No Hell Below Us

Ok, I am just thinking, sort of running off in my mind, but what if there is no Hell?

In the early Hebrew scriptures there is no concept of Hell.  Actually they didn’t believe in any form of afterlife.  The word they used that is sometimes translated as Hell or Hades is Sheol which means the grave.  Death was non-existence.  In later writings, especially in the deuterocanonical books written in Greek, you start hearing about the idea of resurrection.  I’m painting in broad strokes here, I know there are passages that can be interpreted other ways.

What we know of Hell nowadays comes to us mainly from the New Testament.  Jesus speaks of Gehenna, which was a metaphor the people would understand.  Gehenna was Jerusalem’s trash dump, so He was in essence saying you could be thrown away in the afterlife.  He also talked about, “outer darkness,” “gnashing of teeth,” and other fun things.  He mentions fearing the one who could, “destroy your soul,” which sort of harkens back to annihilation.  He tells us the parable of Lazarus and the rich man where the rich man is described in being in a place of torment.  Later, Peter mentions Tartarus which was from Greek mythology.  It was the place where the damned were punished for all eternity.  (Our word Hell, comes from Norse mythology, it was the name of a goddess and her domain, a frozen waste for those who died in bed instead of gloriously in battle.)  Of course we can’t forget the apocalyptic imagery from Revelations, the lake of fire, etc.  Do all of these passages really point to a place of eternal torment for sinners?

Jesus was a spiritual teacher, and in those days it wasn’t uncommon for teachers to paint the world in stark contrast to prove a point.  Darkness and light, death and life, Hell and Heaven.  Joshua told the people before they entered the promised land that they were being offered a choice, life and death.  It is a common theme.  Jesus is known for hyperbole.  He says to pluck out your eye and cut off your hand.  It is possible that His teachings on Hell where simply hyperbole to show just how important His words where.  Listen and follow my advice and live with God, disbelieve me and ignore my teachings and suffer and die.

Contemplatives have long found in God unconditional love, peace, and universal acceptance.  It seems so hard to imagine Hell after having had that experience.

Origin taught apokatastasis, the restoration of all beings.  He believed that one day everyone would be reunited with God.  He based this on St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, “When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”

Personally I do believe in Hell.  I think it is an inevitable consequence of free will.  God will not force us to love or accept Him.  He will not force us to live with Him forever.  So the alternate choice is Hell.

I once read a book by an exorcist.  He told a story that once during an exorcism he tried to taunt a demon and said something to the effect that God had built a place especially for his kind.  The demon laughed, called the priest a fool, and went on the say that God didn’t create Hell, that He never conceived of such a place, but that the demons built it.  He said that it was completely silent there, like a grave, where all the souls were curled up within themselves.  The priest immediately points out that demons are liars and can’t be trusted.  What the demon claims rings true to me, though the best lies usually do.

I think Hell is a real place.  However, I don’t think Christians all get saved, and all unbelievers go to Hell.  I think God gives us exactly what we want.  If you want Heaven, He will give it to you.  If you want Hell, He won’t deny it from you.  Now you are probably thinking, “who would ever want to go to Hell?”  Think about some of the people you’ve met.  I’ve known a few that can’t wait.

What do you think?  Is Hell a real place?  Is it a place of eternal torment and suffering, or is it oblivion?  Maybe it is temporary and eventually everyone will be reconciled with God.  Tell us your thoughts.

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