Everything a Christian needs to know about hell


If you believe in hell, fine. If you don’t, fine. But if you’re a Christian, then the only thing you should be concerning yourself with is how well you personally are following Christ. Are you obeying what Christ himself called “the Greatest Commandment of all,” the “most important commandment,” the commandment of which “there is none greater,” the commandment upon which “all the Law and the Prophets hang”?

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (The Great Commandment, Matthew 22:34-40)

There it is, right there: everything, according to Jesus Christ himself, that we’re supposed to know about God, his relationship to us, our relationship to him, and our relationship to others.

Love God, and love your neighbors as you love yourself.

Do that–spend every moment of every day doing that—and then see how much time you have left over to worry about what happens to people who aren’t you after they die.

Mind your business—do what you know you’re supposed to do, what Jesus commanded you to do—and forget everything else. All the rest—especially anything having to do with ultimate justice in the afterlife—is God’s business, not yours. If the cup of your life isn’t filled to the brim by your trying to truly fulfill The Great Commandment, then you can be sure you’re not doing it right.

"If you accept the Torah and New Testament of the Bible as true you can ..."

The rational genius of Christianity
"The whole thing about wives submitting to husbands opens the door for these kind of ..."

Why Pastors Struggle With Confronting Domestic ..."
"I have a stupid question for you:If you are asking someone else what to say ..."

What should I tell my child ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • mhelbert

    Nice Venn diagram!!! That about sums it up!

  • Bill Bass Jr

    “What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky,

    The Brothers Karamazov

  • Guy Norred

    Well, to play, well someone’s advocate, I would think that if one accepted what has been the standardish definition of hell and salvation from it, then loving one’s neighbor as oneself actually would necessitate doing all one could to keep said neighbor from going to hell.

  • My fault, then. I thought this covered that:

    All the rest—especially anything having to do with ultimate justice in the afterlife—is God’s business, not yours.

  • Guy Norred

    Well, since I don’t see salvation in the terms I once understood it to be, I agree that it is God’s business, but had I not found reason to reject that earlier understanding, I really would say that it would be my business to work with God to insure that ultimate justice found as many as possible on the happier side in much the same way as I still find it important that I strive for temporal justice. While I do get very frustrated with many people who hold this theology, and especially the legalism that I don’t think coincidentally is so often associated with it, I can at least understand their position.

  • CKPS63

    Like the old spiritual says — “I’m too busy working for the Kingdom, and I ain’t got time to die.”

  • Oh, yeah, me too. It’s rarely too difficult to fathom how and why people with perfectly good intentions and motivations fuck up. (That said, it’s long been my experience that people big on promulgating God’s wrath via hell are rarely benign-seeming. They’re always on some crazy-ass, wild-eyed anger trip. That “I’m doing it from love” veneer is always micrometers thin.)

  • Guy Norred

    There you will get no argument from me.

  • What the Hell…

  • Wayne Green

    I guess this is where the whole faith thing comes in. At the end of the day, all we really have is faith.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    Hell is being born into a family of alcoholics and becomming an alkie when you grow up.

  • Stephen Marotta

    Please learn what a Venn Diagram is, and how to use it.

    Your diagram says that:

    * There is a conceptual area in which hell is real and also hell is not real, and that area is called “love.”

    * There is a conceptual area where hell is uncertainly real, and also real, and that area is called “love”.

    * There are people who believe that hell is maybe real, and also not real, and that these people are “Love.”

    * That there is an area in which hell is real, and also not real, and also not certainly real or not, and that this area is called, “love.”

    * That there is another area where hell is real, but this area is *not called, “love.”*

    *That there is another area where hell is not real, and this area is *not called “love.”*

    * and that there is another area where hell is uncertainly real, and this area is *not called, “love”*

    What are you saying?????

  • Yeah, no doubt this is the Lamest Venn Diagram Ever. We (being I and my graphic artist friend who made it) know that. But when combined with the title of the post, and the “Hell is … “, and all, it makes the point we wanted to. And that’s … well, the point.

  • ScottB


  • mhelbert


  • Alliecat04

    John, in the past you and I have sometimes fought like two cats in a basket on this subject. 🙂 But here I think you are just exactly perfectly right.

    The funny thing is how rarely we don’t know exactly what we should be doing. We may not know what to THINK, but it’s rare not to know exactly what to DO. Baby crying: fix. Person miserable: fix. It’s not easy but it is simple. Can’t fix? Learn how to fix. Still can’t fix? Fix something you do know how to fix.

  • And, is it my imagination, or did Stephen completely miss the whole point of the post?!?

    By the way: BRAVO and BRAVO AGAIN, John. I’ve been preaching this same mantra for thirty years and you cannot believe the amount of resistance and hatred I receive for it.

    Thank you for speaking the truth.

  • This post will probably receive the least amount of comments than any other post you’ve written… cuz Christians never wanna talk about the Greatest Commandment – that is, the ONE THING Jesus actually commanded us to do.


  • What I find interesting is that there’s been such a publish backlash to the traditional hell theory that noted Christian Apologeticists have written books trying to “water down” the theory, claiming that hell is just a “dark place” where people are merely “separated” from God.

    This new version of hell actually demonstrates that the Hellfire and Brimstone camp, in order to stop losing converts, are willing to water down their doctrines.

  • Mark

    We’re doing a study at my church on “The Art of Neighboring,” (book by Jay Pathak, Dave Runyon, Randy Frazee). It’s one thing to think conceptually of loving my neighbor by donating to feed starving children, but quite another to be told to go forth and get to know the people who actually live right around you.

  • Robert Elton

    I think a lot better approach than the last argument.If you open your heart to God and the love from above; than nothing and no one except yourself can separate you from that love.

  • thanks, buddy.

  • Andy

    Yes, but this is a flowchart, not a Venn diagram.

  • Stephen Marotta

    How could I have made a flow chart which accurately depicts the point of the post, if I didn’t get the point of the post?

    I just didn’t focus on the point of the post in my response, because the diagram gave me a headache.

    I don’t know why he hasn’t changed it yet. distracts from whatever merit there might be in his post.

    I do have some thoughts about the post itself; for instance, I think the idea of love and the idea of hell are greatly influenced by one another. What a person means by “love” when that person lives in a world where hell is really real to them, is bound to be unrecognizably different from what a person means by ‘love’ if they don’t believe in a real hell.

    Also, many people give up the idea of hell because it is incompatible with some notion of theirs about love, or god’s love.

    Some people think that god couldn’t love without having made a real hell.

    So the conversation is much more complicated than the article lets on as the terms change definitions based on which category one falls in.

    So far, I haven’t told you what I think about any of these things. I’m just surveying the conversation to show that it is much more complicated and nuanced than this article lets on… since I feel I have to address the content of the article to prove I didn’t “miss the point”, as you suggested.

    Here are a few questions concerning what ‘love’ means and how that meaning is affected by one’s belief in a real hell:

    * If someone believes that people might go to hell, how can they say they love those people without being concerned about that fact?

    * Can you love someone who is going to hell? If love implies: find value in them, not just potential value, but value for what they are right now, then isn’t it strange that god, the ultimate judge of value sees no reason to keep them from oblivion, sees no value in them at all. If you value those people who god will let disappear into a void, are you having misplaced love? or, maybe worse: are you proving that you love more than god does?

    * Would it be loving to give a person a meal, and not talk to them about salvation, what if they die that night and go to hell?

    * Would it be loving to make your condition of feeding a person that they listen to your story of the afterlife, something they don’t have good reason to think you know more about than anybody else, just because you are thinking about hell to much?

    Again, I’m not saying where I fall on any of these questions; all I’m saying is that:

    I can assimilate the point that all a Christian needs to do is make sure they are loving people, and not worry about any other points of doctrine.

    I guess, you got out of me that I don’t think that is as profound, or difficult to assimilate, a point as you might have imagined when I chose to just talk about the diagram instead.

    On the other hand, maybe it’s an easy point to understand, but a profoundly difficult one to live?

    Would it be more loving for me to flatter the authors of this article, when their article didn’t really provoke much thought, by some mistaken over-concern for the fact that their “hearts seem in the right place” and that’s all that matters? or would it be more loving to say what I really think (now that you’ve asked me to think about it.)?

  • Well, actually… the issue of “love” has nothing to do with hell. The reality is that the Hebrew religion doesn’t accept the pagan doctrine of hell. Therefore, the Old Testament does not support it, Jesus didn’t espouse it, and the New Testament writers didn’t believe in it. And how do we know this? Because they were all Jews. And first-century Judaism didn’t have a hell. So, whatever we believe about hell, we can be certain we didn’t get it from Scripture.

  • Stephen Marotta

    I’m confused. Thanks for helping me organize my thoughts on this!

    How can you say: “the issue of ‘love’ had nothing to do with hell.”

    when I just posted a long and detailed (but by no means complete) survey of some of the more salient ways in which the idea of love might be poisoned by the idea of hell, and ways in which the two things effect one another?

    The idea of love in a person’s mind seems to be changed a lot by the presence or absence of the idea of hell.

    Don’t you think so?

    EDIT: I really want to help you with your thinking skills. Pay attention.

    > Well, actually… the issue of “love” has nothing to do with hell.

    followed by an argument that is completely talking about a different subject:

    > 1) Hebrew religion doesn’t accept hell… 2) OT didn’t. 3) Jesus didn’t. 4) writers of NT didn’t. 1st century Judaism didn’t.


    > hell isn’t in the bible

    notice that your argument proves your conclusion that hell isn’t in the bible, but it has *nothing* to do with your original point. the conclusion you wanted us to draw that “hell has nothing to do with love.” or is it the other way around?

    We were talking about whether or not hell and love have anything to do with one another.

    You said they don’t… and to prove it, you made an argument about how the bible doesn’t talk about hell.

    What does that have to do with anything?

    Couldn’t a person agree with your argument, and then say: “that’s why I think it is important to realize that hell is a bad idea which poisons the idea of love, and that we need to abandon it” ??

    why did you write all that, right after: “Well, actually… the issue of “love” has nothing to do with hell.”

    which is the subject we were talking about, and the one we were disagreeing on?

  • Jill

    Hi John,

    I’m not so familiar the burning hell concept as being a pagan one. I’m not well versed, but nothing I’ve read or come across in pagan writings indicate that.

    As an aside, are you equating pagan with anti-Christian? I don’t want to misunderstand your point, but that concept seems to be an old one, but not accurate.

  • vj


  • Snooterpoot

    I would say that many, or maybe most, fundamentalist and evangelical Christians do not to talk about the Greatest Commandment. There are plenty of other Christians who do; and they not only talk the talk, they walk the walk.

    Being fallible, at least an occasional failure is inevitable. But Christians like @allegro63:disqus and others on this blog certainly live by the Great Commandment.

  • Snooterpoot

    Maybe it didn’t provoke much thought in you, but you can only speak for yourself.

    And if the diagram gave you a headache why didn’t you just scroll past it?

  • Kelsey

    In the Bible verse where it says “love your neighbor as yourself” here is how it should be depicted. If I had a cure to a disease and you were dying from that disease wouldn’t you want me to share with you? The Bible says that we are supposed to love others as we would our selves and if I had a cure to a disease that I knew other people were dying from you better bet on the fact that I would share with everyone I know and met. I’m sorry that you’ve met judgemental Christians in the past but I’m going to do something that they probably wouldn’t have done and pray for you. I’m sorry that you had bad run ins with Christians but you probably haven’t met a true convert. I know you’re also probably tired of the Gospel being shared to you by Christians and I’m guessing this blog post was a way for you to tell them to back off but they were just trying to love you and share the cure to the disease that they had. They want to help you. I will be praying for you that you would meet a born again Christian and Christ would come into your life. Also, the Bible calls us Christians to be like Christ and Christ shared the Gospel. (I hope this didn’t come off as rude or judgmental I really wasn’t trying to be)

  • Nat the Brat

    Thank you!