It started in Wal-Mart. I was cruising through the book section when I happened upon a title that caught my eye: 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese. I picked up a copy and checked out the sell lines on the cover: “One man’s story about what he saw, heard and felt in that place of torment.” On the back cover, the author writes: “My sincere hope is that this book is the closest you will ever come to experiencing hell for yourself.”

Intrigued, I added the book to my shopping cart and took it home and read it cover to cover. It was by far the most depressing and terrifying book I have ever read. In its own way, it eclipsed Hitler’s Ovens and Dante’s Inferno (illustrated by Gustav Dore). It was analogous to a Hieronymus Bosch painting with Wiese as one of the subjects. (Bosch is famous for his grotesque depictions of Hell.)

At 3:00 AM on the 23rd of November, 1998, Wiese and his wife were soundly sleeping after spending the evening with some close friends. As Wiese tells it, “Suddenly…I found myself being hurled through the air, and then was falling to the ground, completely out of control.

“I landed in what appeared to be a prison cell…I was completely naked…This was not a dream – I was actually in this strange place. Fully awake and cognizant, I had no idea what had happened, how I had traveled, or why I was there…” (ibid. p xv).

Wiese describes the place he was in as “hot – far beyond any possibility of sustaining life.” He writes, “I wasn’t yet fully aware of it – but I had fallen into hell.” Wiese concluded that
“The reason I was shown this place was to bring back a message of warning…people make the choice to go to hell every day.” “And,” concludes Wiese, “it has now become my life’s purpose to tell others what I saw, heard, and felt so that whoever reads this story will be able to take the proper measures to steer clear of this place at all costs.” (p. xviii).

“This place” – hell as Wiese describes it – is the kind of place no one, even the worst human monster, would ever want to reside in. It is a place of unbearable heat, implacable thirst, endless torment at the hands of powerful and unspeakably ugly demons, and a place of palpable darkness. From it, there is no escape – ever! There is no relief from the relentless psychological and physical torment. Says Wiese, “I was horrified as I heard the screams of an untold multitude of people crying out in torment,” (p. 8).

In the distance, Wiese perceived “…a large pit, a gigantic raging inferno approximately one mile in diameter and about ten miles away,” (p.10). He speaks of “utter hopelessness,” “and endless eternity of pain, loss, loneliness, and doom,” (p. 11). “I realized this horror would last for an eternity,” (p. 13).

Wiese adds to the sense of utter misery and despair when he writes, “…the core temperature at the center of the earth is approximately twelve thousand degrees. To endure that for an eternity is unfathomable.

“I could see the outlines of people through the flames. The screams from the condemned souls were deafening and relentless. There was no safe place, no safe moment, no temporary relief of any kind,” (p. 22). He then identifies these denizens of darkness, “There were people in hell who were contained in a massive pit. Horrible creatures surrounded the perimeter. There was no way of escape,” (p. 22). There were vast numbers of hapless souls in Wiese’s hell too, “I was instantly sobered as He allowed me to see a steady stream of people falling through a tunnel – one after the other, after the other, after the other, into an open cavern, into the horror that I had just escaped,” (p.36).

Perhaps one of the most horrific scenes in the book is Wiese’s personal encounter with demons in his 10x15x15 cell. “I saw two enormous beasts, unlike anything I had ever seen before.

“These creatures were approximately ten to thirteen feet tall…they were entirely evil, and they were gazing at me with pure hatred, which completely paralyzed me with fear. ‘Evil’ and ‘Terror’ stood before me. Those creatures were an intensely concentrated manifestation of those two forces.

“The creatures weren’t animals, but they weren’t human either. Each giant beast resembled a reptile in appearance, but took on human form. Their arms and legs were unequal in length, out of proportion, without symmetry. The first one had huge bumps and scales all over its body. It had a huge protruding jaw, gigantic teeth, and large sunken-in eyes. The creature was stout and powerful, with thick legs and abnormally large feet. The second beast was taller and thinner, with very long arms and razor-sharp fins that covered its body. Protruding from its hands were claws that were nearly a foot long, (pp. 22-23).”

The two hideous creatures then turned their attention to the naked Wiese, lying terrified on the floor of his cell. One of the beasts picked him and threw him against the wall. “It felt as though every bone in my body was broken,” says Wiese.

Then the second, scaly beast picked Wiese up and embraced him from behind in a bear hug – its sharp fins piercing his back. “He then reached around and plunged his claws into my chest and ripped them outward. My flesh hung from my body like ribbons as I fell again to the cell floor.”

Wiese adds, “I was extremely nauseous from the terrible, foul stench coming from these creatures.”

Enter Jesus

At the end of his 23-minute experience in hell, Wiese believes he was confronted with the person of Jesus who explained the purpose of this nerve-shattering terror. “Jesus said to me, ‘Go and tell them about this place. It is not my desire that any should go there. Hell was made for the devil and his angels,” (p. 34). Finally, Jesus says, “Tell them I am coming very, very soon.” For more than a decade, Wiese has dedicated his life to telling of his experience and warning people about the reality of this ever-burning place of endless torment and torture.

He spends the rest of the book amplifying his experience and providing proof texts and exegetical backup for the accuracy of his description of hell. Furthermore, he wrote a second, much thicker, book answering the “toughest” questions about hell. It is called simply Hell.

The Basic Premise

In the second book, Wiese establishes a basic premise upon which his theology of hell is built: “As eternal beings, our souls will live forever in either heaven or hell. There is no other place that exists for the soul to go,” (Hell, p.3). Put another way, the entire scenario of endlessly tortured sufferers trapped in an ever-burning hell is predicated upon the doctrine that man has a naturally immortal soul that survives death and winds up either there or in heaven.

Commitment to Study

After reading Wiese’s first book, and scanning his second, I committed myself to a study of the subjects of hell and the immortality of the soul. I invited a couple of other studious blokes to take up the issues as well.

Are these ideas truly Biblical? If they are true, Christians especially need to understand them. If they are false, a majority of Christians are wrong about them. A numerical majority – denominationally speaking – believe in the immortality of the soul, and in the notion that at death that soul either rises to heaven, or descends into hell to suffer for all eternity. Catholics open the possibility of a hellish escape by adopting the doctrine of Purgatory – a place of temporary punishing after which one ascends to heaven. (One of the great controversies of the Reformation was the sale by the Church of “indulgences” by which one could shorten one’s time in Purgatory.)

Disturbing Implications

Wiese’s books, taken together, are utterly terrifying for two reasons: 1). the possibility that one might wind up in hell and 2). The idea that the saved can live blissfully with God in the full knowledge that millions of hapless people, including much-cherished loved ones and family members, are suffering beyond help in a place of eternal torment. How could one be happy with God in such a circumstance?

Connected Doctrines

As we noted above, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is tied to this and other teachings including: annihilationism (conditional immortality); soteriological predestination; Egyptian religion; Platonism (dualism); Gnosticism; Zoroastrianism; resurrection; heaven as the destiny of the saved and many others. The doctrines of the Catholic, Protestant and independent churches have all evolved over time, and they have accumulated baggage from all of the cultures and times with which they have come in contact.

Sifting and sorting through the intellectual maze that is today’s theology is both fascinating and frustrating. Claims of orthodoxy, authority and authenticity are many. When it comes to a discussion of the afterlife, at the root of it all is the notion that the human soul is irreversibly immortal.

For our study purposes, we will not adhere to any authoritarian epistemology. Instead, we will rely exclusively on the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura – the Bible alone – to draw our conclusions. We shall allow history, reason and the Holy Spirit to be our guides. At the same time, we will learn how the ideas that now prevail became a part of Christian theology. As Dr. Roy Blizzard often says, “We know what happened, we know when it happened, and we know why it happened.”

End Part I – Introduction