemned cannot expect the blessings of the functions of the human body to remain--except for the sensors of pain.
After these things, the specifics of hell are almost indiscernible. Will there be degrees of hell? Well, the Bible tells us that there will be differing rewards in heaven. And “Judgment Day” would be rather boring and repetitive without degrees of hell. Of course, God sees all of our sins as “exceedingly sinful,” (Romans 7:13) but is Hitler going to get the same punishment as everyone else? What about the serial rapist? Child molester? Maybe God’s justice is different than what we think, but the Bible does say He will judge us on all of our secret thoughts, idle words, and deeds. With this supporting my intuiton, I have an inkling that “Judgment Day” will be more than “He’s a Christian, she’s not; she’s a Christian, he’s not.”
The most common objection (including mine) to the idea of “degrees of hell” is found in the transitive property of equality: “If someone suffers more in hell than someone else, than that means someone else suffers LESS.” This, however, isn’t even worth talking about. It’s like saying, “Two people are in a fiery furnace. One’s in the middle, where’s it 4000 degrees. The other is toward the edge, where it’s ‘only’ 3000 degrees.” Who cares? Would you want to be in that furnace? Would you take solace in the fact that you are not in the 4000 degree part? Even if you were able to think comparatively and logically in such a position, then you’d have to realize that you didn’t sin as much as you could have. If you can handle this amount of heat, why didn’t you have more fun on earth?
If you were to ask my imagination's opinion--conjugating off words like "torment" and "anguish"--I could think of some pretty horrid scenarios. But besides "fire" and "worm," we are not given any specifics really in Scripture, so I won't expound on any fancies either. One would be the idea of demons torturing humans, but what would happen when the demons were thrown into the Lake of Fire? I don't think that God, in the year 289,756 A.D., will say, "Today I think I will give Mrs. Smith the worst migraine she could ever imagine." I could be wrong, of course. I could be underestimating the wrath of God. But my guess is that a mechanism will already be in place--automatically carrying out just wrath and punishment.