Let’s talk about Hell. Hell, why not? Seems like everyone else is. So, let’s go there.
There’s one thing I’d like to get out of the way right off the top. The Bible does not talk about Hell. Ever. Period. So, don’t say, “Well, Jesus says that Hell…”. I know that your Bible has the word Hell in it, but Jesus didn’t have the word Hell in him and neither did the ancient writings that now make up our Bible. As a matter of fact the word itself didn’t even come into being until some 700 plus years after Jesus.
Jesus talks about gehenna and hades (as in the Greek god of the underworld). The New Testament also mentions tartaros, but only once in II Timothy. The Old Testament talks only of sheol, the place of the dead. While they all do have similarities to Hell as we have come to think of it (thank you Dante), they are not the same as Hell.
Just for fun, here is a really quick background on those words. Hades and sheol are places of the dead – all the dead, good and bad. Gehenna is the burning trash dump outside of Jerusalem. And tartaros is the place that fallen angels go (now, I like you and all…but you’re no angel and neither am I).
Again, not the same as our modern concept of Hell (damn you Dante, look what you’ve done… for that matter Plato didn’t help either. Damn you too).
That leaves me with the question, “is there Hell and if so, what is it?” Jesus did speak of something after this life, of eternal life, and he also seemed to indicate that some form or concept of suffering might happen there. The theological kink in this chain of thinking is having an all loving God allowing a child of God to remain in everlasting torment in response to less than 80 years of bad behavior. Does that mean that in some cases Hell wins or is it more likely, as Rob Bell’s recent book puts is, that “Love Wins“?
I’m all for love. I definitely think love wins. After all God is love, right? I also believe that, because of it, we are all going to Hell. Yep, that’s what I said, because of the unlimited, boundless, eternal love of God we are all going to Hell. More specifically we are all going to suffer Hell.
God has spent a great deal of time telling us what is required of us, like loving kindness, doing justice and walking humbly with with God. Jesus came and tried to tell us that our humanity was messing it all up and missing the real point of God’s law. So, Jesus tried to make it simple. “God wants you to love people. All people. Yes, even your enemy.”
It is astounding how far even the best of us fall from that simple directive. Therein lies Hell. We will, each of us, stand fully before God and not so much confess the places we have fallen short of what God requires of us as we will, in the face of the God who is love, be made keenly aware of how miserably short we have fallen.
That will be Hell: to know what it is like to be fully in the presence of God, to know what that kind of love is like, to know we could have shared it while on Earth and to know we did not. I can only imagine the inner torment that will cause. I, for one, am glad we will have an eternity with God, because I suspect it will take me a Hell of a long time to work it out on the inside before I can fully experience the loving presence of God without the torment of self-judgement inside of me separating me from giving myself over fully to God.
We are all going to Hell, but it isn’t forever and the torment will be internal and of our own doing rather than external and the work of the devil. We even suffer little Hells here on Earth. The closer we grow toward God, the more fully we understand who we are called to be and the more it hurts when we fail to live into it. After awhile, it begins to hurt… like Hell.
Hell? Yeah, I’m going there and so are you, but it is for the sake of love not judgement and torture. So, while we are going to Hell in a hand basket, it’s just part of the journey to full reunion with God and while it will be a Hell of a journey, the destination is literally heavenly.