Introduction: The Voices of Hell

As of this moment, I do not believe in Hell. There is not a place called Hell where people are burning, screaming or suffering.

I remember many years ago hearing about someone who dug a hole in the earth so deep, he could hear the screams of Hell. I got really excited at the time, thinking it confirmed my worldview that Hell is a real place that unbelievers go to when they die. There are many reasons why I should not have believed that story, but, first and foremost, I should have rejected it because I don’t believe Hell exists, right now. So many believe that unbelievers die and immediately go to this fiery pit of despair. So many are disturbed because they think that many people they know are suffering in this terrible place. But I do not believe this is true.

Now, before you begin to throw things are your computer screen, cursing me out, telling me to go to Hell, hear me out. I did not say that I do not believe in the doctrine of eternal punishment or that I don’t believe in Hell at all. I said that I don’t believe in Hell right now. Let me put it this way, I don’t believe that Hell is open for business yet . . . at least for humans.

Where Do Unbelievers Go When They Die, Right Now?

When people who have not trusted in Christ die they go to a place to await judgement. I am not sure what this place is or what it is like, but I am increasingly convinced that unbelievers are not in Hell yet. God will not assign them to this darkness until they have been judged. You see, there are two types of people: 1) those who had Christ take their judgement on the cross and 2) those who would rather stand before God on their own to be judged.

The book of Revelation chapter 20 helps me out here:

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

This suggests that it is not until people are resurrected (Rev. 20:5) that God judges them. God does not judge those who have trusted Christ and are in the Book of Life. But he does judge those who do not trust Christ. They will be judged according to their works and then assigned various levels of punishment based on what they have done (Luke 12:27-28).

Why Do People Believe Hell Exists Right Now?

I could be wrong about this. There may be a Hell before judgement. After all, it would seem that there are certain fallen angels who are already in something like Hell suffering for their sins.

Jude 1:6

And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day. (NAS)

However, even here, the angels are kept in “eternal bonds under darkness.” What is the purpose of these bonds? To hold them until “the judgement of the great day.” Properly speaking, this is not Hell yet. Again, I do not believe Hell opens for business until after judgement.

What About the Rich Man and Lazarus?

The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is probably the primary reason most people believe Hell exists right now. And it might very well teach this. Here is the key part:

Luke 16:22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

Doesn’t this prove that Hell (or a temporary type of Hell) exists right now? It could, but I think there is another way to look at it. Parables are very difficult places to arrive at systematic theology. We often try to make them walk on all fours, drawing theological conclusions from every detail. However, parables are only meant to have one main point. The rest of the story supports this point, but should not be taken too literally. For example, this parable speaks about the punishment of Hell being from fire (Luke 16:24). But I don’t think that we need to conclude that Hell is literal fire. Also, this parable suggests that we will be able to see those in hell across a great chasm, but I don’t think this is true. It is just an illustration of the eternality and agony of Hell.

Main Point: Things With God Are Not What They Seem

I believe that the main point of the parable is directed to the Pharisees, who, as we see just before the parable, were lovers of money (Luke 16:14) and thought that one’s status in the afterlife was reflected by how much money they had. Christ shows that the rich man (who was never named, suggesting his lack of influence in eternity) goes to Hell and the Poor man (who was named “Lazarus,” meaning “God Helps”) goes to Abraham’s bosom (a symbol of high status). I see this as speaking of both men’s places after the judgement, but we need to be careful about seeing this as a doctrine of Hell.

What About Near Death Experiences

While I believe near-death experiences are credible and warrant examination, we need to be careful with the implications we believe they have. Yes, some individuals have reported experiencing Hell during such events and have altered their lives as a result. For example, I recently heard from someone whom I consider a true Christian, who described his transformative encounter with what he perceived as Hell. I believe he is sincere and I believe God changed him.

Looking for What You Want for Christmas?

However, this does not necessarily confirm Hell’s current existence. I also acknowledge that people claim to have visited Heaven. But the descriptions of Heaven and Hell from these testimonies could be allegorical, similar to the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, intended to impart a larger truth. Often, those who describe Heaven use terms typically associated with the New Earth—mentioning streets of gold and gates of pearl, for example. I do not take this to mean that Heaven actually embodies these features, or that the New Jerusalem exists at this moment. If these experiences are genuinely from God, they may be didactic visions provided to steer individuals toward where God intends them to be, rather than literal representations of Heaven or Hell.

So Where Do Unbelievers Go Before the Judgement?

Where do unbelievers go when they die? I believe it is some sort of waiting place. It is not in the presence of God and it is not a great place to be. Those who die without Christ are existing without their bodies in a state of consciousness, at least to some degree. We don’t know much about them. The Bible is virtually silent on the subject. Their may be some “place” they are all at or they may all be here roaming the earth. This might explain some people’s encounters with ghosts! We are just not sure.

Practical Implications

If Hell is not open for business yet, what difference does that make for us? I think it makes a lot of difference. Foremost of all is this: if God is waiting for the final judgement to assign people to Hell, how much more should we reserve our judgement. It is so hard to think of someone being in Hell right now. Many of us have had loved ones who have died and we don’t believe that they ever trusted Christ. The anguish we suffer because of this is both disillusioning and, often, unbearable. However, we do not have to suffer from such thoughts now. Indeed, we should not suffer from them. One day those of us who have trusted in Christ will stand with God at the Great White judgement throne. Then we will see and understand why people go to hell and understand their various levels of punishment. Because of this, we will understand that their assignment to Hell is just.

So, in the end, let us be very careful about speaking about those who we believe are going to Hell. If God waits until the general resurrection to judge them, how much more should we?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    24 replies to "Why I Don’t Believe in Hell . . . Right Now"

      • C Michael Patton

        Yes. “Paradise” is a place. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. I think it is mysterious as to where or what heaven is right now. wherever the Lord is, that is where heaven is. When the Lord reigns from the earth on the new Earth, that will be heaven, too. So, heaven will become earth.

    • Eric Quek

      I enjoy the way you force us to reevaluate our stance on Eschatology! Consider these questions: 1. Define Hell. 2. God’s Omnipresence and Hell. 3. State of Unbelievers. 4. Final conclusion.
      Answer for 1. Hell is a state of separation from God, rather than a physical place of torment. This would align with a metaphorical or symbolic interpretation. (M) Michael you too question the literal interpretation and suggest it might be symbolic or allegorical. 2. We all agree and believe God is omnipresence, then Hell would be where He is not. present. (Psalm 139:7-8). This presents a profound theological paradox! If God is omnipresent, then logically, no place or state can be completely void of God. This paradox challenges the traditionally physical and spatial conceptualization of Hell as a separate, distant realm of punishment. Another way to view is from an existential state. Characterized not by God’s actual absence, but by the subjective experience of being cut off from God’s presence and grace. Here Hell is about the perceived absence of God–a state where individuals fell utterly separated from the divine, (2Thessaloninans1:9) So this idea revolves around the idea of alienation and estrangement from God. It’s not just physical torment that defines Hell, but a profound spiritual suffering from the awareness of being disconnected from the source of ultimate love, truth and beauty. This view of Hell emphasizes the dynamic and relational aspects of human existence in relation to God. Hell is not a static place awaiting souls after death but is a potential reality that can be experienced in varying degrees throughout one’s life and beyond. It is a state that evolve and change, depending on one’s relationship with God. Thus the saying….I went through Hell….may have more significance than meet the eye. Our commonalities: 1. We challenge traditional physical and spatial conceptualizations of Hell. 2. We agree on the symbolic or allegorical interpretation of scriptural references to Hell. 3.We emphasize the importance of a relational understanding of Hell in connection with God. Our differences: I focus more on the existential and subjective experience of separation from God, while M introduces the idea of a pre-judgment waiting state. 2. I posits Hell as a state potentially experienced during life, whereas M seems to place it in a post – mortem context. Thanks for the Eschatological exercise.

    • Ed Chapman

      You might want to have a conversation with Howard Storm, a former atheist, tenured professor, and now, retired preacher.

      He’d beg to differ with you.

      Ed Chapman

      • C Michael Patton

        Yeah. That is why I put Near-Death experience as an objection. But, again, I don’t think it has to exist yet for a NDE to be granted to look at it. Christ offered for people to look at it through many parables. I would think the Lord could give people a vision of it.

        I know it may seem like special pleading to allow for that. But I think it would be more so to necessitate its existence when Judgement has not even happened yet. Maybe it’s like county jail before prison. But I would think it is just a state of existence somewhere that is not heaven. I am not sure how bad it is, if it is bad at all. It could just be neutral.

        • Ed Chapman

          I feel sorry for you, really. You have a blog, and from this blog, I’m glad that you are not Catholic, that’s a huge plus, but you are definately OUT OF THE MAINSTREAM of ALL denominations of the things that you believe, and it makes me wonder about you. You’ve discussed things that are…weird, to say the least. This no longer is about Calvinism vs. Armani shirts or Pelicans anymore.

        • C Michael Patton

          Amen! Thank you! (for felling sorry for me. . . Pray for me as I am still a dispensationalist)

        • Ed Chapman

          I’m dispensational as well, but dispensational ZIONIST. I have disdain for preterists, but can sympathize with the others. I’m pre-7th Seal rapture, where some are pre-trib rapture. I believe the Anti-Christ is Jewish, where most think it’s the Pope. And what’s gaining traction today is that the Anti-Christ is Muslim. Besides the pope, it used to be some dude from the UN, or EU, or US. A mixed bag of beliefs. But we have Matthew 22:41-42 that clearly states Jewish. We have Ezekiel 36 which states that the Jews go back to their homeland, and 37 which shows that both the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom reunite, and a king is set up. And that goes with Acts 1:6-7. And if a King, then a TEMPLE, and if a temple, then abomination of desolation.

          Nothing wrong with dispensationalism. But, your issue about what a soul is, and hell, that’s a problem. That’s THE problem.

        • C Michael Patton

          What the soul is? And I believe in an eternal place of separation and punishment from God.

        • Ed Chapman

          Punishment…OK, so what’s the punishment? What do you think that demons do for a living? My goodness, Jesus had to CAST OUT DEMONS while he was here on the earth. TORMENTING humans while they were ALIVE. Those who have free will to separate themselves from God, you don’t think that hell is open for business?

          IF hell is a place of separation, as you say, then WHAT EXPERIENCES are those people going through RIGHT NOW, who have died already? Are they waiting in the lobby, or the bar having a cocktail, for thier reservation?

        • C Michael Patton


      • Ed Chapman

        I surely hope that you don’t think that 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 is a parable.

        • C Michael Patton

          No. I said that heaven is open for business. We have already been judged in Christ.

    • Ed Chapman

      You suggest, as many do, that Luke 16’s rendition of the rich man and Lazarus is a “PARABLE”.

      It isn’t, and that’s easy to conclude.

      The nice thing about the gospels, is that each of them is in the SAME EXACT ORDER OF EVENTS. Nothing is out of place.

      The gospels are WITNESS STATEMENTS, and the Bible states that “out of the mouth of 2 or three may every word be established. Consider a crime that takes place, and the investigators are gathering evidence and WITNESS STATEMENTS. And they have no choice but to bring a TIMELINE of events to the prosecutor.

      We all know that some witnesses leave out stuff that others pick up on, and vice versa. Zipper the witness statements.

      When you do, you will see the following:

      If you rely on Luke alone, you would think that Jesus was in Galilee, talking to the Pharisees. But he wasn’t. He was in Judea talking to the DISCIPLES ONLY. That means, NOT A PARABLE.

      But if you zipper the gospels together, you will find that..

      The Pharisees Derided Jesus in Galilee: Luke 16:14-17
      Jesus LEFT Galilee for Judea: Matthew 19:1-2, Mark 10:1
      Jesus discusses topic of “PUT AWAY” (some say divorce) with the Pharisees in Judea: Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-9, Luke 16:18
      After that, Jesus and the disciples go into a HOUSE together, without the Pharisees, and FURTHER discusses the topic of “PUT AWAY” (some say divorce): Mark 10:10-12
      THEN Jesus discusses the topic of the Rich man and Lazarus, STILL WITH DISCIPLES ONLY, IN A HOUSE: Luke 16:19-31

      Note: There are SEVERAL instances in this timeline that MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE are EXACT. John is a bit difficult to do, because he’s more of the SPIRITUAL guy. But Matthew, Mark, and Luke are no problem. Some leave out info that others pick up on, but the timeline is STILL in ORDER, in all of them.

      The story of the Rich man and Lazarus is NOT a Parable.

    • Ed Chapman

      The one thing you suggested earlier, is JAIL VS. PRISON. I think you need to stick to that. Jail is DETENTION until judged.

      Ever heard of Hell vs. LAKE OF FIRE? Same difference. Satan is FREE to do as he pleases, until the lake of fire, which includes tormenting the dead souls NOT SLATED FOR HEAVEN.

      Ed Chapman

    • Daniel Eaton

      So much about hell, IMO, is folk theology. As long as you are going to be a “heretic” by questioning such a sacred cow as “hell”, you may as well investigate conditional immortality versus eternal conscious torment. I think there is a really strong argument for the former. Never liked how we always took the “eternal life” passages literally, but then when it came to the contrasts with destruction, perishing, death, etc, we said that was just eternal life somewhere else and metaphor for torture.

    • Ed Chapman

      Too many people don’t like what the Bible states, thinking that, “No way can a ‘LOVING GOD’ do that to his creation”. So they take the literal things, and make it all a metaphore. HUGE MISTAKE.

    • Eric Quek

      The dialogue between Ed Chapman and Michael Patton, juxtapose with the global experience of the COVID 19 pandemic, offers profound insights into the necessity of grace, tolerance, and love in our quest for understanding, be it in the theological debates or scientific endeavors.

      Ed assertion that the story of the Rich Man & Lazarus is “NOT a parable” is IN REALITY a matter of theological interpretation. Many scholars and theologians have debated this, with some agreeing with Ed and others viewing it as a parable used by Jesus to teach about compassion and the dangers of wealth. Asserting one interpretation as the ABSOLUTE TRUTH, especially in a realm as rich and diverse as theology, can be seen as a departure from the spirit of grace & tolerance. In the Christian tradition, these values are FUNDEMENTAL and engaging in theological dialogue should reflect this ethos.

      Ed approach towards Patton, appears to lack charity & grace, stands in contrast to the principles that are often espoused in theological discussions. As Christians, engaging in discussion with love, even in disagreement, is PIVOTAL. Dismissing differing theological viewpoints without consideration or empathy DOES NOT align with Christian virtues of love, grace, charity, tolerance and understanding.

      The COVID 19 pandemic presented an extraordinary challenge to the medical and scientific communities, requiring rapid adaptation and response to a rapidly evolving crisis. This period was also marked by significant controversy and conflict where there was not only lack of tolerance and openness exhibited by the mainstream medical institutions towards professionals who proposed alternative views or treatments. This rigidity led to severe consequences including censorship and the loss of jobs for those expressing dissenting opinions. This experience underscores the importance of maintaining open channels of communication and respecting diverse perspectives.

      In conclusion, the dialogue between Chapman and Patton, especially when considered in light of the COVID 19 pandemic, underscores the need for grace, liberty, charity, tolerance and love in both theological and scientific inquiries.
      Assertively peaking, a lack of these virtues in the theological dialogue, as demonstrated in Chapman’s approach, undermines the Christian principles of Charity and compassion. Embracing diverse perspectives with an open heart and mind leads not only to a deeper understanding but also fosters a community grounded in the values of respect, empathy and love.

    • Ed Chapman

      Some might argue that Jesus himself, at times, wasn’t being, “Christ-like”, too. Overturning tables? Calling people children of the devil?

      Have you ever had a coach in school get in your face? Why do coaches do that? Because they know you can do what you think you can’t. They motivate. But you don’t like how cruel that are.

      • Eric Quek

        Ed, your reference to Jesus actions, such as overturning tables in the temple or his direct speech, indeed presents a complex aspect of his ministry. However, it is crucial to differentiate between righteous indignation aimed at systemic injustices and the personal approach we take in theological discussions. Jesus actions were targeted at corrupt systems and were a call to justice, underpinned by a mission of transformative love and truth.

        Regarding your analogy of a coach, there is a significant distinction to be made. A coach’s stern methods are part of a clearly defined role, aimed at pushing athletes towards their potential within a specific clearly defined role, aimed at pushing athletes towards their potential within a specific context of sports. However, theological dialogue and scientific debate are not competitive sports; they are collaborative searches for truth. Our interactions should not be about “winning” an argument but about mutually deepening our understanding as well as respecting the other side view.

        In the dialogue about theological interpretations, such as the nature of Hell, or for that matter about scientific approaches during the COVID 19 pandemic, it’s not just about asserting a viewpoint, but also about how we engage with others. Assertiveness does not necessitate aggression or dismissiveness. A truly effective and Christian approach to dialogue combines firmness in one’s convictions with a deep seated respect for the dignity and perspective of others.

        Assertively speaking, your approach, as evidenced in your dialogue with Michael Patton, raises concerns. It appears to verge on a dismissal of differing viewpoints, which is contrary to the spirit of constructive theological engagement. The Christian ethos calls us to engage with empathy, understanding, and a genuine openness to learn from others.

        In conclusion, while directness and conviction have their place, they should be tempered with humility and grace that are central to Christian dialogue. In our search for understanding, whether in theology or science, we should strive for an approach that is assertive yet always respectful, open-minded, and compassionate. This is not just about maintaining decorum; it’s about embodying the values we profess to uphold.

    • Ed Chapman

      Paul withstood Peter face to face. You may not like how I present my case, but I see no problem. I learned it from calvinists some twelve years ago. And you know how nice and loving those guys can get! Snark!

    • Ed Chapman

      By the way, Let’s not forget about those foolish galatians, as well.

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