Understanding hell, demons (devils, evil spirits) and sin
This commentary is scripture based and helps you to assemble something of a three dimensional view of how these interrelate through cause and effect. In other words I’m going to help you answer questions for yourself such as “where do they come from” and “what are they really like?”
First, one must understand what the scriptures teach about sin. Sin is defined in the Bible as five things:
1 Transgression of law (1 John 3:4)
2 All unrighteousness (1 John 5:17)
3 Neglecting to do good (James 4:17)
4 Whatsoever is not of faith (Romans 14:23)
5 Thoughts of foolishness (Proverbs 24:9)
You see, it is an error to believe that sin is defined “only” as breaking one of the Ten Commandments. Jewish scholars have always understood that sin is manifested through any unrighteousness, neglecting of an opportunity to do good, to operate without faith, etc, but it is the Apostles who make that crystal clear in the scripture. Thus there has never been any question that sin extends far beyond breaking one or more Commandments. St. Paul goes as far as to be very specific that even doing the “right” thing but doing so without faith IS A SIN. “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
These words are some of the most powerful in all of the writings of the Apostles and are one of the hinges of truly understanding sin. While Paul is speaking of receiving the bread and the wine of Mass unworthily (that is what he means by eating), you cannot read this and think Paul is speaking only of lack of faith about the bread and wine because he explicitly adds “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Anything that a human does that is not “of faith,” which means grounded in true belief, “is sin.” People who have been exposed to the faith but are not of faith are living and walking manifestations of living in sin, even if they are going through the motions of doing the “correct” things. In the example, Paul is explaining that someone who is a Christian and shows up for service and believes in Jesus Christ, but receives the bread and wine thinking, “Well, maybe it is or maybe it is not, but I believe in general so I’ll partake” is in a state of sin. Paul in this chapter describes those who have belief but are weak, so he is clearly directing himself to those who would swear they believe but inside their heart are selective about what they believe and what they do not. Paul is concerned and condemning those who believe in God, believe in Jesus, but have weak or doubting faith in the bread and the wine, and thus they “eateth with offence” (Romans 14:20).
Because Paul is discussing a specific problem he addresses himself throughout the chapter to the problem of the weak in faith coming to Mass, consuming the bread and wine while “doubting” and makes clear that that alone is sufficient identification of being sin. Using classic logic and discourse, Paul writes the chapter about the specific problem but closes with the general law, guidance or admonishment, which is that EVERYTHING that is “not of faith” “is sin.” One can do good deeds, attend services, plant churches, be an honest businessperson, etc, but if one is doing those things while doubting in God and one’s faith in its entirety, that person is in a state of sin.
In Proverbs 24:9 “The thought of foolishness is sin; and the scorner is an abomination to men.” So there is very clear Old Testament statement that foolish thoughts (both secular and faith based) is sinful and are sins and worse, those who scorn (in any way or any part) of faith are worse than sinners because they become an abomination (since their scorning harms others in their faith). Now of course this does not mean that someone who tries something foolish, such as riding his horse too fast, is sinning… or does it? Even the foolishness of youth has its perils to those in the care of the person (the horse, the bystanders) and yes, this is sin. Here the Bible is stating that not only doing the foolishness is a sin but the thought of foolishness is sin. This Proverb does not mean honest mistakes. This Proverb means having thoughts, whether they are followed by willful actual deeds or not, that are willfully misleading to one’s self. Thus even thinking that you are someone that you are not, for example, thinking to one’s self that you are really a reincarnated Pharaoh and that everyone else around you is an ignorant underling or minion, is a sin even if you never act upon that foolish belief. This proverb explains the difference between having a foolish belief or thought, which is a sin, and the out loud scorner, who is not only a sinner but an abomination. Again, this is one of those hinge scriptural citations that is essential to understand the pervasiveness and true nature of sin.
The Apostle John makes two important contributions to the definition of sin. He writes “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law.” What John is explaining is that you can look at sin from not only the traditional way of breaking the law (by law we mean God’s law in the scripture and what Jesus taught) equals committing a sin, but the obverse is also true. If you a commit a sin you are automatically transgressing God’s law. By this John is explaining that God’s law is complete; it “covers” all situations of sin or not sinning. So one cannot sin and say “Well, that is not in the law” because it is, to those who are not being manipulative or willfully ignorant. John is also explaining what is an important problem today, which is to understand that being loosened from the Jewish law of ritual does not mean that all of the scriptures regarding God’s law of required behavior in order to not sin is somehow no longer valid. What Christians call the “Old Testament” remains the bedrock for understanding God’s law regarding what is just and righteous, and what is wrong and sinful.
John’s second point is powerfully similar in parallel to what Paul had written, saying, “All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.” I am using an Old English bible in this commentary so here is the same in more modern prose, “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” By this John makes two crucial points. Anything that is wrong, unjust or unfair is a sin, period. It does not matter if it is legally (civically) or socially “allowable” or commonplace: if it is wrong, unjust or unfair it is a sin. The second point is that while these are sins and obviously extremely commonplace, not all of them mean that the soul will necessarily die cast into hell in punishment. It is a sin, for example, to verbally abuse someone, even if “everyone does it,” or “he lost his temper since he was under stress” but that one instance of sin does not necessarily mean that he will go to hell for it. John is making another of the hinge explanations of sin, which is that all unrighteous behavior is a sin, no matter how large or small the transgression, but that God, obviously, discerns between those who continue in patterns of sin and thus merit casting into hell, and those who commit wrongdoings but repent, remedy and do not continue in sin.
The Apostle James makes clear the understanding that missed opportunity to do good is a sin. He writes “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Thus a person might in theory not commit any sins of transgression of God’s law, and might even evade overtly doing sins of unbelief or unrighteousness, those that Paul and John warn about, yet by not doing a good deed when one knows about it and knows it is in one’s power to remedy is sinning.
For example, I often perceive that people think they have nothing sinful to confess. They even joke about Catholics who go frequently to confession. Yet, how many of you would be able to confess this sin: “One of my work colleagues is struggling with his assignment, and even though I have the knowledge and skill to help him I did not offer to.” It does not matter that you are “busy” or that he “should know how to do his own job” or that “you are competitors on performance reviews.” To see someone in need and to not offer to assist is a sin. This sin is not “canceled out” by tossing an extra buck into a charity donation bin. James is making it crystal clear that if someone knows there is an opportunity to do good and they do not address that specific opportunity, they are sinning and thus in a state of sin.
Thus there is absolutely no excuse for people to claim that they do not really “know” “what is a sin” and “what is not a sin.” These five scriptural descriptions of sin are easily accessed in my 1957 edition of The New Standard Alphabetical Indexed Holy Bible [Authorized or King James Version] in the Index under the listing “Sin defined:” (page 169). Second, there is no excuse for people to think that they are not in a constant state of sin that requires continual self awareness, confession, remediation and renunciation of further instances of those sins. Now more than even in this greedy and hard hearted modern society there is a plentitude of example of daily, if not hourly, sin by just about everyone I can think of. Society and everyone in it has become constant committers and amplifiers of all five definitions of sin.
Therefore, believing in Christ, for example, does not “wash you from your sins” if we are speaking of those that are committed day after day, and not original sin. The scripture explains there are two remedies for sin:
1 John 1:7-10
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
John is NOT speaking of “once and for all” cleansing of original sin! That is plain as the light of day in this passage. John is describing continual, progressive ongoing life with continual, progressive ongoing occasions for sin, which ALL do. John does not say “stand in the light” he says “walk in the light.” Further, the act of “fellowship one with another” makes it abundantly clear that John is speaking of the progression of inevitable occurrences of sins throughout one’s existence in life. The remedy is not the blood of Jesus giving a “free pass,” but the blood of Jesus purchased the right to be forgiven of sins as they occur and as one repents and amends by Jesus. It could not be any clearer. Notice too the word “unrighteousness,” as John continues to remind that unrighteous deeds are sins.
Paul, even though that is not his focus and intention, alludes to the ongoing power of Jesus to save (and thus, by implication, forgive sins):
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.
Paul here makes clear that it is not standing still in faith (once is good for all time) but “live by faith.” Paul is explaining that the gospel of Christ (which was not written down in book form so Paul means what Christ said, did and taught, and then his redemptive power through his blood) is an ongoing gift to live by from God himself. To use an analogy it is like the gospel of Jesus is a prescription for sin that God has given to people to live by in both an ongoing way “by faith” and when they sin “against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness.” Notice that Paul addresses sins of breaking God’s law (ungodliness) but also the sins we have talked about, which are human to human “unrighteousness of men.”
The need to recognize the daily if not hourly presence of sin in all of its forms is essential, and there is no excuse for those who say that the scripture is either unclear or limits itself “only” to the Commandments. You have it directly from the mouths of the Apostle Jesus loved, St. John, the Apostle James and the Apostle Paul, converted by the resurrected and glorified Jesus himself. In these writings, which are of course what we have preserved, through the behest of the Holy Spirit, of their first hand understanding of God’s will through Jesus Christ, there is no mistaking the continual and pervasive state of sin in all and the need to use the remedy of God through what Jesus Christ has brought in the gospel, in an ongoing process of confession, remediation, expunging and being “dead to sin:”
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid: how shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Paul is asking the rhetorical (for purpose of logic and debate) question, paraphrasing, “Should we keep on sinning just to test how often God will send grace to save us?” His answer is that obviously one should not keep being ill through sin just to test how often God the doctor will come. So Paul’s answer is that rather than continually test the waters or, rather, test the fire of sin, each person must be dead to sin, so that sin no longer can or will live within them. When Paul says dead to sin he means to be inert, which is that one no longer interacts with sin. When one is dead to sin by, for example, no longer noticing any of the temptations of sin, sin cannot attach itself or live within the person. That is what being “dead” to sin means.
I wonder how many people notice this example of Paul’s genius. Do you notice that he is putting forth a rather pagan type of belief as the opening proposition? This is the kind of obsessive compulsive attitude that infests much of modern society, which is why I point it out. Pagans believe in magic ritual. So Paul, without saying as much, is opening this chapter with the question, “Should we be like the pagans and deliberately sin and sin again in order to test when the ‘gods’ intervene, and either damn or rescue us?” People who listened to Paul and who read his letters would have understood exactly what he meant, but this genius, this gem of nuance is somewhat lost to moderns who, in contrast, now stand more on the pagan mentality side than the Christian side. However, make no mistake, people would have well understood in Paul’s time that he is starting with the anti-God and preposterous position, of continuing to sin in order to see “that grace may abound,” and then saying immediately and obviously, no, “God forbid” that we should do that and instead must become “dead to sin” and no longer live “therein” of sin.
If people really understood the Gospel, the Bible as a whole, and the specifics of what the Apostles here have explained about sin, confessionals would be busy and packed and a whole lot of really unjust, negligent and foolish behavior and thoughts would end in a hurry. How many people would routinely ignore the day to day needs of those around them and how many would think that a nasty comment on an Internet news story is funny, witty or constructive “acting out” if people understood that each and every instance of that is a sin against God?
I can think back about a routine work day when I was an intern at an outpatient psychiatric clinic and the sin-o-meter would just be running and accumulating for many of my co-workers. How many times in a day did one of them not help out someone who was struggling? Click! How many times did they let a patient that they didn’t like and lost patience with feel inferior to them, just with a glance or a way with words? Click! How many times did they gossip? Click! How many times did they yak for an hour about their hot tubs and what artistic performance they attended, rather than donate that time (which is work time after all) to working on a difficult case? Click! These are all sins and that is the type of thing that Christians are supposed to be aware of and not do, and what those old fashioned orthodox Catholics confess in the confessional. This, by the way, is why in traditional Catholic confession one is supposed to give the priest the number of times that one has sinned, as best as one can, since each instance is an individual “stand alone” sin. How many people would have to confess to posting hundreds if not thousands of cruel taunts on an Internet news comment section? Each and every one is a sin and though while one is not expected to itemize, especially when it is in the hundreds, one is expected to confess to the magnitude and comprehend that each and every instance is commission of a sin against God (and God keeps perfect count).
So humans, particularly modern humans, are not only constantly sinning, they are encrusted and coated with sin and they rather than discourage it propagate it among themselves and others. They indulge themselves in sinful foolish thinking instead of working to discern the truth, they propagate competition rather than reaching out to assist where the need is present (and not the “good cause” that they “feel like” doing), they perform individually and socially countless instances in a day of being unrighteous, petty and uncharitable, and each and every one of those occurrences is a sin against God.
For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us: and as for our iniquities, we know them.
Have you ever wondered where sin “goes?” We know where sinners go, they either repent and receive God’s mercy and go to heaven (after purification from their sins, which Catholics call purgatory) or they go to hell. But what happens to sin itself? What are the “physics” of sin?
First of all, we can see the effects of sin on both those who sin, and those who are victims of sinners, and over all of those individuals, on society and the ultimate outcome of humanity as a whole. Sin lives on in its damage, costing actual lives, health, liberty, joy, family, treasure, security, and peace of mind, as any victim of sin can tell you (assuming they were not actually killed by someone’s sin). Survivors of other people’s sin live in the wreckage left behind by the sin, all the way from ruined lives down to damaged self esteem and interior suffering. So sin leaves it’s “brand” and it’s the gift that keeps on giving. This is part of the meaning of the above citation from Isaiah. Isaiah explains that it’s not like a sin takes place and then it falls away, like a used tissue. Sins stay with people “for our transgressions are with us.” This is another example of the Biblical “know” word, where to “know” means to interact with, not just be aware of. Sins harm the victims, and they stick onto those who commit the sins, AND the sinner continues to interact with their sins as they accumulate.
So if you think of sin in its common imagery of a dirtying and the smearing of blackened soot on the soul, which is a pretty accurate and apt image, the blackening of each sin is applied to the person and stays with that person. Not only does each sin layer on in depth of blackness and severity (from repetition) but the person continues to tie up their soul in internal “dialogue” and feedback with sins even long passed. Computer people can think of each sin as running a background process, even if the consequences of the sin on the victim are long gone and you do not even think about your sin any more. If the sin is not identified, remediated, confessed, expunged by God and thus forgiven and cleansed, it continues to run its background process in your soul, and that is a very bad thing.
This is why Christian imagery understands that the confession and forgiveness of sins is a “washing” process, washing that takes place in the blood of Jesus. See, here you can better understand that the washing of sins is a continual process; it is not a “one time for all.” Jesus bought you access to the washing machine, if you want to think of it that way, but you are still expected not to roll in the mud and you are expected to take recourse of the washing machine each and every time that you do. Unforgiven and unrepentant sin sticks and it is not inert. The weight of sin is like the dirt and tar that eventually drags one all the way to hell.
For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
Even the Apostles, who had what you can think of as the only set of guaranteed personal “tickets” from Jesus for heaven (where Jesus promised to go ahead and prepare a place for them) understood that they had to keep living in a sinful world, as sinners, and thus they would humbly only confess to “hope” of being saved. The Apostles and the disciples were the last ones to think that they lived without sin and thus they continually exhorted and monitored their own behavior, as virtuous as it was, confessing all transgressions and removing their causes. They understood what the scriptures has always made clear and the Gospel of Jesus brought into full light, which is the continuing sinful ongoing (as differentiated from the original sin of Adam and Eve) nature of all men, including themselves, and the glory of the gift of God in the form of Jesus Christ who can forgive sins and make one clean again (after each one). Besides Jesus only one lived without sin, and that was his mother, Mary, preserved in purity from birth to death. She is the only one of humans who an angel would say was “full of,” as in being complete, from bottom to top, with grace. Something is not full if it is partially filled. Gabriel made very clear that Mary alone was completely filled with grace and thus preserved from the stain of sin throughout her life. She lived in the midst of the Apostles and disciples; they needed to look no further than Mary in order to have a continual reminder of what purity looks like, after Jesus had ascended to heaven.
His mother saith unto the servants, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”
Mary continued to be the living reminder, not author, of God’s prescription against sin through Jesus that Paul alludes to. Mary’s words are that whatsoever Jesus says (and by “whatsoever” she means everything, large or small, no matter how logical or whatever Jesus says), to do it. The Gospel of Jesus is the prescription for the occurrences of sin, and she who the angel titled “full of grace” speaks these vitally important words for all. The Apostles, particularly John to whom Mary was entrusted by Jesus, had the continual living presence of her, without sin, whose only words regarding the ministry of her son Jesus are the pointer to the Gospel of Jesus, spoken when he performed his first miracle, and continuing unchanging and unerring throughout all of time.
2 Timothy 3:13
But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.
What Paul means here is that sin and sinners accumulate, getting worse and worse, particularly as they interchange and reinforce each other in sin. He is explaining that without the Gospel of Jesus that sin is a continuing and ever worsening condition. Paul, again in a mark of his genius, recognizes that the argument that humans naturally seek to “be good” and can do so without God is totally bogus and invalid. Many today think, erroneously, that people sin less and become more enlightened as they “evolve” in self and mutual interest, and that simply is not true. We can see that in the litany of sins that have gone from rare to not only common but enforced upon the strong and the weak that I discussed above. Society has become more and more sinful as it has drawn away from God and most specifically God’s remedy, Jesus Christ, not less. So Paul understands and explains that sin only increases and becomes a feedback loop of continual and stronger self and mutual reinforcement. Therefore he next writes:
2 Timothy 3:14-17
But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them. And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for corrections, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
Paul is explaining that freedom from the increasing feedback loop of sin is obtained simply by Timothy, who was raised a Christian, continuing to follow the scriptures in faith through Jesus Christ. Again this is not an imagery of “standing still” with being free of sin and guaranteed of paradise once and for all. Paul lists the ongoing activities of life to which scripture must be applied, which is as the original source of what to do and why things are as they are (doctrine), the template by which one can rebuke those around you who sin (reproof), the way to determine if you are doing something wrong and change it to the right (corrections) and the gaining of wisdom through life for one’s self and for the benefit of teaching others (instruction in righteousness). Then Paul introduces the imagery of a house, the man, therefore, being perfectly furnished as each step is followed. One’s interior is good, worthy of God and dead to sin as one obtains and edits piece by piece one’s internal furnishings.
Paul’s image of the man who perfects himself by following life long the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a very useful one to borrow when now, describing, “what happens to sin” and what hell is like (and who are the demons and devils).
We have already explained that sin lives on after the sin is committed, whether it is forgotten or confessed, and regardless of the state of life of the victim. Let us use for example a victim who is robbed but is still alive. The sinner, the robber, has taken something from the victim that might have been a life altering event, even if a charity or the insurance company reimburses the victim. The victim may be fearful, may have suffered unreimbursed financial loss or livelihood, have lost their retirement, cannot help their children financially, etc. and the victim must make decisions and face limitations in their life they would not have faced otherwise. This is how the sin “lives on” by having redirected the victim onto a worse path. So that sin is still very much “alive” even if the sinner fully repents and confesses and even if they pay back the victim. Thus, one might ask how can Jesus Christ then forgive and remove sin as if it had never happened. The answer is that the sin still exists but God takes the layer, the spot of stain, the “soot” of sin off of the person who committed the sin and places it in hell.
So think of a clearer example, which is that someone murders another person. The sin lives on because there is absolutely no way that the victim of sin can be brought back to life as if he or she were never murdered. The sin of murder is a dreadful blackening of the soul that is the stain of sin attached to the sinner’s eternal being. Now, if the murderer does not confess and genuinely repent, his soul, covered with that sin, goes to eternal damnation in hell. (I’m using an example where one need not worry about “mitigating” circumstances, since God is of course aware of them and responds accordingly in his all knowing wisdom and mercy, though also ‘accepting no excuses’ justice. So we are not assuming some poor abused kid is the perpetrator etc. for this example). Say this is a cold blooded adult on adult or adult on child murder. If the person never confesses his or her guilt and do all that he or she can to repent and live out their lives within God’s law (and of course the civil law system) when that person dies he or she and his or her sin stained soul are taken straight to hell.
However, suppose this murderer genuinely repents? He or she confesses (not fighting the charges and putting the victim’s family through more agony), accepts his or her punishment, provides restitution however he or she can and accepts God and God’s law and will and has genuine (not of convenience or cynical) conversion. The murderer can be forgiven and the sin removed by God through the salvation grace of Jesus Christ and the sinner can achieve heaven. However, the sin that is removed from the sinner is still an entity, a reality, because God does not turn back the clock as if something had never happened. He restores the soul as if the sin had not happened. So the stain is removed from the soul and cast into hell, since hell is that place where all that “is not of God” is discarded.
The sin is not a living being, but it is like dirt washed off of clothing in our laundry analogy, the stain of evil. Unlike genuine earthly soil that is good, there is nothing good or “of God” of sin. Thus while clothes can be laundered and the dirty water flushed into the environment to be renewed, the stain of sin cannot remain in any place that is “of God.” Thus there is no sin in heaven, and while the consequences and temptations of sin live on among the lives of the living who are affected by sin, the removed stain of the sin itself becomes part of the furnishings of hell.
When you have a friend visit the home of another friend, one you have not seen, and you ask him or her to describe the friend’s house, he or she can answer one of three ways. Your friend can start by describing the first view, the exterior, including the location, the address, what style it is and what the neighborhood is like. Alternatively, your friend can dive right into describing the interior, how many rooms and how is it furnished and decorated. Or your friend can describe the ambiance of who lives there, saying nothing of the details but just that it’s “family friendly” and the kids have room to play, and grandmother lives in her own apartment in the house, etc. Well, heaven can also be described through those three means and that means of course that so can hell be described such.
Sin is the interior of hell, the “furnishings,” the paint, the wallpaper, the walls, the sounds, the sights. The sin that is removed from one’s soul, or is brought with that person if he or she is damned, is what comprises the interior of hell. It is a terrible, very terrible place. People are somewhat jaded by the exterior description “it’s hell and God does not go there” and the “ambiance” of who is there “Satan, the fallen angels, demons and the damned sinners,” but the full horror of hell is not understood unless you realize that all sins that were ever committed, their “energy” (to use that tedious but useful phrase) is cast into hell and sins are the “construction material” of hell. It is not the sin itself, so it’s not like people in hell are running around re-murdering and re-thieving (that’s the problem on earth where the consequences of sinful mindsets keep sin rising anew among humans through their own actions). Rather, it is the stain of the sin on the soul, the disfiguring, the warping, and the reinforcement of being not of God that is the construction material and the decoration of hell.
When a living person sins, God is there. God is there even (one would say especially) during the worst of the horrors of sin using, for example, the Holocaust. God through the Holy Spirit works constantly to strengthen humans to make choice against sin and to convert back to grace. God comforts those harmed by sin as they are suffering, and those who believe are best able to feel his comfort. But God is not “within” the stain of sin that forms on the soul. Sin is by definition “not God.” God controls what happens to the sin and destroys it by removing it from the soul of the penitent and casting the stain of each and every sin that is repented and forgiven in the disposal place that is the one area where God is not present (but of course controls) and that is hell. God delegated authority over what is not of God to Satan. God can do anything he wants so of course he could in theory shut down hell and put Satan out of a job and so forth, but that is not realistic so long as the human race continues. So long as humans live and have the free choice to choose sin instead of God, God will maintain his God-free disposal area and leave Satan “in charge” of its internal torments.
So think again of the Holocaust. Every person who was tormented and murdered, represents millions upon millions of individual stains of sin (one for each sin occurrence, not one per victim) that are on the souls of the perpetrators and thus go with the unrepentant perpetrators to hell. So hell is constructed of, in this example, construction material that is each and every one of the millions of incredibly hideous sins that were committed during the Holocaust. A latter day sinner who ends up in hell finds his or her self living among the stain of all of the sins that were ever committed.
Think about that and how awful hell truly is. I like a good joke about hell as much as the next person, but it’s better to laugh about a hell joke if one really understands that when one is not joking, it is truly unthinkably and unbearably filled with all that is wretched, evil, of despair and of suffering, accumulated through all the years of humanity’s consciously sinful existence. (Animals don’t sin so as long as humans were unconscious animals they, like the animals, were not sinning.) So no cockroaches in hell! There is no life form other than the fallen angels, the demons and the damned, because life is innocent and of God and therefore there are no foul creatures or monsters in hell. The monsters are far, far worse than fantastic animals because the monsters are the accumulated stain of all of the sins ever committed, and the damned live without God in that place forever.
Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst. Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitudes, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it. And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled.
Isaiah is explaining that when Israel turns away from God they suffer worldly hardship, because they go into captivity, but that they also become those who will go to hell and add to hell’s population. Because of Israel’s collective sin of disobeying God the nation falls into captivity, but a worse thing takes place to individuals who lose their faith (“they have no knowledge” means that they no longer use knowledge of God in their faith and thus means they lose their faith and turn farther away from God). So Isaiah explains that those who keep the faith go into captivity along with those who do not keep the faith, but those who keep the faith will be saved while those who abandon God are individually damned to hell. Isaiah is explaining that many individuals turned away from God during the captivity, and thus those individuals swelled the ranks of those in hell, where they are cast upon their death. The mean man (the average man) and the mighty who abandon God and their faith equally join in hell, and those who had snooty and proud attitudes on earth are brought to the lowest of the low in hell.
If one looks for an actual description of hell you do not find so much of it in the Old Testament as the New Testament, and even there details are sparse. Why? Because the Bible is not a textbook and a “how does God do it” question and answer format. This is because when the sacred works were written people did not think the way that they do today, with the arrogance of “Well, explain it to me and I’ll decide on my own what I think of it.” So God does not bother to give humans a blow by blow description of hell because to those who are sane, knowing that hell is a place of eternal torment where God is not present and the damned are thrust and it is ruled by Satan is “detail” enough. But I know that moderns like “details” so this is why I am explaining the scripture to you.
Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood we have hid ourselves.
Isaiah, in his great prophecy, much of it regarding the coming of Jesus Christ as Messiah, foresees a time when people will ally themselves with hell by thinking that it is a tolerable state of being that can be endured and bargained with, but that this belief is all lies. This is what is meant by “with hell we are at agreement” and “we have made lies our refuge” because those people convince themselves of a false view of what will come when God’s wrath at their sin descends, either at the time of individual death or at the epic end of times. Isaiah prophesies that many will think that hell and what it represents (unrepentant sin) can be bargained with, or modified or “updated” in those people’s understanding of it. So Isaiah saw not only in his own time but prophesied that people will be what we call “revisionist” today, which is to deny hell as it truly is and think that one can gain refuge or tacit agreement with it.
Hell and destruction are never full: so the eyes of man are never satisfied.
This proverb is very deep, much more than it seems on the surface. It explains that there is no “fixed amount” of hell or destruction but that rather both hell and destruction endlessly expand as humans are more and more sinful. It is the coveting, the “eyes of man” for what they gain from sin rather than goodness and from God that generate sin, destruction, and the place where all that is evil and not of God will repose, which is hell. This is contrary to some pagan beliefs that people are allotted to places due to capricious gods or natural forces, so that a certain number or type of people go to hell and that’s that. This proverb explains that hell and destruction and mankind’s sinfulness expand indefinitely as cause and effect and apace with each other. This makes Paul’s urgent admonishment to be “dead to sin” even more important to understand. Interacting with sin-not being dead to sin-expands the occurrences and power of sin and likewise the capacity of hell since hell will take in endlessly all who merit it.
The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.
This is one of the psalms by King David. Here David is explaining that not only do individuals who are wicked go to hell, but so do entire nations. This is because if a nation “forgets God” it has constructed an ethos and society that is full of sin and it ensnares each person in that structure of sin and not only magnifies but perpetuates sin, developing a society that is based on sin (since sin is that which is not-God) and hence an entire nation can fall into hell. This is not to say that individuals who are in that society who believe and are faithful (and no doubt persecuted) are not individually rewarded and saved into heaven by God upon that individual person’s death. That is not the point. The point is that King David warns that people can risk constructing a godless nation that takes them “as a group” to hell.
Again, notice that David says “forgets God” and not “never knew about God” or “never received the good news about God.” David is warning that those who have no excuse, who knew God, and who then turn away from him, are doomed to hell, whether individuals or entire nations that discard their faith in God willfully or negligently.
So hell is not really discussed in great detail in the Biblical books of the Old Testament except as I’ve cited here. That really was enough for the Israelites: being estranged from God and suffering eternal torment was more than enough information for them. But during his time Jesus understood that people needed more specifics to strengthen their faith and to be fully informed, to use a modern word, about the non-negotiable dreadfulness of hell. Thus most of the Biblical descriptions of hell are in the words of Jesus himself, the Apostles repeating what they learned from Jesus, and St John’s Book of Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse).
In the second half of this blogging I will cite what Jesus explained and the rest of the New Testament descriptions regarding hell. I will also explain the linkage between the stain of all sins ever committed being cast into hell and what is the true nature of devils and demons. I will also, then, turn to the Qur’an because compared to the Bible God, through the archangel Gabriel, is quite chatty about the specific horrors of hell.
I hope that you have found this helpful so far, and not hell-full.
If you check the top list of the five types of sins, and suddenly discover that you are guilty of hundreds (some I'm sure have thousands) of sins, I know that the priests have extended Confessional hours during Lent, and I'd take advantage of that if I were you.