Hell.

I will preface this post by saying that I may be inquisitive but also not to be mistaken for a scholar.  While I have read extensively on this subject, it was done in more of a hobbyist’s manner than as a serious scholarly feat.  So, take everything I say here with a grain of salt.  I’m discussing my own beliefs and ambivalence, not making an indictment against other people’s faith or telling anyone else what to believe.

That being said- I’m not sure I believe in Hell.  The concept of a loving and embracing God that has kept me in my faith seems at odds with the idea of eternal condemnation.  Ever since childhood I’ve struggled against the idea that people I have come to care for might be condemned to eternal punishment simply because they have not “accepted Christ”.  This internal struggle has only intensified as I’ve seen more and more people rebel against the faith because of the intolerance and cruelty of self-professed Christians.  Why would God punish the victim for the wrongs of the abuser?  Why would God condemn a man to hell that left his faith because he was sexually abused by a Priest?

At some point I saw a History Channel special about Hell, and one of the scholars said that “historically speaking, Hell as we know it is a recent invention”.  That statement both baffled and horrified me, because I’d been taught to interpret a lot of Old Testament verses as references to Hell.  So that’s when I decided to start doing a little research of my own.

Here is an interesting article I found online about possible interpretations of Biblical passages as references to Hell.  I will sum it up by saying that several words that we now translate as Hell could refer also to “the grave”, “death”, or “punishment”.  One of the words we now translate as Hell originates from the Hebrew word Gahenna which refers to a valley were bodies were burned.  The stench and smoke were easily representative of punishment and agony.  Tartarus and Hades are also interpreted as Hell, both of those words being references to a mythological afterlife.

The simple truth is that the Bible never spells things out in plain language, it never says, “accept Christ as your personal savior or you will burn in Hell”.  I didn’t become a Christian out of fear of punishment, I did so because I felt drawn by God and I want to love him, I want to life a life exemplary of Love and Sacrifice, and what better way to do so than by emulating Christ himself?  I don’t believe it is healthy for a person’s primary motivation to be one of fear.

Historically fear has been a great motivator.  Fear was easily used by the Catholic Church in the dark ages as a way to keep the populace under control, plus it yielded a great deal of cold hard cash as people tried to buy their way out of retribution.  I find it hard to align myself with a belief that has been so misused.

I will end by saying I’m really not sure what I believe when it comes to Hell, I just know that I cannot allow the thought of punishment to be so central to my beliefs.  I know that I love God, and I serve him.  I know that when I minister to others I want to do so out of love, not motivated by guilt that if I do not convert them they will burn in Hell for an eternity.  I have a certain amount of peace with my own ambivalence.

I don’t need to know everything with certainty.  I know that God is Love, that’s enough.

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21 thoughts on “Hell.

  1. It just doesn’t make SENSE to me. There’s a lot of inconsistencies in Biblical interpretation that I would go into if I didn’t feel like I’m dying from bronchitis (and the boychild has it, too). Maybe I’ll get into the nitty gritty some time next week.

  2. Thanks, Shush…

    I believe Hell should be the last thing on our minds when it comes to our Love of GOD and our Service of people… continue to “Live in Love as Christ loves us”… the afterlife will take care of itself…

    SDG,
    Matty

    PS – i pray you and boychild get well soon!

  3. What I find is that the folks who really get off on the vengeful God stuff, tend to be the ones that talk and preach the most about Hell. Less attention to spent on God’s love. It’s probably because I live in South, but most of these “Fire & Brimstone” types tend to be Baptists.

  4. Matt: Thanks for the comment and well wishes. It’s nice to feel like I’m not the only one who feels the way I do.

    PolitiP: I’ve noticed that as well. Some people love to feed off the fear, but seeing what it produces… I like to draw as thick a line between myself and that kind of doctrine as possible.

  5. In the same vain as my earlier comment, it is also remarkable how many of the fire & brimstoners seem to view the Bible as some sort of Action-Adventure novel. The focus is on the Book of Revelations and stories of the Old Testament.

  6. Shush,

    I gave up the idea of hell a few years ago. The further I got into reflecting on the grace and love of God the less plausible the whole concept became. That’s not to say it didn’t make perfect since when I was growing up in conservative Christianity with it’s high stake on retribution theology and a God who sat on a judges seat swinging a gavel rather than a God who became flesh so he could look at the outcast in the eyes when he called them God’s beloved.

    From God we’ve all come, in God we all live, and to God we all return. I have no control over the first or the last so best I focus my attention where I have any power at all, and that’s how I might best live today as God’s own.

  7. Hi just thought i would drop in a few lines on the subject of hell. Ii quite clearly says in ECCLESIASTES 9:5 the dead are consious of nothing. So how could they be suffering in hell. There is only one thing JEHOVAH GOD can not do and that is lie. And it says in 2nd TIMOTHY 3:16 ALL SCRIPTURE IS INSPIRED BY GOD benificial for teaching,reproveing and setting things straight.

  8. God! We’ve got the 21st century ..no one should need to believe in such theoretical concepts like hell – only made up to make people ‘believe’ and to let them pay for absolution and the luxurious life of church-members.

    Life is good.
    Death is too.
    There are reasons for everything to end.

    Kind regards!

  9. Ray: Thanks! I find it sad that people don’t really research what they believe and why. So much is based off of theory, mistranslations and inferences put there by people with an agenda.

  10. Walking into this discussion a little late, and again it may open up a can of worms, but here I go… (Understand that I am not attacking you personally, I am attacking your idea.)

    Hell exists. It’s scary to think about, but there’s no room for interpretation, no matter what we feel and want to believe. Jesus Himself spoke about it 11 times (Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:29, Matthew 5:30, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:9, Matthew 23:15, Matthew 23:33, Mark 9:43, Mark 9:45, Mark 9:47, Luke 12:5). The word He used is indeed Gehenna, and it is not hard to interpret what it means: the unquenchable fire. The way I look at it, if Jesus says Hell is real, I find it hard to think otherwise, no matter how hard I try.

    You said, “The concept of a loving and embracing God that has kept me in my faith seems at odds with the idea of eternal condemnation.” The question is not, “Why would God condemn anyone to Hell?”, rather, it is, “Why would anyone voluntarily choose Hell?” Because that’s how people get there.

    Why does Hell exist at all? Hell is really an issue of justice, something I talked about in a post of mine called The only way into Heaven is by Jesus, or by your own perfection!

    How many will be in Hell? No way I can know, but this verse haunts me: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

    Remember: the Bible is the Word of God, ALL of it, and if we pick and choose what to believe, then we have no foundation to stand on – if we say that some of the Bible isn’t true, how can we be absolutely sure that the other parts we like are true? It has to be either all true, or it’s all just words.

  11. Rob V: Thanks for your comment, and sorry that it’s taken me so long to respond (I’ve been on vacation for the past few weeks). I’ll take all of this to heart and think about it for a while. But can I ask one question? You said, ” “Why would anyone voluntarily choose Hell?” Because that’s how people get there”. That question is troublesome for me. People who do not believe in God don’t believe they are making a choice, for one… but what about people who are never exposed to the Gospel (something that is still possible)? These things truly do trouble me.

    I’ll check out the post that you linked to when I get time.

  12. Ideas of hell differ. I believe hell is absence of God. The Scriptures clearly indicate an unquenchable fire, yet follow up with total darkness everywhere. How is there fire with complete darkness. I will tell you… the fire is an unquechable fire in our hearts, knowing that God and His love exist and we are not a part of that. There are other references of hell that are as easy to explain.

    But to not believe in hell puts one at risk. If we are to believe that we have a second chance to confess God when we die, why live for Him in this life? For me it is because I have a personal relationship with Him and I love Him, but what of those that don’t yet know Him but believe in Him… why not just wait until they die to confess? That way they can live as they choose here.

    Your question of why would anybody chose hell is a common one. We choose hell because of our depraved human nature. Free will and sin cause us to choose this route. If we didn’t choose hell or sin, Jesus’ sacrifice wouldn’t be necessary.

    Please rethink your view of hell. God doesn’t punish us. He gives us a choice. We choose Him or we choose ourselves… God is a loving god, but He is also a righteous and just God. Sin and turning away from Him require justice. Every Scripture breathes this. To pick and choose what we want to believe in Scripture and what we don’t want to believe because it doesn’t fit in with our human view of an eternal/infinite God is a mistake. We will never completely understand Him in our current state. But if He states there is a hell, you can rest assured, there is a reason.

  13. Never mind… I just visited some of your “neighborhoods” and it seems you associate with a worldly view mostly. I am not talking about “gay”, but rather homosexuality blogs and pages that display the carnal side of human nature rather than the spiritual side. A couple of your “friend” sites are rather pornographic in nature. If you are unaware of this, you now are. By our fruits we are known. If it were possible, I would state, “don’t let God see this.”

    As Christians we are supposed to call each other out on this kind of stuff, and you, my friend, need to re-evaluate your walk with God. Distance yourself from the world and sin. We are aliens in a strange land. We are not of this world, but we are in it. We are to be a light and salt of the world. We can’t do that by promoting and reading pornography… especially not being ashamed by it.

  14. Ketch22: Don’t mistake the people in the “neighborhood” for a fair representation of my own views- the “neighborhood” links are mostly linkbacks to people who have put my own blog in their sidebar, so they are more people who read THIS blog than people whose blogs I read.

    Do I associate with people who have a “worldly” view? Absolutely- I minister to them. That is the purpose of this blog. One of the subjects I blog about the most often is homosexuality and the churches relationship to homosexuals. Because I am emphatic in my stating that gay people should be ministered to, I have a great deal of openly gay readers, and
    I am proud of the fact that for several of them I am the only Christian to whom they relate on a regular basis. Well, proud because that means that they are hearing about God’s desire to know them, but also ashamed because it also means that Christians as a whole have overlooked them or already rejected them.
    I sincerely apologize if you’ve been offended by a link you clinked from my blog.

  15. “JEHOVAH GOD can not…lie.” Grey 1962

    Who is this? Jehovah is not the name of God (and does He really care?)

    A)Judges 1:19 (King James Version)

    “19And [YHWH] was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.”

    Or B) Adonai.

    “How is there fire with complete darkness?”-K22. Hi again, by the way! :)

    The 1st 300,000 years of the universe was nothing but ultra hot dense hydrogen- no fusion, no stars, no cumbustion, no light. But still hot as Hell- literally! And Even light from the sun is created in the photosphere- so actually the inside of the sun is completelly dark as well.

    You know, if John of Patmos’ Revelations was indeed accurate- then the 2nd Earth implies that Heaven isn’t eternal either. But then the concept of the eternal Lake of Fire comes into play- and i’m not entierly sure what that is. Let me look…..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_of_Fire

    No, nothing sound can be derived from That; i’m still not sure what the words were in Greek that identify the Lake of Fire. Note also that this is a heavily disputed book throughout Christianity, and given the nature of its writing (and its likely inspiration- halucinations), it is very very dubious indeed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Revelation

    But here’s a cool list of “Apocolyptic literature”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalyptic_literature

    Back to eternity…What the heck are we supposed to do with ourselves after the first 50,000,000,000,000 years? I can’t think af anything anyone could do that would make that immense amount of time managable-psychologically, socially, or practically. Hell and Heaven are exactly the same in this respect.

    Which brings up a consideration: God may have reveiled himself differently to the peoples of the world, and seen different aspects of His nature and existance. If we view the Bible- or indeed, other religions as a slowly unfolding series of discoveries and changes in the theories man has about God, then it all makes a great deal more sense.

    Even considering the possibility of demonic corruption of the other religions- even demonic rule itself of the dieties- we can still garner truths from lies. If i’m not mistaken, the Tree of Knowledge was the 1st act of corruption that demons had on humankind (for the Serpant was actually the creation god of Ugaritic beliefs, if i’m not mistaken); So, in a way, Man’s continual attempts to know God are simply being manifested continually throughout history or other foreign religious traditions. What do you think of that interesting idea?

  16. Romans 2:14-15
    Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.

    This verse has been used to demonstrate that all humanity has a basic knowledge of eternal truth. The law is “written in our hearts”, ruled by our consciences. I don’t know how much of that I ultimately believe, but I do believe that all people are basically good and yearn to know truth. I’ve heard of some religious traditions that teach that all roads lead to the same place, all Gods are really incarnations of the same eternal being, that sort of thing. I don’t really believe that, but I do believe that humanity’s desire to give face to it’s creator does say SOMETHING, and that all religions hold a grain of the same basic truth- do good works, be charitable, live outside yourself, make the world better. Why condemn any codex of beliefs that tries to help mankind better itself?

    I’m also reminded of a character in a book (I’m such a dork) written by CS Lewis, who found himself in “heaven” despite having worshiped a different God. (This is from The Last Battle) and the “God” of that story said that all of his service to this idol was in love and with a pure heart, so He would accept this service as to Himself.

    And that kind of made me wonder, because in 1st John 4, God is Love and Love is God, so if we serve Love are we serving God? I don’t mean romantic love, but real love. The love that makes a hen cover her eggs with her body so they aren’t harmed, that primal love, that love that makes giving better than receiving and skipping your meal so that someone else can eat actually a fulfilling thing. I’ve known a lot of people who have shown that love and weren’t Christians, and I just don’t GET them going to Hell. If there is a Hell, people go there because they REJECT God, they REJECT love, they CHOOSE nothingness. Choosing by not choosing, that doesn’t make sense. It’s just logically indefensible, and I happen to like a faith that I can defend.

    In the Revelation of Saint John, it showed a final sorting, and it was sorting good from evil, not “those who said the sinners prayer” from “those who didn’t.”

    And, yes, it does say a “new” heaven and a “new” earth, which just goes to show that however much we know, we still don’t know it all. Which I’m okay with. I don’t need to know everything, I just need to know that I serve God and He loves me. Thus I serve humanity, because God loves them to. And I will live a better life, and eternity can take care of itself. I just don’t *care* that much, which may seem strange to you if you’ve met other Christians raised in an Evangelical tradition. heh. ;)

    And as for the many names of God, he is referred to by more than 60 names in the Bible, all of which are perfectly acceptable ways to refer to him. (Jehovah Jireh- “LORD that provides” and several others I just can’t think of off of the top of my head.) Yahweh I think is the most eternal.

    Just so you know- I have to write my comments in the text editor because FireFox is eating my comment fields, so as I’m writing this I can’t see your original comment. I know you mentioned something else.

    Oh, the Tree of the Knowledge. That was certainly the first sign of an “otherness” interfering with human life, but I don’t believe in the creation story as a REAL thing, more as a creation Myth, which are common to all religions. There is something to be learned from it, certainly, but it’s another one of those things I don’t mind wondering about and not really knowing.

    I’m really incredibly comfortable with wondering and not knowing, which may eventually drive you (and possibly myself) mad.

  17. “Wondering and not knowing” is really all we are capable of doing.

    “I’ve heard of some religious traditions that teach that all roads lead to the same place, all Gods are really incarnations of the same eternal being, that sort of thing.”

    Eastern traditions are this way. The “all gods” refers specifically to Hinduism. But no, you don’t believe this because Yahweh is an Exclusionary god; yet Adonai or Elohim are supposedly Cosmic renditions- a very different feel from the personal, argumentative, essentially pagan idea of Yahweh (and i hear that there was a place for him in the Canaanite pantheon- in Athtar. El is, interestingly, the father of the gods in this pantheon, so interestingly the Elohim- him and his children- reappearing in the Torah seems very indicative that Judean religion started out from other religions. There is certainly a lot of evidence that points to this being the case, and virtually none that asserts Judaism being monotheistic from its inception.

    An interesting article on this, and an introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis: http://www.georgeleonard.com/yahweh.html

    More on the Documentary hypothesis: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rs/2/Judaism/jepd.html

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