Johns Revelation and Hell


Greetings All
Forgive me if Ive posted this in the incorrect forum, but I wanted more than just one answer from an Apologist. I of course have great respect for Apologists, but having known many I know answers can vary greatly even among Priests. I also didnt want a lot of corny, contentious replies from those that are not of the faith, or at least of serious inquiry.

I read Revelation regularly. As in over and over. I dont know why but Ive always done this when not reading Saint Paul’s Letters (Romans and Corinthians). Currently I am reading it on Catholic Encyclopedia with commentary, which I find fascinating.

My problem is with my perception of Hell, and what it might be like or mean. Having searched this forum recently I found one answer by an Apologist being:

“It is important to not think of hell as a place. It is rather, a form of existence. It means to exist without the love and mercy of God. This passage from Revelation is highly symbolic/poetic.”

I found this to be fascinating and troublesome at the same time because Ive always pictured Hell to be a terrible place of fire, brimstone, wailing and gnashing of teeth, basically a place of eternal torture and torment.

In Catholic Encyclopedia’s discussion of Hell ( the authors are very explicit about Hell being just that. If one reads through the discussion they will find very detailed analysis of historical content and general consensus over millenia describing Hell as unquenchable fire, suffering, punishment, and a worm that will not die.

Im struggling with this as of late, based upon my own life’s experiences. Having suffered terrible childhood abuse, poverty, and years of war, I am finding it hard to imagine much that could be worse.

I know already there are those that are going to say something to the affect of “Hell being worse than anything one could ever imagine” but honestly Im at a point of my life where I disagree. I dont mean to be disrespectful. I am a true Catholic. I go to Mass almost everyday. I pray the rosary almost everyday. Most of my life has been based on service to others. And I cant imagine another life.

But if Hell is worse than what Ive experienced in this life, they’ll have to show me. And if it actually is more cruel, I find it hard to believe that anyone but the very worst of the worst would deserve it-


In the first place nobody deserves Hell. Anyone in Hell has freely chosen to go there.
Second, the main punishment of Hell is eternal separation from God. Nothing is worse than that.


Could you explain what you mean by “nobody deserves Hell”?
None of us “deserve” heaven, but have never heard before that none of us deserve hell. If that were so, then it seems to me there should be no such thing as being in the state of mortal sin.


We can not make the judgement of an individual being deserving of hell. Wish i could remember the verses “to judge is to bring God up or down, neither of which we can do”.
A mortal sin is an action, and actions can be deserving of hell.


I agree. We might be able to judge others here on Earth (as in the criminal justice system) but we dont have the authority to judge others in terms of Heaven or Hell, unless you are a Keeper of the Keys (Priest) whom have been granted that authority: " Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

But I second Nita’s query. From what I understand Hell is a punishment for actions here on earth. In the Catholic Encyclopedia its also discussed as a deterrent: * And finally, if men knew that their sins would not be followed by sufferings, the mere threat of annihilation at the moment of death, and still less the prospect of a somewhat lower degree of beatitude, would not suffice to deter them from sin.*

I realize this isnt scripture, but it is theologian commentary of Catholic origin unless somebody shows me otherwise.

According to this, Hell is in fact punishment, and positive infliction, not merely life without God.

But still Im struggling with that. For unless someone is a mass murderer, torturer, burning people at the stake for pleasure (which a few Popes and clergy approved of by the way) why an eternity of such gross suffering for a few years of mortal sin? It doesnt seem balanced-


We have two Catholic dogmas on hell:

Fundamentals of Christian Dogma (Ludwig Ott) gives these de fide dogmas:

  1. The souls of those who die in the condition of personal grievous sin enter Hell (5) – The Athanasian Creed declares: “Those who have done evil will go into eternal fire” (Denzinger 40).

Benedict XII declared in the Constitution Benedictus Deus: “According to God’s general ordinance, the souls of those who die in a personal grievous sin descend immediately into Hell, where they will be tormented by the pains of Hell” (Denz. 531).

The Church Fathers unanimously attest to the reality of Hell. For example, St. Ignatius of Antioch states that those who corrupt the faith in God by erroneous teaching “will go into the unquenchable fire – as will those who listen to them.” St. Justin bases the punishment of Hell on the idea of Divine Justice, which demands punishment for those who transgress the law of God. (6)

  1. The punishment of Hell lasts for all eternity - Affirming the eternal nature of Hell, spoken of often in the Holy Writ, (7) the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) declared: “Those [the rejected] will receive a perpetual punishment with the devil.” (Denz. 429)


The problem with thinking of it as a “place” is that we think of it (fire/worm/physical teeth etc.) as those things are in our present world here on earth. But hell is in some other dimension and will exist even when this physical world has come to an end.

Also, until the resurrection, the condemned experience it even without their bodies! So there is much that is still a mystery.

I found this to be fascinating and troublesome at the same time because Ive always pictured Hell to be a terrible place of fire, brimstone, wailing and gnashing of teeth, basically a place of eternal torture and torment.

That description comes from Jesus Himself. (eg. Mt. 13:42,50; Mt. 25:41; Mark 9:43)

Whether there will be some sort of physical fire or not, we can certainly know from Jesus’ words that as well as spiritual/mental/soul pain, the resurrected body will also experience pain – described most often as equivalent to the pain of fire.

Hell is separation from God. I don’t think we humans can even imagine what it’s like to be separated from God — to know what that all encompasses – how terrible it would be.

But if Hell is worse than what Ive experienced in this life, they’ll have to show me. And if it actually is more cruel, I find it hard to believe that anyone but the very worst of the worst would deserve it-

As Thistle noted, they choose it/hell. They choose not to accept God - choose to reject being with Him and accepting His rule, His forgiveness and purifying grace.


There are varying degrees/levels of punishment in hell, just as there are varying degrees of blessedness in heaven.

In Mt 11:21-22 Jesus tells those in Corozain and Bethsaida that they’ll be subject to a stricter judgement that those who dwelt in Tyre and Sidon.

In Luke 20:47 Jesus tells the scribes they’ll “receive greater damnation”.

Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma also gives the following quote from St. Augustine:
“In their wretchedness the lot of some of the damned will be more tolerable than that of others.” (Enchir. 111)


Hell is the State of Those who Reject God

At the General Audience of Wednesday, 28 July 1999, the Holy Father reflected on hell as the definitive rejection of God. In his catechesis, the Pope said that care should be taken to interpret correctly the images of hell in Sacred Scripture, and explained that “hell is the ultimate consequence of sin itself… Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy”.

  1. God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or hell. It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life “hell”.
    In a theological sense however, hell is something else: it is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life.
    Hell is a state of eternal damnation
  2. To describe this reality Sacred Scripture uses a symbolical language which will gradually be explained. In the Old Testament the condition of the dead had not yet been fully disclosed by Revelation. Moreover it was thought that the dead were amassed in Sheol, a land of darkness (cf. Ez. 28:8; 31:14; Jb. 10:21f.; 38:17; Ps 30:10; 88:7, 13), a pit from which one cannot reascend (cf. Jb. 7:9), a place in which it is impossible to praise God (cf. Is 38:18; Ps 6:6).
    The New Testament sheds new light on the condition of the dead, proclaiming above all that Christ by his Resurrection conquered death and extended his liberating power to the kingdom of the dead.
    Redemption nevertheless remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely. This is why they will all be judged “by what they [have done]” (Rv 20:13). By using images, the New Testament presents the place destined for evildoers as a fiery furnace, where people will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41), or like Gehenna with its “unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43). All this is narrated in the parable of the rich man, which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain (cf. Lk. 16:19-3 1).
    The Book of Revelation also figuratively portrays in a “pool of fire” those who exclude themselves from the book of life, thus meeting with a “second death” (Rv. 20:13f.). Whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for 'eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thes 1:9).
  3. The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather* than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (n. 1033).
    “Eternal damnation”, therefore, is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.
    We are saved from going to hell by Jesus who conquered Satan
  4. Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying “yes” or “no”, which marks the human creature’s freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God’s love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council, DS 800-801). What happened to them is a warning to us: it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus who lived his life with a “yes” to God.
    Eternal damnation remains a real possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell — and even less the improper use of biblical images — must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the, Spirit of God who makes us cry “Abba, Father!” (Rm. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).
    This prospect, rich in hope, prevails in Christian proclamation. It is effectively reflected in the liturgical tradition of the Church, as the words of the Roman Canon attest: “Father, accept this offering from your whole family … save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen”.

Pope Saint John Paul II



And supposedly reconciliation/confession forgives us of our sin(s). If in a state of grace, we should go to heaven, whether its immediate as some believe (and joined with our Heavenly bodies at Judgment), or later when the sea, death, and Hell give up their dead and all are Judged together.


Catholic teaching is that there are two judgments: a particular judgement experienced by each individual at the time of death and then the general judgment at the end of the world.

1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a **particular judgment **that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification or immediately, -or immediate and everlasting damnation

677 God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the **Last Judgement **after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

If you haven’t already read it, here’s a link to the section on Hell in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.


Thanks for this. I opened the link and read it in its entirety. Its life changing.

It seems to me, that this document somewhat stands in contrast to the catechism and older theology, and more aligned with what I read and quoted in my first post.

Im aware of the two judgments: first at death, then at the second coming, when we are united with our heavenly bodies and all are judged together. Thats taken literally from scripture and described clearly in Revelation as well. And maybe it should be.

However St John Paul II indicates that without divine revelation man cannot truly know, and warns us to use restraint when describing these “ultimate realities.”

This speaks to my heart more, and my personal experiences here on this plane of existence-


Thank you for this. Ive actually read the entire CCC which is, believe it or not, what cracked open the door for me to join the church. I was searching about suicide being the “unforgivable sin” and of course found 2282-2283 and found otherwise.

I then read 2358 regarding homosexuality which I found to be merciful contrary to what many say about Catholics. Im not homosexual, but I was in the Army when it allowed gays to openly serve, so searched this too.

But still, my reservations and conscience has remained troubled regarding Hell until just now when I read Saint John Paul II’s Catechesis at the General Audience of 21 July 1999.


Both the pearls, jewels and gold city (Rev 21: 19-21) and the the lake of fire outside the city, are symbols. Not real places where God and the Devil live.


However, St John Paul II seem to contradict himself, or say two things at once that seem different to me:

"[Note: The original Italian says, “(Più che) More than a place, hell indicates…” This suggests correctly that although hell is not essentially “a place,” rather the definitive loss of God, confinement is included. Thus, after the general resurrection the bodies of the damned, being bodies not spirits, must be in “some place,” in which they will receive the punishment of fire.] "*

He says Hell is NOT a place, then goes right on to say that the resurrected bodies of the damn must be in “some place.” I find that contradictory, and confusing…


Your descriptions of hell are not mutually exclusive. To be absent from God is begin to experience the void, the emptiness of hell. Despite your ill treatment on earth, there is far more in hell. As well, you know that God chastises those whom He loves. The human equation is one of universal suffering, and the Catholic faith contains the most profound theology regarding the value of suffering. Have you offered your body as a living sacrifice as Saint Paul wrote? Do you embrace suffering for your love of God? We know that life is difficult - we just did not know that it was the Via Dolorosa.


Why do you think is contradictory?

Replace hell by sadness.

Sadness is not a place. People in a sadness state must be in some place.

You don’t need to go to a specific place to be sad. But you must occupy some spacetime.

Even a soul without a body or a pure spirit must occupy some spacetime of some form. Maybe this apply to God too in a very mysterious way.

Even if all sad people gather in one specific place sadness still will not be a place.

I think after the Last Judgment the people in Hell will be gathered and confined to a specific place.

That’s why sometimes Hell can be regarded as a place. Because every people in the state of Hell will be in a specific place.


I think the problem is that people thought of “place” as being a physical space bounded by physical enclosure (“physical” as we think of it existing now with our laws of physics). For example, some thought it was in the core of the earth. It’s that type of understanding that the Church is trying to correct when they say it is more a “state” than a “place”. The physical laws that exist for us here will not be the same for those after death and after the resurrection. Eg. Jesus’ resurrected body could pass through walls/door of a locked room (John 20:19 et seq.); assume different physical features (Lk 24:13 et seq).


The words “more than” is used, so it qualifies the statement such that it still may be a place, but not essentially.

“The original Italian says, “(Più che) More than a place, hell indicates…” This suggests correctly that although hell is not essentially “a place,” rather the definitive loss of God,”


Greetings and thank you for your reply.

I like to think that I think in the conceptual, not just analytical, and am able to “grasp” that which is not concise.

However…he does say “although Hell is not a place” then goes right on to say “must be in some place.”

While I appreciate the merciful and kindness of any clergy while teaching, I think it disingenuous to contradict himself especially in the same sentence. I know if my Priest had said that to my face I would be challenging him to clarify, which I in fact do.

Its all in the spirit of seeking Him who presides over us all, and understanding. Most of it is very obvious to me and to be truthful the action is more important than understanding especially when it comes to Love, service to others and charity, and worship.

But this subject more than any is something I truly try to understand as I think it crucial in conversation with those that arent saved or who are deceived by themselves and not within the sanctuary. In my day to day life I find myself in contact with them especially the “reformed Catholics” and cradle Catholics who speak in error out loud.

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