What is Hell?

I do not think that hell is a place of torment/fire/torture. Hell is eternal existence where God allows people who prefer doing their will instead of God’s will can to continue to do so

Biblical basis for this apparently idiosyncratic interpretation?

Jesus never describes exactly what hell is like. His teaching on hell uses metaphorical language

Yes he does: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matt 25:41.

You may take this as a metaphorical description, but it is a description (and a very vivid one) none the less.

Secondly, the most clear and obvious meaning of the metaphor is a form of extreme punishment, not merely “God allows people who prefer doing their will instead of God’s will” – which would necessitate a far less in-your-face metaphor to clearly articulate it.

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I did not come up with this view on my own, I have heard it from CS Lewis as well as from other preachers. Here is an example of a sermon by Tim Keller

Thank you Michelle, but I don’t do podcasts in general – and particularly not for something that I’d want to examine critically.

I cannot however help but contrast these two statements:

Introductory notes from the podcast:

I’d like to argue that understanding what the Bible says about hell is crucial for understanding your own heart, for living in peace in the world, and for knowing the love of God.

Addendum: and whilst Lewis’ & Keller’s endorsement of this viewpoint may absolve it of being “idiosyncratic”, I cannot help but think of it as being detached from any apparent firm Biblical basis, and thus perhaps … fanciful.


I don’t see a conflict between the two quotes you highlighted.

Perhaps what you call fanciful, I call beautiful

If that’s the only reason it isn’t a great analogy, substitute a painful event that isn’t persistent. I’d say it still makes the point that the expressed reason for earthly problems is not sensible.


I said “contrast” not “conflict”.

It is the contrast between a description of hell being so inexact and so ambiguous that “eternal fire” can apparently mean ‘left to do your own thing’, whilst simultaneously being “crucial for understanding”.

If it was crucial to you understanding what lions are about in order to survive a trek across Africa, would you think that describing them as a “something cute and fluffy” would suffice?

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Precisely my point!

Loving parents are human and not omnipotent. They merely appear to be godlike to the youngest children.


What is your evidence for this interpretation? (“C.S. Lewis said so” is not evidence.) Is hell a fun place? Can you change your mind, or are you stuck forever?


What you describes sounds a lot like what CS Lewis says. It isn’t idiosyncratic.

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And I already withdrew the adjective “idiosyncratic” here.

It is however hard to see how “eternal fire” is an even remotely applicable metaphor for “eternal existence where God allows people who prefer doing their will instead of God’s will can to continue to do so”.

Hence I would use the adjective “fanciful” (but not “beautiful”) to describe this strained-past-breaking-point interpretation.

“Eternal fire” at first glance evokes the impression of severe punishment. At a more deconstructed level, pain and intensity – which would appear to be the very antithesis of what @Michelle is describing.

A better metaphor for such a description for being detached from God’s warmth and light would be something that evoked the impression of coolness, dimness and mutedness. An overcast late autumn day perhaps.

I’m not saying that Michelle’s God isn’t a nicer God – quite the opposite. I am just saying it is hard to see such a God use the metaphor “eternal fire” for what he is trying to describe.

All this is admiting that I am not an expert in Ancient Near Eastern cultures, but (i) I think the imagery involved is sufficiently primal as to transcend cultural barriers, and (ii) it does not appear that CS Lewis or Tim Keller have any particularly profound expertise in this area either.

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Not everything things that phrase is referencing hell.

There are even some Christians who hold an annihilationist view for people who do not go to heaven based on certain passages. So there are different opinions on the topic of what hell could be like. There are very few passages in the Bible about hell, so it is hard for anyone to really know what it would be like. The main point of the Bible is that it would be best to be in heaven, that God loves us and wants us to join Him there, and He has provided a way for us to get there, which required His own self-sacrifice on our behalf

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But that raises two questions:

  1. What then is that phrase referencing?

  2. What is the Biblical basis for Christian interpretation of hell?

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@Tim, there are definitely a variety of views on hell within Christianity, and even within the Evangelical world. As an example, this book “Four Views on Hell” was pretty popular a few years ago. It outlines 4 significant views:

  1. Eternal Conscious Torment
  2. Annihilationism (Conditional Immortality)
  3. Universalism (Ultimate Reconciliation)
  4. Purgatory

I think Annihilationism makes the most sense to me (which I got onto after reading John Stott’s classic The Cross of Christ), and of course ECT is sort of the common conservative/Evangelical view, but Universalism has been advocated by some pretty high power theologians (Karl Barth being a big one). I don’t think purgatory is particularly seen among Protestants but Catholics represent a very large chunk of Christianity. I don’t know much about Orthodox Christian views but I gather that they are fairly different when it comes to their conceptions of heaven and hell.

The Biblical basis of any of these views is a thread in-and-of itself. There are plenty of discussions about what Gehenna and Hades actually mean. What “eternal” means in context, what the end goal of “hell” is (punishment, “2nd chance”, rehabilitation, etc.), and yes whether it can be understood as externally or internally enforced. To borrow C.S. Lewis’ analogy, are the gates of hell locked from the outside or the inside?

I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination but it seems to me like there is certainly a lot of ground for interpretation and discussion.


Sure it is, just not @Michelle’s idiosyncrasy. Didn’t Lewis make it up? It certainly isn’t scriptural.

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Thank you Jordan, but that doesn’t answer my question, which is (what is) the Biblical basis for (i) Christian interpretations of Hell in general & (ii) Michelle’s, Lewis’ & Keller’s interpretation of Hell in particular.

Addendum: I will however say that the list of interpretations you present appears to be sufficiently divergent as to suggest that that there is not in fact a firm Biblical basis for interpreting Hell, and that the varying interpretations are thus largely speculative.

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I’m not sure I put it exactly that way, but yes, I do think, like most of the history of theology, there’s a lot of room for interpretation and speculation when it comes to Biblical texts. I find it to be both beautiful and maddening at times. Being an analytical sort of person, I’d much rather have the clarity of a much shorter and more direct document. On the other hand, it really is amazing to sit in a room of people who read the same passage and get such different things out of it. I find multiple perspectives helpful to build a fuller, richer view of the world.

I did find this article good as a summary of C.S. Lewis’ views on hell. It doesn’t answer the Biblical basis because C.S. Lewis was not a theologian or Biblical scholar. He was a writer and so he is much less into exegesis and hermeneutics than trying to paint a picture that makes sense of the human experience. I don’t have a good reference for Keller’s stuff off hand but I’ll try to find something when I get a chance if somebody doesn’t get there first.

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