Hell ~ Real or Imagined?

I just finished reading a book by Jon Sweeney called “Inventing Hell”. It’s a great book on the history of how the modern idea of hell was started. I like that he states the Scriptures (Torah) in the Bible are the history of the Jewish people, not all people. It’s important to remember that people then were just like people today – nothing is new and they weren’t somehow different from us.

For centuries before and after Jesus, hell has been this imagined place of justice. For the pagans – which is everyone not a Hebrew (Jew) – hell grew out of their mythologies (which I think came from their ancestors – Noah’s kids and grandkids – living for several centuries, outliving their grandkids!). To me, hell is a very human concept – not God-like in any way. It also negates what Jesus said He would do -and did- for All humans: take their judgement, make peace with God, redeem them and make a place for them at the right hand of God. If hell was so important and true, why didn’t God tell Adam and Eve or anyone else about it? For Jews, after death, their bodies and souls just went to Sheol, the grave. To them they were just there, waiting for the prophecies of resurrection to be fulfilled. There was no place of torment, torture, or brimstone and fire.

Aristotle, followed by Socrates and Plato, made popular the speculations and writings of this physical place of judgement (really vengeance). It seems to be inconceivable to people that the judgement that God spoke of was taken and fulfilled by the only man who could – the Son of God, Jesus. Then comes along Dante, 1,300+ years after Jesus, who was upset with how the Roman government was going, and wanted it all to go back to Empirical ways – the government and Pope dictating everything. Dante was also being ousted politically and was excommunicated, sentenced to death, and only narrowly escaping death by leaving his native land. So you can understand how upset and probably bitter he was with life when he wrote his “Divine Comedy”. He seems to have based his nine circles of hell on the Greek and Roman mythologies, and some small parts of the Bible, which was mistranslated in numerous places throughout it – particularly the New Testament. Dante’s “Inferno” was meant allegorically, a way to vent his anger at his opponents, exacting “judgement” on those who didn’t agree with him. For centuries religions, including Christianity and Islam, have used the “Inferno” and the teachings of the early philosophers as the foundation for teaching hell. God didn’t set this foundation. Man did, out of his imagination and need for “justice”, or vengeance, on his neighbor.

God spoke of His judgement and the consequences of not following the Law He gave the Jews, through His prophets all throughout the Old Testament, or Scriptures (Torah), as Jesus and the ancient Jews called them. (Not the New Testament.) However, when you read those prophecies in full/context, you will find the Hope that God always ended with – Jesus, the One who would come, redeem All, take all the judgement and consequences of sin in Himself, fulfill the Law and set man free, making man a new creature in Him. This is the Gospel of Grace and Peace, the good news indeed!!

I find the Christian God to be bi-polar: one minute He’s accepting and loving (as long as you believe and follow rules), then He’s cruel and unforgiving (unbelief, questioning, or even never having heard of Him will send you away from Him). God is really going to leave the collective fate of humanity in humanities’ hands?

Christianity says I have to believe in Him, accept Him, to be saved from eternal torment in hell. I also, once I accept Him, have to follow all these rules (which are different depending on which sect out of the 30,000+ ones you’re in) to continue to stay right with Him. So, basically, it’s all up to me. And you. Really?!?! It’s incredibly heartless and illogical of God, who sacrificed Himself – died, shed His blood! – to say He would redeem us, make us blameless and holy so we could be in His presence, then after the crucifixion, go back on it all and we now have to make ourselves blameless and holy to be allowed in His presence. But if your view of God is that He’s angry and doesn’t count Jesus’ sacrifice as sufficient, then the concept of hell makes sense.

I have learned through my own studies, and also by just being older and, hopefully, wiser, that there isn’t a factual foundation for hell; only each person’s interpretation of what they’ve read, been taught, their traditions, or  just plain made up. There are several scholars who have shown and proven the “Infallible” Bible, specifically the New Testament, is really quite fallible and was put together by men. Yes, men who wanted people to only read certain words, believe certain things, live in fear instead of love, so then people could be controlled. Man’s struggle is not with demons but with the understanding that God is at Peace with us.

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5 thoughts on “Hell ~ Real or Imagined?

  1. Hi,
    I’m not usually nit picky, but there is something in this post that concerns me and I would like you to expound before I ask any other questions. What is your position on the trustworthiness of the Bible? Do you believe the scriptures (Old or New testament) are fallible? To me this is a very serious issue and I would like to hear position on it.
    Thanks for sharing
    Josh

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    1. Hi Josh!
      Thanks for your questions! I was raised to believe that the Bible is the infallible, God-breathed Word of God. Then I was encouraged to study it in depth. When I started to do word studies and found the misuse of words, as well as discrepancies between what the prophets in the Old Testament foretold and what some of the New Testament letters taught, well I started to wonder how much of the Bible man has changed over the centuries. I began to see how some groups of people put the Bible on a pedestal and worshiped it, forgetting that Jesus was the Word, dwelt among us, died for us, then made us a new creature in Him. So since Jesus lives in us, the Word of God lives in us. There are many scholars who have studied the fallible/infallibleness of the Bible, studying it for the historical document that it is. There are several good books by Bart Ehrman on this topic, namely “Jesus, Interrupted” and “Misquoting Jesus”. There are other scholars who have also studied this, which you can find with a quick google search. To me it really comes down to this: do you think that the Word of God lives in you? If so, then you can know what’s what for yourself. I think the Jews took great care to keep the scriptures – the Torah, which is the Law, Psalms and Prophets (Jesus said this in John) – unchanged from the original writings. The new testament, which is letters by men telling others how to live life, not so much. There are as many errors as words in it. I think it’s better to question everything and decide for yourself than let any man, organization, book, what have you, be your only teacher. I decided a long time ago that Jesus is good enough for me. Religions are man made anyway, used to either make money or control people. I know that sounds cynical of me, but what is the church/leaders so afraid of when people start to ask questions, think for themselves, and live life differently than they think they should? If we all believed that Jesus did exactly what He said He would – redeem us and make us righteous and holy in Him – then we wouldn’t get into religion and its trappings at all. I write with the hope that you’re challenged to look at life a little differently. I appreciate your comments! 🙂
      Thanks
      Alexa

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  2. Sounds good! Thanks:)
    I will certainly make sure to read that book although (having read the Inferno myself) I still disagree about Dante purposefully writing it to get revenge at his political opponents. I love Peter Leithart’s book Ascent to Love which is a very specific commentary on Dante’s Divine Comedy.

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  3. Very interesting post. Could I simply ask, what happens to people like (and I know this is overused) Hitler? Or, you’ve mentioned your children. What if someone murdered them and never got punished in this life? Is that really just of God to say “hey, it’s ok, you’re in heaven!” without first the murderer being repentant? Just curious about your answer.
    And something else I would also like to point out. Christianity is not about following a set of rules. Paul says in Romans 13:8-10 that we fulfill the law through love. I certainly know that many Christians can be harsh and judgmental. They shouldn’t be. The Christian God is both loving and just. That’s why Christians believe in Hell. Of course, we don’t know exactly what Hell is like, but what we do know is that it is complete separation from God. And why, after all, would a loving God make someone who had hated Him their entire lives endure being with Him for eternity?
    I highly doubt that any Christian believes that Hell is exactly like the Inferno. There are probably a large amount of Christians, who don’t even know it exists. They do of course believe it’s an allegory, but I think the problem here is the idea that Dante was somehow venting bitterness against certain people… A man can have a rough life and still write a book without anger and venting against his enemies. Besides, Dante goes on to write about Purgatory and Paradise too, so it’s not just about his idea of Hell. Have you read the Inferno?
    I also hope you realize that while the Old Testament did not mention Hell as much, Jesus probably mentioned it more than anyone else…so how it negates what he said confuses me.
    What are the names of the scholars who have proven the fallibility of the Bible? (I would just like to know for reference)

    I understand that Hell is quite controversial in these days. And I simply wonder, why would God forgive people who were not even aware and repentant of doing wrong? That just wouldn’t be fair.

    I wasn’t planning on this comment being this long. Oops. 😀 But I wanted to say this. Christians don’t believe you have do anything to be loved by God. Christ saves you and you trust him. It’s not works, it’s just falling back into his arms. But God loves all people. He is also just. A parent loves their child, but they also punish them when the child does wrong. A cousin of mine died recently, and since I am a Christian and he was not, I believe he went to Hell. I was grieved and I barely knew him. How much more grieved then was God who knew him better than anyone else? (Of course, he may have been saved and I don’t know, but if he wasn’t saved)

    I hope that this wasn’t too crazy long. 🙂

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    1. Hi Proveritas21! Thanks for your comments! You have inspired me to write blog posts in answer to your thoughts and questions, so check out my blog over the next few days, maybe weeks (busy, busy!) for my thoughts. 🙂 I guess I wasn’t clear enough that this post was more like a book report with a few of my thoughts thrown in. Sorry about that! If you get a chance to read the book Inventing Hell you’ll see the author (along with other scholars who he names) stated that Dante was writing about his political enemies and others that he didn’t like because he described them to a “t” but left their names out. I could go on, but really the book says it all and is an enjoyable, educational read. You should check it out.
      As for what Paul says, I feel strongly that all texts in the Bible should be read in context, in full, so that their true meaning can be understood. It would be like me taking your comments, breaking them into verses and then only quoting or using a small portion of them. It would be confusing. All the books of the Bible were meant to be read in their entirety, so there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings. Please come back and read my further blog posts, as I hope to answer you and hear further from you.
      Thank you!

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