To Hell and Back Again (A Summary of the Journey So Far)

I tend to blog in fits and starts. Often, when I’m dealing with larger ideas and more complex thoughts, the I end up writing bits and pieces of things here and there, and I suspect it is very hard for readers to get the big picture.

So, for the benefit of those who have been following this series, a summary of where I’ve been on the subject of hell is in order.

My interest in this subject arises out of my concern that the idea of hell, though present in scripture, has been tossed to the way-side in many Christian circles.  This is an important issue to explore, in part, because it influences our theology. However, our understanding of hell can influence our attitudes on other important subjects, such as torture.

I have been trying to develop a clearer picture of hell, as that term is used in the New Testament. My recent posts have attempted to describe that picture.

I began with a word study. In actuality, our English bibles usually translate as “hell” two different Greek words: (1) “Ghenna” – the name for a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem and (2) Hades – the realm of the dead in Greek mythology.

I have sought to understand these terms in the context of the larger message of the gospels, which is concerned with the advancement of God’s kingdom. “The Kingdom of God” is a way of describing God’s new world – a world in which God is in charge, and in which those who seek to dominate and control the world and/or their fellow man are displaced. It is a world in which the oppressed and the poor find justice and peace and mercy. Ghenna and Hades are consistently used to describe the status of those who set themselves up against God’s kingdom. That is, “hell” is a way of describing the status of people who try to be in control of the world as God’s kingdom arrives. Such people, we are told, will find themselves tossed “out” of their positions of privilege and power and into the garbage dump.

I am often curious about what hell is like. But the New Testament writers don’t seem to be concerned with that issue. Rather, they are concerned with assuring us that certain types of people will go to hell – they will be thrown out, so to speak, from God’s new world.  

Specifically, Ghenna/Hades is a place for:

– Those who pretend outwardly to be righteous, while inwardly holding onto hatreds and lusts which cause them to be abusive and hateful toward others;

– Those who use their authority as religious leaders to mislead people about God, distracting them from his main purpose – to bring justice and mercy to the world;

– Those who seek to hinder the progress of God’s kingdom by persecuting followers of God;

– Those who ignore the pleas of the helpless and poor;

– Those who participate in systems that persecute followers of God; and

– Those who know of people who are sick, hungry, imprisoned, and naked and fail to respond to their needs.

In the next post, I will state some general conclusions that I’ve drawn at this point.

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3 Responses to To Hell and Back Again (A Summary of the Journey So Far)

  1. curtis says:

    I’ve been lurking and reading some of your posts on hell over the last few days… at this point I can’t even remember how I stumbled onto your blog… I think it might have been through links on other blogs while I was looking up blog posts about Brian McLaren… anyways.

    Keep on going with this stuff, man. I too, like you, have been hard pressed as of late, to find anything in the Bible that talks about the typical “Turn or Burn” type of framework for the afterlife. I just don’t understand how we’ve gone so long, as Christians on the whole, without this coming to the forefront… Why are we believing, and even worse, repeating frequently, things that are extra-biblical speculations (at best).

    It’s not that I don’t believe in Hell anymore, I mean, I wish that it could be that a terrible place like that didn’t exist… But, I’m a lot more inclined lately to say that I just don’t know what Hell is, and where it is, and who’s there, and for how long… I just don’t think that a doctrine about Hell is a core part of Jesus’s Gospel message… his Good News.

    Keep it up! More people need to be wrestling with this!

  2. […] is the first post to read, entitled To Hell and Back Again (A Summary of the Journey So Far). One of the high points of this post is the following: Ghenna and Hades are consistently used to […]

  3. Matt says:

    Curtis-

    I really appreciate the comment and feedback. This has been a very introspective series, and – for that reason – not very discussion-friendly. Its nice to get a comment every once in a while, if for no other reason than to know that folks are actually reading this stuff!

    – Matt

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