18 November 2012

Hell Is Not What You Think It Is (Part 1)

All our lives we've been taught that hell is a horrible eternal punishment for sinners. It's full of pain, fire, darkness, demons, torture, and loneliness. It possesses every single unfathomable nightmare that a person can dream up. There's really nothing good about it and it's the last place anyone wants to end up. However, Christians are adamant about judging everyone to damnation if they don't choose Jesus and turn from their wicked ways. But, what is hell? What if I told you hell is not what you think it is? What if everything you've been taught about hell was only meant to scare you into choosing Jesus?
The road to hell is wide.

Fear tactics are prevalent in the Christian faith. Religious people who scare people to death have actually been around for quite a long time. I remember some of my required reading in school was a sermon by Jonathan Edward's called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." This is probably the most popular sermon of all time and has been discussed by theologians and educators all over the world. It was written in the mid 1700's (yes, before there was a United States). And, believe it or not, many have committed suicide after reading his powerful "loving" message.

I still hear preaching like this in churches, today. However, I want you to understand something. These pastors who preach using fear tactics really have no clue who God is. I'm being dead serious. And, I'm pretty sure the only Jesus that Jonathan Edwards knew was Satan himself. Any minister who has used a scare tactic or hell, fire, and brimstone to convict people of their sins, clearly has no idea what hell is...or Jesus for that matter (2 Tim 1:7).

For months now I've been sitting down with God on this subject about hell, but what he's telling me goes against every fiber of my religious being. Nothing he's spoken of has ever been taught from the pulpit in any Christian denomination anywhere. I still keep asking him lots of questions. Sometimes the answers make sense and sometimes they don't. Regardless, I just keep trusting him (Pro 3:5-6). Since I've started unlearning everything I was taught all my life, my world has come alive. I'm still unsure about many things, but I want to share some of what I know with you to get your wheels turning. However, no matter what I say, ask the Spirit what he thinks. Not only am I confident that he'll confirm much of what I tell you, but you'll be shocked at what else he has to say.

First, I want to mention that I haven't done much research to gather my conclusions. The little research I have done was to simply try to understand the Hebrew and Greek definitions of the terms used for Hell. There are four words the Bible uses: Sheol, Hades, Tartarus, and Gehenna. The Old Testament only references Sheol, while the New Testament uses the other 3 terms. Each word means the same thing except one. I've listed each word and its simple definition below:

1) Sheol (Hebrew) - the grave
2) Hades (Greek) - the grave
3) Tartarus (Greek) - the grave
4) Gehenna (Greek) - a name referencing the Valley of Hinnom from the Old Testament

As you can see, every term the Bible uses for hell actually means the "grave." The only term that isn't defined the same is Gehenna. However, most of what we are told about hell is based on Gehenna. And, this is the beginning of the problem.

Gehenna is literally translated to mean "Valley of Hinnom." This was a very popular place because it was where Jews of the Old Testament actually sacrificed their children to wash their sins. Yes, they sacrificed people and animals. These children were burned alive in this specific valley. They would even beat a drum as sacrifices were taking place so that others in the nearby villages couldn't hear the cries of the children as they were slaughtered (Jer 7:30-34). Thankfully, when the fair and loving King Josiah took power (good kings were very scarce in the Old Testament) he made sure the human sacrifices ended (2 Kin 22:1-23:30). He also turned the valley into a shamed grave for anyone who committed serious crimes; never to be given a proper burial. Continuous fires were necessary for purification and there would always be worms and creatures feeding (Mark 9:42-50). It was the last place anyone wanted to end up after they died.

Anywhere you literally read the word "hell" it's usually referencing a valley where God's own chosen people worshiped idols and sacrificed their kids (Mat 5:21-30, Mat 10:26-30, Mat 23:33-36, Jam 3:6). Also, Gehenna was very popular in Jesus' day, but not for it's greatness. It's one of the worst abominations in Jewish history. So, when Jesus or James (the only two who used it) mentioned Gehenna, the people knew good and well what they were referencing.

As far as the other 3 hell's, they simply mean a place for the dead, or the grave. The Hebrew word Sheol gives no mention of endless torture after death. There are figurative terms for Sheol being sad, lonely, or dismal, but death is just that (Jon 2:2). It is a place for the dead with no reference to future punishment.

Hades and Tartarus are terms you may be more familiar with. They're taken from pagan Greek mythology to also mean a place for the dead, or grave. They represent a place where all go to die, like Sheol. Interesting enough, Jesus even references the heathen term in the parable (a story or riddle) of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). Was Jesus endorsing mythology? No, he was simply using what they already understood of death at the time (Rev 1:18, 1 Cor 15:54-57). Tartarus (lower level of Hades) is only used once in the Bible by Peter. Just because Peter uses it as an example, doesn't mean he's endorsing mythological places either (2 Pet 2). He's simply saying turn away because you're heading down a path that leads to death and ruin. Again, none of these terms are referencing any eternal punishment after death (John 16:25-33).
Gehenna today - where all those who don't believe go.

Let's consider why we have this perception of hell. Let me try to sum this up the best I can. I'm sure we all remember the Pharisees who tried to cover up the fact that Jesus actually rose from the grave. They chose to spread lies to keep the truth from getting out (Mat 28:11-15). Similarly, hundreds of years ago, Catholicism was a major force to be reckoned with. They had great power in the culture, education, and political system. Somewhere along the line, Catholic leaders chose to twist the verses to make hell into the nightmare that it is today. Why did they choose Gehenna to be their hell? Well, people are more manageable when they're afraid and don't know any better. If uneducated people fear judgment (eternal damnation), then you have them wrapped around your pinky. Instead of preaching the Good News, we received hell on earth.

It's not much different than how it was in the Old Testament. Back in the day, you would have one king about every 400 years that would set things straight with God's people. Very few kings had a real relationship with God. This good leader would judge the nations and destroy all the fake images or bad perceptions the best he could. However, there was always the next guy who was up to no good. Much the same, the Catholics fell from power and domination. This is why we call their reign and ideology the Dark Ages.

Remember, Jews would borrow ideas of future torment from pagan and damning Greek gods. Unfortunately, many of these perceptions of God and the Bible have not faded. And, do you know how many clergy and missionaries are still desperately trying to save people from hell...I mean Gehenna?? Wow. They're clueless.

I'm not saying hell doesn't exist. It's just not what you think it is (Rom 8:31-39). If any are interested, I'll share what I know and what God has shown me about hell. Until then, forget everything you've been taught in church from your "fearless" Christian leaders and rely on Jesus alone (Col 2:8). It's time we started trusting the Spirit in us, instead.


Daniel Botwin said...

Great post, very well put. You're right though, I can't say that any church I've ever been to has ever not talked about how horrible hell is going to be. Yes some present it differently. For some you're blindfolded and all you can smell is Febreze and some don't even throw a tarp over the pile of rubbish it is. It's time people are told the truth and be set free!

Dathan Ellis said...

Haha! I like the febreze reference. I can see the commercials now. People just keep believing everything they've been told, instead of looking or asking God themselves.

Scott Kennedy said...

Hey Dude,
Good article, I have to agree with you too. I’ve felt the same way for years. The popular vision of Hell came out of the middle ages (The Dark Age), and largely came to be by the works of writers such as Dante Alighieri, and several others whose names I forget. I heard once (I believe it was a Catholic priest at be honest) that this common/popular view of Hell was incorrect. He went on to say that true Hell was not a place of boiling lava and fire, but was an absence of Gods divine presence. This would be a truly indefinable feeling, because from the moment were born (are conceived it stands to reason) we are always in Gods divine presence. What do you think???

Dathan Ellis said...

I really like what you said here and you definitely know more than most Christians. It's really cool that you heard that from a Catholic priest too. A piece of what's missing from this is that all things were made from God. So nothing in any state can ever be completely separated from him unless God does something crazy to completely destroy it or put it out of its misery. We're all eternal beings made from an eternal God. I believe part of hell is when a person tries to separate themselves from God or others when there is no way possible that this could happen. Even Satan tries to deny the very being he is even though he is Lucifer (Angel of Light). How does the Angel of Light separate himself from Light (God)? If the presence of God left you or anything (animal, rock, tree, water etc), it would be gone forever. Nothing can survive without being connected to the source. I'll talk about some of this in my next post.

Anonymous said...

I love the febreeze reference, Daniel. That is a great analogy of what is happening to a lot of "christians". Thank you for that!