February 12, 2007

Hell Revisited

I found this article on the theology of hell and, along with the post on Anna Nicole Smith, I started thinking about the end result of our lives and the ultimate punishment for sin. I have also posted about this topic in the past. (I am sure I have written more.)

The article points out two things to keep in mind (to see the fuller description read the article):
First, just sentences for sin, as described in Scripture, are both proportional and prorated.

Second, we must remember that it is never cruel for God to enforce penalties appropriate to crimes committed.
Here are some things that I have come to conclude in my own thinking on hell:

1. God is just. He will hold people accountable. He will judge everyone of us for the wrongs we have done.

2. God is loving and forgiving. He loves us more than we can imagine, and He will do anything he can to give us forgiveness.

3. Hell is ALSO a place on earth. For more on this simply watch the evening news. The Bible tells us that the Gates of Hell will not be able to stand against the Kingdom of God. I believe that Jesus' followers are called to take back ground from the hell on earth. We can change the world, extend God's Kingdom, and bring healing.

4. Hell is probably not what we imagine. Just as we have no clear picture of heaven, we have no clear picture of hell. Most of our theological understanding of hell is based on Dante's Inferno and not on actual biblical understanding. (Hint: Dante has even affected the way translators have interpreted the Bibles we read. Most what is described as "hell" should be translated as "the grave" or was a reference to the burning trash dump outside the city.) I am not saying that hell doesn't exist, but I am saying that our typical concept of hell may not be right.

5. We just don't know! There is no final description of what hell is like. Jesus tells us stories about the good being separated from the bad (is he talking about good people being separated from bad people OR is he talking about what is good and what is bad in us individually?) and judgment. To be honest, no one knows for sure.

6. We need to be very careful who we assign to hell! We are not the judge. We are not the jury. We are not the executioner. We are the ambassadors for a new way of life; a life given over to God. We are called to love God and Love our neighbor. I am not convinced that telling a person they are going to hell is really love. I believe helping them discover a better way is loving. I don't think we withhold from them the truth, but we don't have to lead with judgment.

This weekend I preached from Numbers 16. In it is the story of the Israelites rebelling against God and drawing on themselves His wrath. As the plague sweeps through the assembly, Moses sends Aaron into their midst with the censer of incense (the high-priestly incense of atonement). Aaron stands between the living and the dead, and the plague stops. God honors the atonement offering placed in the midst of a condemned people even though He is carrying out judgment.

We see Jesus doing the same thing...running into the midst of a sinful world to be held up as the perfect atonement for sin.

What are your thoughts?


  1. It really is amazing how irate some Christians get when you start to question the "traditional" view of hell...

    Your 6th point is important. We, as followers of Jesus, need to show people a better way. It seems that much of Christianity has been reduced to some kind of "get out of hell free" card. It should be much more than that!

  2. Rainer,

    Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate the comment.

  3. I don't even try to imagine what hell is going to be like. Whatever it will be like, I'm not going there, and I'm thankful for that. I've seen the book "23-Minutes in Hell", and have considered picking it up just to check it out, but haven't forked over the money yet.