I heard an interesting Atheistic summarization of the Christian argument the other day.
“So, I either believe in God and Jesus, or I’m going to burn in Hell?” they said.
Well, yeah . . . when you put it like that. But do we; Christians, Atheists, Joe Averages, even know what Hell truly is?
Ironically, as I’m writing this, my kids are watching a Tom & Jerry that has Tom being threatened with being thrown into a place of fire, smoke and molten rock by a bulldog with horns, pointed tail and a pitchfork for mistreating Jerry all these years. That’s pretty much our collective view of sin and its consequences and, unfortunately, it’s become a wedge of dissension used by both sides in arguments against the other. It’s either this, or that: Either clouds, harps and wings, or fire, pointy tails and pitchforks.
But what does the Bible really say about Hell, or Gehenna, as is the term often used in both Old and New Testament of many translations?
Gehenna (Greek), Gehinnom (Rabbinical Hebrew) or Gehinnam (Yiddish), is a term derived from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; one of two major valleys surrounding the Old City. In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and followers of various Ba’als and Caananite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6).
In the Catholic Encyclopedia, Hell is defined: “. . . in the New Testament the term Gehenna is used more frequently in preference to Hades, as a name for the place of punishment of the damned . . . held in abomination by the Jews, who, accordingly, used the name of this valley to designate the abode of the damned. And Christ adopted this usage of the term.”
So in Biblical times, when Gehenna was referred to, the writer or speaker often meant a literal place, or what that literal place represented to people that followed a certain path of belief. In other words, “If you do these things, this is what you’ll end up doing, and here is where you’ll end up doing it.” Most Jews held the practices of the followers of Ba’al and Moloch in total disdain, so this would have been a very effective argument to stop these “wrong” beliefs of actions.
But how does that relate to us? In today’s terms? We no longer live in a society that has widespread sacrifice or burnt offerings. So what is Hell to us?
Well . . .
I don’t know. And if most “Christians” are honest with themselves, they don’t know either.
We don’t know, but there are a few things we can speculate.
First of all, let’s say Atheists are right and there is no God. The way we live our life and the choices we make therein mean nothing to any “eternal destiny” . . . because there won’t be one. How you live is how you live, the results of which may or may not have any consequence to those around you, but not necessarily on you. It may mean something to do “right”, but only because it’s the right thing to do.
No harm, no foul, no problem.
But what if, as a Christ-follower and a believer in God, I’m right?
I believe that at some point in time a judgment is going to come, and a separation of “wheat and chaff” will come to pass. In other words, a separation of those that not only believed in God, but chose to follow his tenets and live their lives with love, patience, and mercy (i.e. for others), and those that chose not to believe in God and/or chose instead to live in greed, hate, hypocrisy, pride (i.e. for themselves).
(Notice the choices involved; not my choice (for you), not God’s choice, your choice.)
As a result, I believe that those that chose to follow God will then go to live in the presence of God, for eternity. And those that chose not to believe in God will then have their choice fulfilled and spend eternity in separation from God.
Still doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
But what all is involved within the presence and absence of God?
Well . . .
Those that choose to believe in God see Him as the embodiment of love, peace, patience, grace and mercy. We believe that we still have all those things available to us here on earth because, despite our best efforts, there is still an element of God here on earth as well.
But what happens when that element is finally, and eternally, removed? What’s left?
Everything else, right? All the greed, hate, hypocrisy, pride and so on. And those that chose to live with those things here on earth will get to continue living in them . . . forever. Only, without any element of love, peace, patience . . .
All those minor details left with God, and his followers.
I don’t know about you, but that’s starting to sound like “Hell” to me.
But, at least for me, the kicker will be the knowledge. Atheists pride themselves on “knowledge”, right. What happens if/when all this comes to pass and now you know, really know, the results of your choices.
And you were wrong.
Living eternally with greed, hate, hypocrisy, pride . . . and anger: Living eternally without love, peace, patience, mercy . . . and hope.
And living with the knowledge that it was your choice to do so.
Might there be some “weeping and gnashing of teeth”?
That, my friends, is Hell.
But please, don’t take my word for it.
Read. Your. Bible!
(On a further note: I’ve read Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”, and I love Rob and his writing. I believe he is a sincere and loving man of God. Yet, I cannot agree with his ideology behind “Love Wins” that eventually all will come to repentance and be redeemed to God in heaven. In other words, eventually all will be “saved”. It’s just not biblical. Mr. Bell, and others who accept this theory, are attempting to apply human feelings to an omnipotent God. Yes, God created us in his image, but who are we to then attempt to throw that image back upon God: To picture a God that, out of pity or regret, chooses to change his mind about eternal destiny. It would be wonderful to believe that Love truly does win and that an all loving God will see the remorse and shame of his children that chose not to accept or follow Him during their given time in the world and wish to redeem them. But what does that say to those that did choose to follow him during their time in this world? What does that say about every single teaching of the Bible? Each story within the Bible points to a God that desires relationship, desires trust in Him, faith in Him and obedience to Him. If ultimately everyone is redeemed anyway, none of that matters in this world. And, I’m sorry, but that’s just not biblical. Is God capable of pity and regret? Sure. Is God able to cause change? Absolutely. Does that mean that God, in fact, changes? The answer to that is the answer to everything. Believe in a God that changes, and you may accept that eventually all can and will be redeemed to Him. Believe in a God that is eternal, and you must therefore accept that God’s tenets are eternal, God’s choices are eternal and therefore your choices will be eternal. That’s biblical.)