Whenever anyone discusses the Good News (as we did with our “gospel” post last week), someone is bound to say, “Well, before anyone will believe the Good News, they’ve got to understand the bad news.”
Which leads of course, to the inevitable discussion about H***. Or H-E Double Hockey Sticks. The smoking section.
And don’t you love the billboards and church signs which say, “Where will you spend eternity? Smoking or Non-Smoking?” I’m sure millions turn to Jesus Christ immediately after seeing a sign like that, right?
Getting back to the point, what about the “Bad News?” If we are telling the Good News, where–and how–does Bad News fit in?
I’ve only got a few hundred words here, so don’t expect a theological breakdown of the various doctrines of hell. I just can’t do it. But can we look at a couple of things which might give us some insight?
First, the word translated as “hell” most often is used 12 times in the New Testament; 11 times by Jesus. The simple definition is something like “Gehenna,” or “Valley of Hinnom.” Many–if not most–scholars tell us this was a literal place outside of Jerusalem; where a fire for garbage was always burning.
If this is correct, each time Jesus mentions “Gehenna” he is talking about a place where junk is tossed in and burned up; destroyed.
The other ten mentions of “hell” in the New Testament use another word (“Hades”) which means, “the place of the dead.” I’m not going to get into whether this is a literal location or a metaphorical one; but in these uses we’re not necessarily talking about judgment. Instead, this is more about (literally or figuratively) where departed persons “sleep.”
For a moment then, let’s talk about the Bad News place translated as “hell,” which Jesus spoke of these 11 times in the four gospels. If you are keeping statistics, the four gospels have about 3,779 verses (some verses are not in earlier texts–but this is a close number). So, we see hell talked about in 2/10 of 1% of all verses in the gospel books.
But hell is a massive deal, right? I mean, we’re talking eternal torment, separation from God. If we don’t talk about hell–a lot–we’re missing a major part of the message, correct?
There is no doubt Jesus talked about judgment, so I’m not about to say, “Ahhh, everybody makes it into God’s kingdom in the end. No biggie.”
But I can’t forget, “Gehenna,” which we translate as hell, was a real location in Jesus’ day. A place where destruction–not eternal torture–took place.
Was Jesus saying all who do not follow him will be marched to this dump outside of Jerusalem and be tossed in a literal fire? Was he saying everyone from Judas to Hitler and beyond would gather to be tossed in?
Or was Jesus speaking metaphorically; telling us there will be a judgment and an ending for those who reject him?
I don’t know everything and don’t pretend to. But I think we ought to ask the question.
In his letter to the Roman church, Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our lord.”
Hmmm. Paul doesn’t say the judgment is “eternal torment,” he says it is death. And he contrasts this by telling us of the gift of eternal life.
Again, just asking questions. But if I want a 1st Faith, shouldn’t I focus on how those first followers–like Paul–talked about judgment?
Paul’s first talk of judgment might have been in Acts 17:31, when he tells the Greeks on Mars Hill that God “has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom he has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead.” But Paul doesn’t launch into a diatribe on eternal torment.
Judgment? Sure. Death instead of eternal life? Yep. But if one wants to talk Bad News, it’s hard to find eternal torture. Yes, many theologians and scholars will disagree with me. I’m neither one of those, so maybe someone needs to put me in my place and show me all the places where I’m wrong. I need it sometimes.
But here’s one more thing. In the Book of Acts–the entire book–you know how many times the word “hell” is mentioned?
Step back with me for a second. As we mentioned earlier, judgment is talked about in Acts. But how many times is “hell” or “eternal torment” explained and taught?
The Book of Acts is where we see the apostles effectively advance this new faith, so it stands to reason that “hell” and “eternal torment” would be a major point of emphasis.
So, how many times is hell mentioned? Fifty? Twenty?
The answer is zero. Not once. In Acts 2, 3,000 people were baptized without Peter mentioning hell. In Acts 3, another 5,000 began following Jesus Christ–and hell never got a word of lip service.
For the seemingly hundredth time in this post, I’m not saying judgment does not exist. My goal however, is to find a 1st Faith and figure out what those first apostles taught about this subject.
And the truth is, they didn’t say much.
If I want their faith and their focus, this gives me a h*** of a lot to think about when it comes to hell.