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Does Hell Really Exist?

I recently wrote an article, “Is Heaven a Crowded Place?”, regarding who gets into Heaven and how we know Satan exists. This followed articles I wrote last summer, “What Will Heaven Be Like?” and “Purgatory as a Gift That Gets Us in Shape for Heaven.”

Purgatory and Heaven do exist. That leaves us with the question “does Hell really exist?” This is a very important question. If Hell does exist and it is where sinners go, then knowing this should motivate us to live good moral lives.

The Apostles’ Creed says, regarding Jesus, “he descended into Hell.” What about the Bible?

The English word “hell” is not found in the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). Before one rushes to rejoice at that, the Bible does talk about “hell”, albeit with different names.

A search on www.biblegateway.com shows the term “Sheol” is used 75 times in the Old Testament. These verses portray “Sheol” as place where people who have done evil go. It refers to “Sheol” as a place to be rescued from.

The word “Sheol” is not found in the New Testament. The word we find used twelve times in the New Testament is “Gehenna.” Eleven of the twelve are Jesus’ own words. The definition provided by the Catholic Culture Dictionary says originally Gehenna was an actual place where much evil was done. From there, the word “Gehenna” became the word for “hell” in Jesus’ time.

If Jesus talks about Hell, then we know it exists. Before going into what Jesus actually says, I think it necessary to say that while Hell does exist, God does not desire anyone to end up in Hell. It is God’s desire that everyone ends up in Heaven. Let us recall the words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” We only end up in Hell if we choose to do evil and fail to repent.

The common image of Hell is a place of fire. We find this in Jesus’ own words when He refers to fiery Gehenna” in Matthew 5:22 and the “unquenchable fire” in Mark 9:43.

Jesus tells us that we will end up in Gehenna if we sin in Matthew 5:29-30 (cf. Matthew 18:6-9, Mark 9:42-48). He tells us to be be strong in our efforts to avoid Hell. He describes it as a place of judgment in Matthew 23:33.

So, Hell exists. Sin has consequences beyond the grave. God desires for us to be in Heaven but it is our choice. We are to choose between what the world says and what God says. What choice should we make?

The answer, of course, is found in Jesus’ words, “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Matthew 10:28, Luke 12:5-6).

I pray we all choose well. When we choose poorly, remember Jesus’ died for our sins. Repent and seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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