Tag Archives: Heaven

When We Don’t Want Hell To Be Real

I was taking to a friend the other day and he made a comment and had a brief discussion on Facebook with Matthew Paul Turner.  For those of you who do not know, Matthew Paul Turner is a fairly famous Christian blogger who has writes and speaks on what I consider the friendly church movement.  I have only read his book Churched, which was a good read, but it was not something that I connected with.  I suppose not being part of the “fundie” church crowd has kept me from connecting with some of his messages.  Regardless, I agree with a lot of what he writes about.

Turner, I will refer to him as this as typing Matthew Paul Turner over and over again makes the fingers cramp up, shared a post on his Facebook page about “What Jesus Talked About When He Talked About Hell“.  The post deals with what Jesus says about “hell” and what he might have meant by it.

The author of the article, Benjamin Corey, stated that the word “hell” did not exist in first century Israel.  According to Corey, the word did not appear until AD 725, when it was introduced.

According to the The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, the word “hell” was adopted into our vocabulary as a way to introduce the pagan concept of hell into Christian theology– which it did quite successfully.

Corey then proceeds to give examples as how the word Jesus uses for hell in Greek is “Gehenna”.  I agree with the statement that Jesus used the word Gehenna in a parable that he told (Matthew 23:33).  I disagree with the notion that concept of hell as Jesus spoke about it, the pain and suffering aspects, was not known to first century Jews.

Looking for some background on the word Gehenna, I came across this noted in the NET version:

The word translated hell is “Gehenna” (γέεννα, geenna), a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew words ge hinnom (“Valley of Hinnom”). This was the valley along the south side of Jerusalem. In OT times it was used for human sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (cf. Jer_7:31; Jer_19:5-6; Jer_32:35), and it came to be used as a place where human excrement and rubbish were disposed of and burned. In the intertestamental period, it came to be used symbolically as the place of divine punishment (cf. 1 En. 27:2, 90:26; 4 Ezra 7:36).

While the word “hell” was not known to first century Jews, the concept of Gehenna as a place of divine punishment instead of just a historical location was known to them.  Now I disagree with Corey that the listeners of Jesus would taken this strictly in the historical context, but neither of us were there so we will never fully know.  This disagreement aside, I really enjoyed the post from Corey.

I do not agree with the way hell has been portrayed to people, as it was used as a threat and manipulation tool against far too many people.  The negative usage of hell aside, there is and i believe was an understanding as to the negative connotation of hell that cannot be discounted.  It needs to stop being used as a weapon, but we cannot just cast the idea of an eternal punishment spot aside because people either do not like it or have been hurt by it before.

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Why are We Stuck on Hell?

The topic of hell seems to be gathering more and more attention lately.

Hell is for the lost. No one can really agree with what it is, but it is generally thought of as the place or state where those who are not saved end up. If you are a Christian, the only time it should be a concern is when you are sharing your faith with someone who is lost. Other than that, it should not be the focus of our life. If we are saved, then we are not going there so why worry about it? Maybe if you are worrying about it, you do not have assurance of your faith and that is pointing to a whole other issue all together.

So why are we scared of hell?

I can not even begin to fully comprehend it more than the fact that I do not want to go there. I used to fear hell when I first got saved, but that goes back to a lack of faith and understanding. Once I grew confident in my faith and salvation, those fears disappeared. I have heard several different studies on hell. It is a fiery pit where the devil reigns. It is a horrible place of torment and darkness. I have heard it was a void where you would not be able to feel, hear, or see anyone. The imagery in the Bible suggests that it is a place of torment and suffering. A place where we are cut off from the presence of God. Maybe that concept in itself is what makes hell so hard to understand. What does it really mean to be cut off from God?

According to our theology, no one except Christ really knows. Isn’t that what happened on the cross? I have seen it suggested that how bad could it really be and how much could Jesus have really suffered since it was so short of a time? Does the time suffering really make up for all of the sins? Without understanding what being absent from God really means though, how can we ever know. Isn’t that really the problem with understanding what hell is or isn’t?

As Christians, we believe that God created everything and at the same time exists in everything. I am not suggesting panentheism. When we are saved, we are able to enter into the intimate presence of God, but at the same time the God is present at all times and in all things. The two are different even though the same God is the source. The Christian belief is that when the end comes, the presence of God is removed from all things that are not in Him, i.e. those who are saved, and only his intimate Presence is experienced. If God is not present in something, it dies. Without the life of God, nothing survives. Only knowing a world where God is present, how can we begin to truly comprehend what it is like without God? Thus the problem with hell.

Why do we focus on it though? Does it really matter if I know what hell is like? I do not see how. I know many have an issue with the concept of hell and trying to align it with their image of God. Our concept of a loving God might not allow for the possibility of a place where torture exists. Loving and torture generally do not go together very well, but often we get the idea from many Christians that hell is a place where people are tortured. Lakes of fire where people spend eternity does sound like torture, but is that the reality of hell or the illustration that we use to help us understand the concept? If we are totally separated from God, what if that punishment is worse than being burned alive for eternity? We can not understand the concept, so is it possible that the experience is actually worse that the description? The description could be for the purpose of warning us of what lies ahead unless we turn toward God, but not necessarily the reality of what will be experienced. Once we turn, it no longer matters, so what other purpose does it have but as a warning?

As Christians, our focus should be on God and doing what He commands. Does spending our time debating hell really serve any benefit to the kingdom? If hell is not real, why would people turn from their ways and serve God? Because they love him? Not a very convincing argument. They might love the idea of God, but not the reality. God asks for complete submission and obedience to him and that is not an idea that people embrace very well. Our nature is to do what is in the best interest of ourselves and desires. That conflicts with the nature of following God. God sets hell out there and say you have two options; either you can follow Him or you can choose to follow your own desires. If you choose God heaven awaits. If you do not then hell awaits for you. Pretty simple really.

What if I do not want to follow a God who has a hell? That is your choice. When we can not fully grasp the nature of hell how in the world can we say it is unfair that someone will be separated from God in the end? We are drawing a line of either or and do not understand either side. The focus of turning to God is to live with Him and experience His love in a new way. It is not about what happens to those who do not turn. We do not forget about them as we reach out and tell them how wonderful God is. We share in the love and healing that we have received and the freedom that we live in but we do not hide that there is only two choices. The focus is not on the punishment but the life that is given.

It is time to move on from hell and move on to the life that has been offered and given in abundance. Our focus must be on God and not life without Him. Hell does not save. That should be our focus.

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