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 A Conversation With a Neighbor

Does God Punish People in Hellfire?

Does God Punish People in Hellfire?

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES enjoy discussing the Bible with their neighbors. Do you have a particular Bible subject that you have wondered about? Are you curious about any of the beliefs or religious practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses? If so, do not hesitate to bring up the subject the next time you come in contact with a Witness. He or she will be pleased to discuss such matters with you.

The following is a typical conversation that one of Jehovah’s Witnesses might have with a neighbor. Let us imagine that a Witness named Mauricio has come to the home of a man named Alejandro.

Will God Punish Wicked People?

Mauricio: It’s good to see you again, Alejandro.

Alejandro: It’s good to see you too.

Mauricio: I’ve been thinking about something you mentioned the last time I was here.

Alejandro: What’s that?

Mauricio: You mentioned that you were surprised when you heard that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in hellfire.

Alejandro: Yes, that did surprise me. And to be honest, it’s hard for me to accept that you don’t believe in it.

Mauricio: I appreciate your telling me that. I’m always interested in hearing the viewpoint of others. Since people have a lot of different ideas about hellfire, may I ask how you would explain what you believe about it?

Alejandro: Well, I’ve always believed that really bad people go to hell when they die and that they’re tormented there forever.

Mauricio: That’s a common viewpoint. Let me ask you, Alejandro, have you experienced some bad things in your life?

Alejandro: Yes. My sister was murdered five years ago.

Mauricio: I’m so sorry to hear that. You must really miss her.

Alejandro: I do. I think about her every day.

Mauricio: I’ve found that some people feel strongly about hellfire because they’ve been affected by the actions of wicked people. After all, innocent victims want to see bad people pay for their actions.

Alejandro: Exactly! I want the man who is responsible for my sister’s murder to pay for what he did to our family.

Mauricio: Those feelings are certainly normal. The Bible teaches that God too is incensed when innocent people are victimized​—and he promises that he will punish the wicked. Notice what is stated here at Isaiah 3:11: “Woe to the wicked one!​—Calamity; for  the treatment rendered by his own hands will be rendered to him!” So we can be confident that God will punish wicked people.

Alejandro: But how can that be if there’s no hellfire, as you say?

Mauricio: That’s a good question. In a nutshell, the answer is that God punishes the wicked with eternal destruction. Consider what the Bible says here at 2 Thessalonians 1:9. Would you please read that verse?

Alejandro: Sure. It says: “These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord.”

Mauricio: So you see, Alejandro, there’s no hope for wicked people because God punishes them with eternal death. They have no prospects for life in the future.

Alejandro: I see what the verse says, but it just doesn’t seem fair. Everyone dies. Don’t really bad people deserve a worse punishment?

What Does Justice Require?

Mauricio: I can see that you’re a person who cares about justice.

Alejandro: I do, very much.

Mauricio: That’s commendable. The truth is, humans have a sense of right and wrong because God created us with it. He too cares a great deal about justice. But when religious leaders teach that God punishes people in hellfire, they are actually portraying God as very unjust.

Alejandro: What do you mean?

Mauricio: Well, let me show you an example. Are you familiar with the Bible account of Adam and Eve?

Alejandro: Yes. God told them not to eat the fruit of a certain tree, but they disobeyed.

Mauricio: Correct. Let’s take a look at the Bible account together. It’s found at Genesis 2:16, 17. Those verses say: “Jehovah God also laid this command upon the man: ‘From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.’” So, what did God say would happen if Adam ate the forbidden fruit?

Alejandro: He said that Adam would die.

Mauricio: That’s right. Just think: By his sin, Adam caused the entire human race to be born as sinners. * And yet, even in this case, did God say anything about being punished in hellfire?

Alejandro: No.

Mauricio: But if Adam and Eve were in danger of being tormented forever, shouldn’t God have warned them? Wouldn’t that be the just and loving thing to do?

Alejandro: I would say so.

Mauricio: Consider, too, what God said to Adam and Eve after they sinned. Would you please read Genesis 3:19?

Alejandro: OK. It says: “In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Mauricio: Thank you. According to God’s words, where was Adam headed?

Alejandro: He said that Adam would return to the dust of the ground.

Mauricio: Precisely. Now, wouldn’t you agree that in order for someone to return to a place, he has to have been there before?

Alejandro: Of course.

Mauricio: And where was Adam before God created him?

Alejandro: He didn’t exist.

Mauricio: That’s right. And you’ll notice that there’s no mention of hellfire in God’s judgment. Would it be fair for God to tell Adam that he was going back to the ground from which he had been made if he was really going to a fiery hell?

Alejandro: No, that wouldn’t be fair.

 Does the Devil Carry Out God’s Will?

Mauricio: There’s something else we might consider about the teaching of hellfire.

Alejandro: What’s that?

Mauricio: Well, who do people usually say is “in charge” of hellfire? Who supposedly punishes the people that are in hell?

Alejandro: The Devil.

Mauricio: Yet, the Devil is God’s worst enemy. If God sends people to a fiery hell to be tormented by the Devil, wouldn’t that imply a level of cooperation between God and the Devil?

Alejandro: Hmm. I never thought of it that way before.

Mauricio: To illustrate the point​—you’re a father, correct?

Alejandro: Yes, I have a son. He just turned 15.

Mauricio: Imagine that your son becomes very rebellious. He does a lot of bad things that sadden you. What would you do?

Alejandro: I would try to correct him.

Mauricio: I’m sure you would repeatedly try to help him get back on the right track.

Alejandro: Absolutely.

Mauricio: Let’s say that despite all your efforts, he rejects what you’re telling him. Eventually, you may feel that you have no choice but to punish him in some way.

Alejandro: Yes.

Mauricio: But what if you found out that an evil man had been influencing your son, teaching him to do all those bad things?

Alejandro: I would be angry with that man.

Mauricio: Now, this is where I would appreciate your comment. Knowing that a wicked, immoral man had influenced your son against you, would you turn to that man and ask him to punish your son for you?

Alejandro: Of course not. That wouldn’t make any sense.

Mauricio: Really, then, does it make sense that God would ask Satan the Devil​—the very one who influences wicked people—​to punish those same people?

Alejandro: No, I guess not.

Mauricio: For that matter, if God wanted the wicked to be punished, why would the Devil​—God’s archenemy—​comply with God’s wishes and torment them?

Alejandro: I never thought of it that way before!

Jehovah Will End All Wickedness

Mauricio: Rest assured, though. God will take action against the incorrigibly wicked. Perhaps I could share one final scripture with you that drives this point home. The scripture is Psalm 37:9. Would you please read that verse?

Alejandro: OK. It says: “Evildoers themselves will be cut off, but those hoping in Jehovah are the ones that will possess the earth.”

Mauricio: Thank you. Did you notice what Jehovah God will do to evildoers?

Alejandro: The verse says that God will cut them off.

Mauricio: That’s right. In other words, he will destroy them permanently. But good people​—“those hoping in Jehovah”—​will enjoy life here on earth forever. Of course, this may bring some questions to your mind. For example, why doesn’t God stop people from doing evil things in the first place? And if he really intends to punish wicked people, why hasn’t he done so already?

Alejandro: Interesting questions.

Mauricio: Perhaps I can show you the Bible’s answers the next time we talk. *

Alejandro: I would like that.

^ par. 79 For more information, see chapter 11 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.