Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hell is a Place on Earth

Part of being a cultural (read "Laodicean") Christian is having no hermeneutic (or even knowing what it means). That means you get to pick and choose what you like from the Bible. If the notion of Hell makes you uncomfortable, you can say that it's reserved for "really bad people". Or that it's a metaphor for suffering on earth.

Once you have a real hermeneutic, you actually have to deal with what the Bible says.

According to my concordance, Hell is used in the King James version 54 times (OT: 31 times, always Sheol; NT: 23 times, 10 Hades, 12 Gehenna, 1 Tartarus). Gehenna is always translated Hell (or hellfire). Hades is translated once as 'the grave' (1 Corinthians 15:55). The NKJV translates this Sheol.

In this post, I will focus on the New Testament references. The OT refs are more numerous and harder to separate from "the grave" which is the other main translation.

Is Hell a real place (separate from the common notion of it)? Jesus certainly speaks of it as if it were a real place. The story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:23) is in a style unlike the parables (which are clearly metaphors).

Hades appears to be a holding place for the unsaved (as opposed to "the bosom of Abraham", which is reserved for those declared righteous). Luke 16:23 makes it clear it is an unpleasant place. Other references speak of "wailing and gnashing of teeth". Revelation 20:13 says Hades will give up its dead for judgment. So, Hades is not a final judgment. Those judged are thrown into a lake of fire (Gehenna), along with Hades itself.

Gehenna is the lake of fire reserved for final judgment for the unsaved. It does not sound very pleasant. It is described as eternal burning, and worms. Jesus says it is better to cut off your hands or feet, or pluck out your eye than to go to this place. So, not somewhere you want to be. And given a previous stay in Hades, it is again true, that bad can always get worse.

That said, is Hell worse than anything on earth? Are the horrors of earth mere niceties compared to the eternal machinations of suffering in Hell?

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