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.