What is hell?

I came across this definition of hell in a talk on heaven and hell by David Meredith.

Meredith describes hell as:

The absence of God without a mediator and without common grace. So hell is a continuing trajectory of a self-absorbed, self-centred life.

Hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.

The Scriptural basis for this statement is Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus’ parable shows that in hell the rich man is exactly the same as he was during his life.

Meredith points out that in hell he is a self-absorbed, exploitative, self-centred, blame-shifting sinner. He is in hell what he was in life. The trajectory of a person’s life simply continues into eternity.

Also Lazarus has a name in the parable but the rich man does not. He is simply referred to as the rich man. That is to say that he is totally defined by his wealth — he has no identity outside of his riches. His identity is wrapped up in his wealth, both in life and in hell.

In this way Meredith says that we can experience a foretaste of hell and of glory in this life. To be wrapped up in self — to have an identity in wealth or to be ruled by anything that is not Christ Jesus is to experience a foretaste of hell. And to have an identity wrapped up in union with Jesus — to live in other-centred love (as opposed to self-centredness) is a foretaste of glory.

So to be in heaven, and ultimately the New Creation, is an eternal continuation of the person you are in Christ in this life. And to go to hell is again simply an eternal continuation of the person you are, and the life you live, in this life.

You may have noticed the phrase “gnashing of teeth” in Scripture, especially in relation to judgement and hell. Paul Blackham points out that though this phrase is often thought to refer to pain being inflicted by eternal torture (thus portraying God inaccurately as some kind of cosmic masochist), actually the phrase is never used in that way in the Bible. In fact, the term is used to describe furious, almost animalistic rage. Stephen’s murderers gnashed their teeth before stoning him, for example.

So if a person has rage against or hatred towards Christ in this life, unless they repent, receive Christ and are joined to him, that hatred will naturally continue into eternity.


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