A week or so ago I posted a video from Francis Chan called “Erasing Hell.” I said that much of what he said is very challenging to me. Actually I said it really kicked my butt. I’m very excited about the book he is writing. Anyways, this prompted a contact from someone wanting to know more about what I was thinking on the matter so he could read/comment. FYI, if you don’t know, clicking on the icons on the left of videos will take you to where you can comment.
If you aren’t familiar with the background, Chan is essentially responding to a new book from Rob Bell called Love Wins. In this book Bell talks about Heaven and Hell and this life we live. It isn’t as bad as a lot of people make it out to be, but there is a lot in it that I just don’t agree with. Bell minimizes Hell. Well, I guess it’s important to say that he minimizes eternal punishment. he tries to go to the original language and make it sound like certain concepts, like eternity, just don’t exist in the Bible because the people writing it didn’t have a concept of these terms. He also minimizes the idea of sin as a punishable offense. He essentially says that our actions create our hell, that we live in misery because we desire misery, but if we change then our reality changes.
OK, I’m really simplifying his arguments, but that’s the distilled version.
At face value I can understand why so many people are up in arms, so to speak, but I think we need to take a step back. There is something very good in this book.
It brings some really important questions to the forefront.
Questions like, how can a loving God send someone to Hell? Or, is Jesus saving us from an angry God?
I think those are good questions. Questions we need to talk about, which is why I like what Francis Chan says. But if you watch the video he says something really interesting. What if I’m wrong?
He frames this in response to Rob Bell, maybe not in name but in idea, but I think it really applies to all of us. I think he understands that this reality applies to us and even him. How can we be so arrogant to think we have the corner on truth? Yes, we use reason, we read the Bible, we faithfully hold to what we believe, but if we are being intellectually honest, we might just be wrong.
That is where disagreement and debate come from. The idea that we might be wrong. There really isn’t any debate in certain absolute truths that are apparent to anyone. The sun is bright. Don’t believe me? Stare at it till you’re blind then we can debate on why you can’t see. Ok that’s kinda harsh. How about, gravity will cause an object on Earth to call at a rate of 9.8ms/s. Don’t believe me? Take a stop watch to the top of a tall building and jump. Ok sure there are some other factors to account for, but in the end the issue isn’t really debatable, it is painfully obvious.
The prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles talk about Hell, well actually we need to define some terms there even.
When we say “hell” we tend to refer to the ideas that are expressed as outer darkness, eternal fire, and absolute separation from God. However as translated in many version of the Bible it is really talking about a place best termed “Hades” or “Sheol.” Those are the Greek and Hebrew terms for the same place. You might be better calling that place a temporary way station. In the Book of Revelation, chapter 20, John says this place, along with Death, are thrown into the lake of fire. The term “hell” comes from Norse mythology and also corresponds to the idea of Hades or Sheol. Actually it very closely corresponds to Hades since that was a term to refer to both a place and the god of that domain. Hel, see only one “l”, was a Norse god. She, in Norse Mythology females could rule the big houses, was over a part of the underworld referred to as Helheim, House of Hel, or just “Hel.” Same thing applies to Hades, more or less.
See how confusing the debate gets. Once you understand the terms you still find that there are some really hard to follow points. For example, Rob Bell talks about Gehenna, this is the term that Jesus often uses to refer to as the place of punishment, the one we usually refer to as Hell. he mentions that this was a garbage dump that kept burning for all the bodies and refuse that was thrown in. In my research I found this idea didn’t show up till around 1200 AD (or CE if you prefer). The history of this concept don’t seem to fit. What does fit is the issue of human sacrifice and death.
Way back in the OT it talks about how there were child sacrifices in the valley of Himmnon outside Capernum. That is translated as Gehenna in Greek. Now I tried reading up on this and there are a lot of different theories, what we know is that there was a god named “Moloch” that was worshiped in that region. Archeology recently confirmed that. Some of his priests sacrificed children along with animals and grains. They have found pits with sacrifice victims from infants to children around 6. Now this practice was one of the most atrocious things any of us can comprehend, and God handed out a pretty hefty curse.
Some commentators say there was a large shrine made with different holding places. A fire would bit lit in the shrine and the various sacrifices would be placed in the holding cells and burned. Others say they would heat up a giant bonfire in a cave entranced believed to be an entrance to the after life, a gate of Hell. When the stones were glowing read they would cast children against the rocks and into the fires. In any case I think this as a close a picture to hell as you can get. No wonder this becomes the phrase used to describe a place of punishment for those who would turn against God.
Rob Bell talks about how we make Hell on Earth by doing stuff like this, by hurting others, but I think it misses the point. What about the people doing evil? Yes they make Hell on Earth, but it seems they make this for the innocents, countless billions who are cast into the figurative fires, sacrificed for personal gain or pleasure or just outright sadism.
I think we don’t want to see people sent to a place of torment … unless we see what those people have done. Then we want them to pay. Talk to a young girl who was molested all through her childhood and … well it takes something stronger than me to not exact punishment on their behalf.
But this bring us back to the same issue. What if I’m wrong? I mean think about it. I might not be giving God’s grace enough room.
So I take a step back and work the odds. If I’m wrong. If Hell is just a euphamism, or if it is just a place of discipline followed by restoration, if that’s true … then honestly I’m ok with that. I know some people are offended by that idea, but if that’s true I’m ok that more people get to experience God’s love. Iw ant to see everyone restored.
Only, if I’m right, if the way to destruction is wide and many follow it, if the path to Life is narrow … if only a few find it … shouldn’t I be doing something to help people find this path?
I know I might be wrong, but if I’m not I have to do what I can while I can.
Oh, and one more thought. I think Rob bell nails it when he says we should seek life. That Hell can’t be the motivator, heaven can’t even be the motivator. The real motivator has to be LIFE. If we grab hold of the source of life, if we experience that kind of changing power, if we are full of LIFE, then we will do something to change this world, and not in some temporary way but in the kind of eternal, help those we can in a real physical way now so they can respond to LIFE and change the world, way.