The traditional meaning of hell is a burning place of torment, where any who are evil (or who simply do not believe in Jesus) go when they die. It is a place of eternal torture. But the character of God is one of grace and mercy. Why would He send the majority of His own creation into this everlasting misery? The question is a logical one and any searching Christian should address it.
First, let’s examine why we even die in the first place. When Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden, they had the opportunity to live forever, provided they did not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Unfortunately, they did eat of it and Genesis 2:19 records the consequence of that sin, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
This means that the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23).
The next natural question is, what is meant by “death?” Is it the same as hell? Death is a very common word, but there can be many interpretations. To find a clear answer, we will look in other scriptures.
We will note here that in the original Hebrew and Greek Bible, there are many words that have been translated to “hell.” In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word sheol is used, but is often translated as “the grave,” meaning a state of death. One example of this is in Genesis 37:34-35 when Jacob’s sons told him that Joseph had been killed. Jacob was in such grief that he wished to go to sheol, or hell, to his son Joseph. This narrative gives us several bits of insight into sheol, or hell. First, Jacob says that Joseph is there. Joseph was a righteous man, so this means that sheol, or hell, is not reserved for evil sinners. Next, Jacob wants to go there. This tells us that sheol, or hell, is a place of relief, since he was experiencing such deep grief and was looking to sheol or hell as the only way to relieve it. It is clear from this narrative that sheol, or hell, is not a place of torture for sinners, since the righteous go there and find relief there. A much more logical explanation would be that the word indicates a state of death or nonexistence. The following scriptures support this view:
Ecclesiastes 9:10 explains that there is “no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in the grave