Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What the Hell?

Two interesting thoughts:

"Let me sum up my thoughts: Hell is a freely-chosen identity based on something else other than God that goes on forever. But even while you disintegrate, you refuse to admit what hell is. You think that it is God who cast you in hell, but it is a self-chosen identity. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in hell choose it. Without that self choice, it wouldn't be hell."

"...this reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross, he was reconciling ‘all things, in heaven and on earth, to God.’ All things, everywhere. This reality then isn’t something that we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making."


Rhett said...

Probably the best thing I've read on the topic of hell was from Tim Keller, over here:


There are some points of resonance with those quotes for sure, but Keller also goes a bit further in this article.

It's hard to talk abotu hell, particularly in pastoral situations. I find that often I am inclined to soften the blow, or to say things like, "I really hope... (all people get saved... something like that).

But when I read the bible, particularly the gospels, I am always challenged by how upfront and full on Jesus is about it all.

Frank said...

Hell becomes a very interesting subject in the NT when we remove that shonky word from the translations. "Hell" is simply poor translation.

This Wiki article does a good job of briefly explaining the emergence of the word "hell":


Three are 3 very different words used to paint a picture of judgement in the NT - often determined by the audience. When addressing a largely Jewish audience "Gehenna" is used. This was what Jesus mostly referred to and it would have carried specific connotations for the Jewish hearer based on the history of the physical place it referred to.

When addressing predominantly gentile audiences, Hades is used. Hades in Greek mythology was a rich picture with well known characters. It was a place for both the righteous and unrighteous, though the NT seems to mostly point to it as a form of judgement. The third is Tartaros (Tartarus). The third is only used once by Peter and is specifically referred to as a place for Satan and his demons - this is consistent with the Tartaros of Greek mythology as it is a place below Hades where conquered gods and their cohorts would be imprisoned.

Now this poses a problem for the biblical literalist who really does want to take the bible literally in every way and is willing to scratch beyond the word "hell" to what was actually being referenced as it would mean they would have to believe Greek mythology and believe in an elaborate underworld with multi-levels.

Then of course there's the lake of fire of Revelation where in Chapter 20, all those whose names are not written in the book of life are thrown into the lake along with death and Hades, the second death.

With Hades (hell), being thrown into the lake (possibly hell as well) it doesn't become hard to see the problems associated with the word and modern concepts of "hell".

For everybody else, the best we can do with "hell" is a belief in a judgement of some sort (and the biblical picture of that isn't nice no matter how we read it) that is a consequence of what we choose... to enter into relationship with God through the work of Christ, or not.

Whatever that judgement looks like or is, the author of life and all that is God is not there so it is horrid - whether it be annihilation, eternal torment or even a stripping away of all that is ungodly within us so that we can dwell with God (a form of universalism that holds hands with the idea of purgatory and the picture of the lake of fire).

As a side note, Keller's quoting of Matthew 25 is a goodie, especially when we look at what that passage says judgement will revolve around. If we're going to take Jesus seriously in that passage about his picture of judgement then we must also take him seriously when he talks about what we will be judged for in that passage. That also has some fascinating implications for our understanding of things like justification ;)

Rhett said...

That's right; I've heard Keller and also, I think, Tom Wright talk about how there are many different metaphors and images used for the results of being judges apart from Christ. Probably the most common one is fire. I've also heard them both say things to the effect of, while it is metaphor, usually metaphor points to an even more 'full-on' reality. And I believe that Jesus is really clear in the gospels, though we are justified through Jesus' work, not our own, that a tree that doesn't produce fruit is in trouble. Personally I think that mean's probably weren't justified to begin with.

Matthew 3 says, "8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

It's deinitely not an enjoyable subject to talk about!

By the way, for people who want to listen rather than read, Keller has a good sermon available here, on hell: http://download.redeemer.com/sermons/Hell_Isnt_the_God_of_Christianity.mp3

Frank said...

His article on "hell" that you linked to is a good one.

The problem for some when they scratch below the surface and discover the different terms and the related mythology is that they then come to something that feels better - but the metaphors are painting a picture of something no person should feel good about - even annihilationism would have been an awful thing in the minds of NT writers. To be apart from God in the end is a horror and they employed various means to express that.

Discovering metaphor and symbolism does not give us a licence to water anything down. Sadly, I think some do.

On repentance and works, once again, as you've noted, it's all really simple - faith and works go hand in hand. I love how Eugene Peterson's writing of James' push on that in his letter conveys that union. One without the other simply doesn't work.

Rhett said...

John Stott has a cool saying which Paul Windsor quotes a lot, which is, "We're saved through faith alone, but that faith isn't meant to remain alone."

I like that.

Frank said...

I think the Bible paints a clear picture - we're saved from sin through the work of Christ alone (and our repentance and submission to that) and we're judged according to what we do.

Verse after verse associates judgement with our action, but salvation with our identification with the work of Christ on the cross.

Frank said...

... and I should have mentioned that the quote from Stott is a good one.

Frank said...

I heard a good line somewhere about faith and action being and forming an indissoluble whole.

I'm not sure of the source or the wider views of the site, but this essay on judgment and its relationship to our actions sums up where I'm at with it all quite well:

Judgment and Responsibility in the New Testament

BJ said...

...and to bring this engaging discourse full circle, the first quote was Tim Keller...

I heard an interesting idea recently - that in much of Jesus' teaching he is "unteaching" the Pharisaic view on hell and in particular their set of judgments on who would be there - the Rich Man and Lazarus being a good example of this.

Frank said...

That's a great point!

The parable of the feast is another fine example... one that I've just started giving some real attention to.

Anonymous said...

That's a hell of alot of comments!