You can visit my new homepage, True Freethinker, via this feed

Saturday, November 05, 2005

On Hell

Hell is a place of departing from God, taking a great fall, being cursed, suffering, weeping, wailing, gnashing teeth, it is outer darkness, a furnace, an oven, eternal, unquenchable fire, a lake of fire and brimstone, of vengeance, destruction, condemnation, where the worm does not die, where one is tormented day and night forever and ever in everlasting punishment. All this and more are the result of a decision.

Unfortunately, yet not uncommonly, our general concept of hell has been shaped largely by myth, superstition, creepy medieval paintings and by movies. In these cases the general idea is that the devil is the ruling king of hell. He is the Yin to God’s Yang, they are of near equal strength and authority. He thoroughly enjoys his position, because he does what he loves the most, torturing people. In fact, he and his minions live a very happy life in hell were they spend their time torturing people for all eternity, it would seem that God’s gift to the devil and the demons is to bless them with an eternal future of doing what they love the most. However, this concept is utterly incorrect.

Lucifer’s Origin and Downfall
In the beginning, when he was created, Lucifer was a first class, high-ranking angel, a servant of God. The name Lucifer could be defined as luminescent, a word picture for a beautiful, bright, shining being. God in His unfathomable wisdom created humans and angels with a free will because He knew that forced love is not true love.

Regarding Lucifer’s status, sin, expulsion, and eventual demise, God reveals the following through the prophet Ezekiel:
“You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created.
You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of the fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned; therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God; and I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground, I laid you before kings, that they might gaze at you.
You defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your trading; therefore I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever” (Ezekiel 28:12-19).

God also reveals through the prophet Isaiah details regarding Lucifer’s sin and demise, when he is finally stripped of his mythical, superstitious, exalted imagery until all that is left is a pathetic, defeated, little, dark angel:
“Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, and the sound of your stringed instruments; the maggot is spread under you, and worms cover you. How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’
Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit. Those who see you will gaze at you, and consider you saying: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world as a wilderness and destroyed its cities, who did not open the house of his prisoners?’
All the kings of the nations, all of them, sleep in glory, everyone in his own house; but you are cast out of your grave like an abominable branch, like the garment of those who are slain, thrust through with a sword, who go down to the stones of the pit, like a corpse trodden underfoot” (Isaiah 14:11-19).
I picture him in his final moments, his final and terminal defeat, looking like a burnt out match.

Notice how many times Lucifer aggrandizes himself with his I will statements. Pride is war against God, a fight we have lost the moment we take up its cause. “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:16).

Lucifer could not appreciate the lofty position he enjoyed by God’s gift. He became power hungry and envious of God. Determined to over power God, he abused his free will by rebelling and he abused his position as a high ranking anointed angel by urging other angels to rebel as well. There appears to be a certain difference between the free will, and consequence thereof, enjoyed by humans and angels. Free will allows both categories of being to choose obedience or rebellion.
However, God gives humans, as illustrated in the story of The Prodigal Son, what we might term a special grace. God is merciful enough with us to put up with rebellion in hopes that the rebel will repent and return to the Father humbly saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you…” (Luke 15:21).
No pun intended, but the deadline for our ability to sin and repent is death. After death there is no exchange, no refund, no purgatory, no limbo, no reincarnation, no higher spiritual plane, no nirvana, “And it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
For the angels, on the other hand, their choice was one singular act, one moment of decision, which carried an immediate and eternal consequence with no possibility of repentance (and apparently no desire for it either). One moment to choose for or against God, forever and ever, amen.
The reason for a stricter more immediate judgment on the angels seems to be that when the angels were created they were immediately before the actual presence of God in all His glory, with no need to debate the existence of God, no theological or philosophical speculation was needed. It appears that the closer one is to God the more He expects from us, this seems to be the case in so many situations recorded in the Old Testament in which God dispensed judgment immediately for certain rebellion.
Consider the time after the exodus from Egypt when God so powerfully and obviously, acted in very open and miraculous ways to free us from slavery. Often the consequence for the people’s sin was immediate and it appears that that is because they were eyewitnesses to God’s reality and power, they should have known better. This may be why the Bible states that hell was created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Notice what a different concept this is than for example the Qur'an, which states that hell was created for sinners (Surah 3:131).
In the case of the angels, who did not have to wonder, and who knew better, their judgment was swift and final. One third of the angels fell with Lucifer, who became satan meaning adversary, his angels are now referred to as demons. Two thirds remained faithful to God. Although God’s judgment on the angels was immediate He has not yet, as it were, rounded up the perpetrators in order to incarcerate then. As an adversary, satan is not God’s equal.
It is appropriate to say that God’s angels and satan’s demons engage in battle however, neither satan nor demons fight God, fighting God would be like using a q-tip to fight against an adversary who has an arsenal of thermonuclear weapons, there is just no such thing as threatening God. Ultimately satan is not a ruling king, he is not a torturer, he is not a tormentor rather, he himself is tormented.

Torture or Torment?
Let us make one thing clear: the Greek word odunao is translated both as torment and torture. Torture denotes the infliction of physical pain, while torment denotes mental anguish. Thus, let us be absolutely clear in understanding that nowhere in the whole Bible is it even hinted at that hell is to be pictured as an inquisitor’s torture chamber. Neither is it even hinted at that there will be people or demons whose job is to inflict physical pain. Neither is the Devil ever pictured as the king of hell but rather, he is pictured as one who suffers like the rest, and indeed more so. There may indeed be physical pain but any example that the history of man’s inhumanity towards man can offer does not fit the Biblical description of hell.

Hell is a place so unlike anything within the human experience that the Bible is forced to use figurative language, which is contradictory if taken in an unbending literal sense, in order to express the horrendous terror which is hell. The Bible employs symbolic terminology to describe what to the human mind is truly indescribable, hell is a place of utter darkness yet, there are eternal flames, which if literal, would produce light. It is eternal death yet, it is eternal existence.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar states:
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
‘But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ ‘He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ ‘Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’’
‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ ‘He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’” (Luke 16:22-31).[1]

Consider that the rich man, used to nothing but the best “cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’”
Lazarus, though righteous, was a physically filthy, poor beggar, whose body was full of sores. Lazarus was not the kind of man of whom you would think to drink water from his hands, specially from the perspective of a rich man, yet his suffering makes all such petty issues of petty cleanliness null and void. The rich man did not merely ask for water but he cried for it.
Imagine how parched he must have been, in what high degree of discomfort, that he asks for the amount of water which would fit on the tip of a finger, a mere drop. Maybe when his suffering began he fantasized about what it would be like to jump into a river.
As time went on, maybe he longed for a jug full of water. His torment was such that he reduced his desire to such a degree that he came to appreciate the blessedness of a single drop of water. He was satisfied to drink a single drop from the filthy hand of a sickly beggar.
Yet, while alive he had decided to reject God and so in the end God respected him and would not curse a blessing upon him, not a drop.

Born Once, Die Twice – Born Twice, Die Once
There are two sorts of death described in the Scripture just as there are two sorts of birth. There is the physical birth which every human experiences and there is the spiritual rebirth which leads to salvation. There is physical death that every human experiences (except for Enoch and Elijah and those who will be taken in the rapture) and there is spiritual death that leads to damnation. As it is said, if we are born once we will die twice, if we are born twice we will die once. “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Revelation 20:14).

Hell is heaven for the ungodly, just as heaven would be hell for the same. Hell is eternal separation from God, heaven is eternal communion with God. If a person proves by thought, deed and word that they want nothing to do with God then when that person dies God will not force them into heaven where they will forever be in the presence of the God whom they hate, that would be unjust. When a person proves by thought, deed and word that they love God then when that person dies God will not force them into hell where they will forever be separated from the one they love, that would be unjust.

Eternal separation from God means eternal rejection of all that God is and does. God gave us a universe. A planet to live on. The right food for our bodies, grown right here on Earth. The right mixture of chemicals for us to breathe. The right amount of gravity. The right skeletal frame and muscle groups. The ability to be cognizant. The imagination to create works of art and music. The warmth of a fire. The beauty of marriage. The blessing of children. John wrote, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen” (John 21:25).
Likewise, God has blessed us in so very many and various ways that if they were written one by one, I suppose that even many worlds could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.
Even Adolf Hitler and his likes enjoyed good food, warm clothes, restful sleep and all such undeserved blessings, while alive in the world. Hell will be a revelation of God’s provision, as it is said we don’t know what we have until it’s gone. All we have has been given to us, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
Hell is complete and eternal deprivation of God’s gifts and blessings, and this is so because the person who ends up in hell wanted nothing to do with God and His ways, they did not want what God had to offer. In hell a person will have all his faculties about him, all abilities of sense and feel will be intact and it would appear that these abilities will be heightened because persons in hell and heaven will have glorified bodies, incorruptible and imperishable, eternal burning will produce no entropy.
Imagine the torment of having a brain which functions with perfect clarity, immaculate memory, a mind that works like it was intended to before the fall, imagine being able to remember with extreme lucidity every single second of our lives and to spend eternity recalling all the times we rejected God, all the sins we committed, all the times when we thought ourselves too intellectual or though we were having too much fun to turn to God.
Imaging having seen the living God only to have Him say, “You did not want my will to be done and so now your will be done. You will go where you chose to go, away from me. I will never bother you again,” imagine having the image of God permanently and perfectly preserved in your memory banks, with the ability to recall it with its full splendor. Yet, imagine also this vision, this God, being the focus of all of your hatred. All this and more by choice, consider the following extremely lucid and sobering quote, “Hell is God’s great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice.”[2]
God gives us a choice, hell or heaven our choice is respected (although regretted by God) and carries eternal consequence. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Yet, hell may be a place where people eternally despise God and only grow in their hatred of Him. Speaking philosophically, if the people in hell repented of their evil lives and accepted that God could have saved them and appreciated His grace it may be unjust for God to eternally ignore them. It is thus, perhaps likely that just as people in heaven will “grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2nd Peter 3:18), conversely, people in hell will grow in hatred and of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. People who chose heaven will grow ever heavenly and people in hell will grow ever hellishly, these being the eternal lives that they chose for themselves. But this is likely pure speculation.
Alfred Edersheim notes:
“‘weeping and the gnashing of teeth.’ In Rabbinic thought the former was connected with sorrow,
[3] the latter almost always anger[4] - not, as generally supposed, with anguish.”[5]

God does not capriciously delight in handing down a judgment of eternal damnation, He does so due to His being a righteous, just, judge, “‘Do I have pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord God, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’” (Ezekiel 18:23). God is so loving that as much as He wants us to do His will, He will allow us to do our own will if that is what we really want. As essential as free will is, it is a terrifying thing.
Surely, no judge would be respected or right if he let a criminal go free while the victims suffer. “…no one is good but one, that is God…” (Matthew 19:17). “…For there is no one who does not sin” (1st Kings 8:46). God is too holy and righteous to look upon sin (see Habakkuk 1:13).
Jesus was the ultimate victim of our crimes, He suffered in order that we would be exculpated from our wrong doings.
The word excruciating was invented to describe the horror of the cross. As He hung on the cross, Jesus cried out, “‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which is translated ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Luke 15:34 also Matthew 27:46 and see Psalm 22).
God the Father had forsaken Jesus at that moment because of us, because even though Jesus was without sin He took all our sins upon Himself, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2nd Corinthians 5:21). He willingly took on the sin of the world, past, present and future, surely something, which is utterly incomprehensible to the human mind. Neither the maddest nor the most brilliant human mind can hope to fathom the mysteries of God’s doings, of His love.
Jesus took upon Himself all the sin of each and every person who has ever or will ever live. That is to say, every sin of every person, of every millennia, of every century, of every decade, of every year, of every month, of every week, of every day, of every hour, of every minute, of every second. Because Jesus Himself was sinless, He says to God the Father after the resurrection, “And now, O Father, glorify together with yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was” (John 17:5).

“So when Jesus had received the sour wine [or vinegar], He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing his head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).
Moments before His death on the cross Jesus cried out “It is finished” or “Paid in full.” The Gospel writers used the Greek word “Tetelestai,” which is the perfect tense of the word “tel-eh'-o” that is used in the New Testament to mean, finish, fulfill, accomplish, pay, perform, expire, to bring to a close, to end, passed, complete, to pay. The word “tel-eh'-o” comes from the word “tel'-os” that is used to mean, end, uttermost, finally, ending, termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be, the last in any succession or series, that by which a thing is finished-its close. The perfect tense in Greek corresponds to the perfect tense in English, and describes an action which is viewed as having been completed in the past, once and for all, not needing to be repeated. The Bible repeats over and over that Jesus suffered once, once for all, once and for all in order to pay the price for sin.

So What of it? We should wonder about people who say that as long as a person is good, everything is fine and heaven awaits them. But what about all the people who are not good? How could it be possible for a good person to say that only those good people like themselves will gain heaven?
The Christian life begins with a bad person realizing that they are bad and therefore, we reach to the bad people so that not just the good will be saved.
We Christians honestly believe that we are going to heaven, not due to our own goodness but through the salvation that God offers through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We honestly believe that we are going to heaven and we are not content to go there alone. Now we begin to understand why Christians proselytize.

Hell is a place of departing from God, taking a great fall, being cursed, suffering, weeping, wailing, gnashing teeth, it is outer darkness, a furnace, an oven, eternal, unquenchable fire, a lake of fire and brimstone, of vengeance, destruction, condemnation, where the worm does not die, where one is tormented day and night forever and ever in everlasting punishment. All this and more are the result of a decision.

Also see my essay
Why Would Your Lord Send You To Hell?

[1] Do note that at this point the rich man is not in hell, which does not exist yet, he was in the unrighteous section of Sheol, the grave.
[2] G. K. Chesterton, quoted in Cliffe Knechtle, Give Me An Answer (Downersgrove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1986), p. 42
[3] Edersheim’s footnote #35 “In Succ. 52 a it is said that in the age to come (Athid labho) God would bring out the Yetser haRa (evil impulse), and slaughter it before the just before the wicked. To the one he would appear like a great mountain, to the other like a small thread. Both would weep - the righteous for joy, that they had been able to subdue so great so great a mountain; the wicked for sorrow, that they had not been able even to break so small a thread.”
[4] Edersheim’s footnote #36 “This is also the meaning of the expression in Ps. 112:10. The verb is used with this idea in Acts 7:54, and in the LXX, Job. 16:9; Ps. 35:16; 37:12; and in Rabbinical writings, for example, Jer. Keth. 35 b; Shem. R. 5, &c.”
[5] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883), Book III: The Ascent: From the River Jordan to the Mount of Transfiguration, Chapter 19: The Return to Capernaum – Healing of the Centurion’s Servant (St. Matthew 8:1,5-15; St. Mark 3:20,21; St. Luke 7:1-10)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.