Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thoughts on Hell

Hell is not a subject that is talked about very much these days, but I believe we need to understand hell, to understand what Jesus wants us to do with our lives.  Jesus talks about hell many times.  Let me rephrase that, Jesus is translated as using the word hell many times.  Lets check out a few verses shall we? First lets look at the sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:22, "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." And a few verses later, 5:30, "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." 

The Greek word used is geena transliterated as Gehenna which is an actual, physical place south of Jerusalem.  Most Christians when they see the word hell they think of a derivative of the Medievil/Catholic/Mytholigical hell rather than a Biblically defined vision.  In fact, most of what we think of hell can be attributed to Dante Allegri and John Milton. 

Jesus was a Jew, and he would of had Jewish sensibilities but more than that he was speaking to a Jewish audience and he would speaking in a language they would understand to communicate to them this new way of life, this Kingdom of God. Yes the words that Jesus spoke transcend time but sometimes we have to dig deeper than the surface level to find meaning.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=115&letter=G ) Gehenna was the Valley of Hinnom where people sacrificed children to Moloch and it became synnomous with hell (Not Sheol, which is another, different word used for a different meaning of a different place. More about that another time).  But this hell of judgment was not permanent.  Sinners would spend 12 months there and either be purified, or if they were truly evil they would go on and their souls would be destroyed.  Sounds a little like purgatory huh?

So that is the context of the word, and what Jews of Jesus' day would probably be thinking about.  So what is Jesus trying to communicate here? Well since Jesus did not go out and define what his definition of Hell was, he was probably communicating their definition of Hell.  So it is possible that Jesus meant a temporal (as in not permanent) place of judgment.  It is also possible that he was using something of a hyperbole.  I am assuming that Jesus did not want everyone to walk around blind and with no hands, so that means this is not a direct command to have us mutilate ourselves.  Perhaps Jesus was using hell as a way of saying, "Hey! This is important, you are doing something that will cause you lots of pain!"

I hope that this blog has caused you to think, I was not intending to provide answers just more questions.  What would it mean if Jesus was not talking about an eternal hell, but a physical hell?  What if he meant that the hell is an earthly place that we create by our evil actions and intentions? Maybe our thoughts of hell are correct but we need to focus on a less spiritualized gospel and more of physical lived out gospel of hands and feet. 

Let me know what you think!