This is the 23rd installment in a series on theological terms. See previous posts on the terms theology , Trinity , creation , man , Fall , common grace , sin , righteousness , faith , pride , election , revelation , atonement , adoption , sanctification , incarnation , idolatry , the church , holiness , salvation , judgment , and heaven .
The Bible warns us that those who do not accept the gospel of Jesus Christ “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
If the most essential thing we can say about heaven  is that it is where God is, the most essential thing we can say about hell is that it is where God is not. If the presence of God in heaven is the assurance of abundant and eternal joy, the God-lessness of hell necessarily removes all hope of joy or blessing.
But hell is far worse than merely the absence of God’s blessing. As Paul stated in the verse above, hell is also “the punishment of eternal destruction.”
Punishment implies that those who are in hell have not simply been abandoned by God. Rather, they have been actively condemned, incarcerated, and consigned to endure the just wrath of God against them for every sinful thought, word, and deed. This clarifies that when we say that hell is the absence of God, we really mean that it is the absence of his blessings and the presence of his wrath.
Eternal speaks to the duration of God’s punishment. For sinners who do not repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s wrath will burn against them forever. There will be no escape; they will never repay their debt; they will never cease to exist or be annihilated. Their punishment will be eternal.
Destruction speaks to the severity of God’s punishment. The wrath of God in hell will be so severe, complete and consuming that the only way to describe the condition is utter destruction. In this place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42), there will be no relief, no tolerance to the pain, no comfort in the company of other sufferers.
Even though the doctrine of hell is an uncomfortable truth, it ought to make us grateful for at least five reasons:
* I added a clarifying statement on God’s presence in hell.