Hell is a nasty subject, we don’t really want to know about it, but if we understand it better, it can give us an insight into what Christianity is.
Previously, for the sake of presenting a clearer perspective on other doctrines, I have slotted “hell” into a position of the more simplistic description of “destruction”, rather than the traditional “torture” aspect. This was to oppose the traditional understanding of a hell where people are tortured for eternity, which went along with teachings of a vindictive God who demanded satisfaction, and which somehow meant that people were to be tortured forever and ever.
Those who have rebelled against such teaching, and whom often are numbered amongst the “sects”, have perhaps gone too far in glossing over the realities or otherwise of “hell”.
Certainly there is cause to explain that the word “hell” is not in the original languages, and is a generic? term used for different words in scripture, although “Hades” may be evident in N.T. versions. The words from which are derived the word hell, are Hades (replaced the word Sheol, Abbadon, the grave, pit, the place of the dead). Gehenna, in some explanations given as a place of fire outside Jerusalem, but see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gehenna and there is also Tartarus from Greek mythology.
It is commonly put forward by more deviant ideas, that hell is more a place of destruction, and the torture aspect is devalued in favour of a destruction approach, because Gehenna was supposedly a place of burning rubbish outside of Jerusalem, and its fires ‘never went out’. Also it is said that ‘your enemies will be ashes under your feet’ and etc.
However, if we look at the words of Jesus, we get the more conventional picture that there is indeed, not necessarily a “place”, possibly more of a state or condition, where people are placed into extreme stress, duress, and anguish, to the point of “gnashing their teeth”.
In the parable about Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man says “let me go and warn my brothers, lest they also end up in this place of torment”[?] And he previously said that he was “in anguish in this flame”[?].
Jesus in a parable talked about the servant not forgiving another’s debt, after he himself had been forgiven a very large debt. He said that the man was to be thrown into prison and delivered to the torturers, and he would never get out “until he had paid the last penny”.
This indeed seems to represent the kind of hell that exists in popular understanding. Although it is just a parable or story, it cannot be dismissed by simply saying that it is not literal, which it obviously isn’t. The story presents a picture of reality, which is the whole point of telling it, that we might understand what it is communicating.
Now what is the point of all this? This “ending up in flame” is a picture of Christ’s return, because he is coming in fire with the angels, to burn the chaff and purify believers and burn up unbelievers. It also represents the action of the Holy Spirit as it burns in the conscience of the guilty, so they might recognise their guilt. Specifically it also points to the cross, and the anguish Jesus experienced there. We have to assume that he was literally “in hell” [as we discover what that means] and experiencing anguish and torment as spoken of by himself about others, and now as he takes upon and within himself, that “punishment” that is due them.
Now firstly, it is not punishment, but simply the result of their sin, I.E. cause and effect. We can equate what Jesus experienced in “taking our place”, as that same anguish that we are destined for, if we do not allow his action to provoke reconcilliation with God through his sacrifice, through his love, for us. Because we were made “in his image”, we cannot simply benefit from these things by accepting them in logical fashion, [but it is a good start] but rather, encounter them as personal and emotional, and with all the human like reactions that accompany troubled relationship issues.
Because it was a broken relationship that started it all, and man was hiding from God, he feared the God of love, he feared his love because he believed that his love would prove detrimental to him, because he understood that he, man, was now different to God, and he feared that difference, and he could feel the tension within himself of these two states. His conscience was troubled, and he himself was corrupted in his nature, even if his conscience was so far degenerated as for it to not be easily recognised even by himself. [the fully aware conscience cries “wretched man that I am”..]
What we see on the cross is this problem being dealt with. Because Jesus came to earth as the son of God, he carried the holy stamp of God as he progressed through life, keeping at bay his human defects by always following the leading of the Spirit. At the right time, in the garden and on the cross, he submitted himself to the onslaught of his inner human nature and confronted it in all its corruptive and death dealing form. He was aware of the inner guilt and possibly also was torn within by the burden of the collateral damage caused by the tragedy of a “creation gone wrong”.
Within himself, he absorbed all these human nature aspects, and destroyed the corruption of his body, so it was restored to its original design, and in this state, he was justified in being resurrected, having met unrighteousness with righteousness, and resolved the issue. [he became a life giving spirit]. He experienced the separation from God that we experience, and the anguish of this reality caused by the confrontation between corruption and Spirit, righteousness and unrighteousness, holiness and unholiness, [life and death]. It was the “great gap” of the “rich man” parable.
So where is hell? It lies in the unresolved issues. It lies in the hiding from truth. It lies in the non confession of truth. It lies in living in the lie. And when God in his purity meets us in our impurity, we are met with fire that is burning up the impurity within. If this occurs in the context and reality of Christianity and is caused by the Holy Spirit, then there will be “purification” through the process of belief and ongoing submission to the Spirit. The consciousness of sin and its effects are dealt with. But if this is not the case, and we leave sin unresolved, not allowing God’s love as displayed through the sacrifice of his son to be of value to us, then our consciousness will at some stage be brought to know the full consequences of our refusal to submit to his greater creative plan, and we will know guilt, anguish, torment, which will continue for whatever time or assigned value it takes for the Spirit to burn us up.
We in any case could not be saved without his love demonstrably being seen to deal with sin, and his powerful presence demonstrably being seen to be given as the Spirit at Pentecost. As we accept this new life giving Spirit and live in him, we become the recipients of his legacy of life. His bearing of our death reveals his love and its power to heal. By faith we accept forgiveness from the hell which is the result of our sins.
“Our God is a consuming fire”. By faith he will bring his burning of sin that he achieved on the cross to us now, that joins with us, that saves us and frees us; or then, when it is irreversible, and destroys us. Our choice.
THE TRUTH – His words say we have been set free and believing him brings us life. THE LIE – Our words can deny him, and our unbelief, our non confession of the truth, holds us in its death.
God is either God or he is Father. The one expresses death, the other life. The one is non relational, abstract, remote, fearful. The other is relational, close, warm, loving.
[Just to give vent to a thought, the tearing of the veil may also indicate the combining of the two natures in Christ, the overcoming by confrontation, of mans inner death]