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Misconception of Hell Part 2   5 comments

Many nonbelievers are affronted that God would “send them to hell”. The argument goes something like this —

God is evil for sending anyone to hell. How dare he expect me to love him back when I don’t even believe he exists and how dare he send anyone to hell for not believing in him.

That’s a lot of anger toward a being who the nonbeliever claims does not exist, but let’s just concentrate on the topic of hell for a moment.

Hell is a place where God is not present. On the day Jesus comes back, all people — believers and nonbelievers all — will know that God is real and know with certainty that God is good. God will judge the believers and the nonbelievers. Nonbelievers are those who have spent their lives avoiding getting to know and spend time with God. They have a host of excuses for that, but all of their excuses boil down to the simple fact that they chose not to have a relationship with God.

Adam and Eve were created for the purpose of having a relationship with God. They decided that relationship was expendable if they could be like gods themselves. They broke the relationship and God kicked them out of the Garden to allow them to live their lives as they chose, following their own faulty thinking rather than His perfect guidance. We who live today and all intervening generations have not been able to restore that relationship, because frankly, we continue to put ourselves in the seat of God. We deem a relationship with Him to be too confining on our ability to do as we please. God did something dramatic to help us understand the importance of that relationship — He stepped down into our messy world in human form and died a horrible death so we would understand just how much He loves us and wants to restore that relationship.

Christians are those people who have recognized that sacrifice and chosen the relationship that God offers. It doesn’t make us any less human or any better than those who have not. It just means we’re connected to God through relationship and He honors our choice.

But He won’t force any of us to fellowship with Him. He suffered and sacrificed to reconcile with us, but it’s still our choice to accept that relationship or not. And if we die without having accepted that restoration, He will give us the dignity of our choices and allow us to spend eternity without Him.

That absence will be so painfully keen that it will cause continual weeping and gnashing of teeth. Hell is the absence of God.

You can hate God for that, but you’re the one who chooses it.

Misconception of Hell Part 1   7 comments

Far too often,we human beings try to redesign God in our image. One way we do that is by misinterpreting His communication with us — the Bible.

Take the concept of Hell.

The Bible describes “hell” as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Where did the idea of hell as a place of fire and brimstone come from? Revelation 21:8 talks about a burning lake of fire where the antiChrist will be thrown in the end times and Genesis 19 describes fire and brimstone destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Preachers for centuries have riffed off that imagery for its effect, but neither image is really a description of hell.

The word the Bible uses to describe hell “Gehenna” comes from a valley adjacent to Jerusalem where the Jews (under kings Ahaz and Manasseh) sacrificed their children to the god Molech. In Jesus’ day it was a nasty place of constant fires used to burn refuse and the bodies of criminals. When Jesus used the word Gehenna, He was speaking of the city dump of all eternity. Fire was a part of it, but the emphasis was really on separation and loss.

The New Testament provides varied descriptions of hell — fire, a bottomless pit, a burning lake, darkness, death, destruction, everlasting torment, a place of wailing and gnashing of teeth, a gradation of punishment. The variety of descriptions argues against applying a literal interpretation of any particular one. For example, in a place of absolute darkness, does fire emit light? Fire consumes, but the people who would provide the fuel are never consumed. The concept of graduation of punishment is also something to consider. Does Hitler’s part of the fire burn more painfully than the part inhabited by an honest pagan? Does he fall more rapidly into the abyss than the pagan? Is utter darkness darker for Hitler? Does he wail and gnash more loudly than others?

Although you have to be careful of assigning a symbolic status to God’s word, the images of torment in hell appear to be a metaphor and not a literal burning fire in eternal darkness. The symbolic nature does not lessen hell’s potency. On the contrary, their combined effect describes a hell that is worse than death, darker than darkness, and deeper than any abyss. Hell is a place with more wailing and gnashing of teeth than any single description can portray. It is a place that exceeds our capacity to imagine and describe in human language.

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