Have you ever been late to a party or something you had been looking forward to? You know the scene. You leave early so you can get a good parking spot. You hit every light perfectly and your mind is racing with anticipation. Then you turn the corner and “what?” There are cars parked everywhere. You check your watch and suddenly it hits you. “Am I late, what time did it start, where is my invitation, where is my ticket, what the heck is going on, am I losing my mind….wonder what I missed?” Yeah, that last one is the real kicker isn’t it? What have I missed?
Sometimes I feel like I am a late comer to this party I have been writing about. Jesus calls it the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. Likely it is a mere shadow of the greater reality of the Kingdom, but nevertheless it is amazing and beautiful and awesome and fantastic and glorious and vibrant and colorful and stimulating and enticing and overwhelming and…so much more than words can possibly describe. Wow, isn’t that the sense you get from the writers of the Bible? Can’t you feel Paul trying to describe something that is so beyond words that he just can’t get it all on the page? I do. In a similar way I feel I am late to this revelation now. I’m not disappointed. I have actually missed nothing and my own journey has been special to me. It is like my own personal party where I am the guest of honor and it begins when I show up. That is what it is like every time we get a glimpse of what Jesus reveals about His (and our) Father.
Then I discover something I missed before. Again I am not discouraged but confirmed in the progressive revelation and the renewing of my mind. Rob Bell is something (someone) I missed. If you are reading these posts and haven’t stricken the link from your favorites, then you have probably heard of Rob Bell. I knew about him and had seen some of his short videos. I heard of the “controversy” regarding his book “Love Wins” so I had avoided it in the past. This last week I had an opportunity to listen to this book in one sitting and I am on the second listening now. It was released in 2011. Here I am in 2015 and I feel like Rob was reading my mind 4 years ago as he looked into the future and saw what I was thinking today. Maybe that is a stretch, but that is what confirmation feels like to me. I would very much recommend his book. I will admit my embarrassment having avoided it in the past because of what others said. Don’t make the same mistake. You have the mind of Christ. I suggest you use it. Ask the hard questions and seek the answers and trust God that He will give you answers.
Here is a verse Rob talks about in his book:
Matt 25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Before I go Greek on you just a little history. Augustine based much of his theology on this verse. He assumed we were all “out” trying to get “in.” He would say our journey is to be a sheep or a goat. Interesting to me that the sheep and goats had no idea what they had “done” to get where they were. Athanasius of Alexandria (the counter voice to Augustine) based his theology on a 2 Cor chapter 5:14-15 (and the rest) which says we are all in. He would say that all have died and all were raised with Jesus and ALL are a new creation. So we are “in” trying to get “out.” Augustine would be the father of the western church and Athanasius the eastern chuuch. That is a gross oversimplification but you get the idea. Break break 1000 years later the reformers come together and bring us a protestant Bible, protestant teaching, etc. The english translations of the Bible you have today are heavily influenced by what the reformers believed. They were in line with Augustine. All but one were “Penal Substitution” atonement proponents. So they would have agreed with Augustine that “we are out trying to get in” and “God is furious with us about our sin and the only way He will calm down is to kill His son.” Again, gross oversimplification but well…
So fast forward to now and what do you read in this verse? If you are in the west then you are already “bent” to a certain way of seeing this verse. You have to go way back before all the “tradition” to see differently. It takes your mind of Christ and the Holy Spirit to “reveal to you” what is really going on.
I’ve covered the “Hell thing” a number of times. Check out this post about the “Fire of Hell” so you can see what Jesus had to say about “Hell.”
The bottom line is the Hell of Dante is not in the Bible. I’m sorry if that offends some but it is not in the Bible. Let me say it one more time…Dante’s Hell with the Devil running the show and all the torture and agony and forever punishment is not in your Bible. Jesus Himself mentions “Hell” 12 times and each time but one He is talking about Gehenna, a real place with real relevancy to their current situation. The other time He mentions “Hell” He uses the word Hades which is the home of the dead when He told Peter that “even death can’t hold captive my church.”
So the verse in question… The word “eternal “could mean “an intense moment” or “what seems like a really long time” or “a new era.” The Greek word for “forever” is not this word. The word for “punishment” actually means to “prune” or “correct.” It is a “restorative” word that means to make better. So the “final judgment” verse could read this way:
And these will be set aside for intense correction…or…these will be set aside for a time of pruning…or…these will be set aside for a timeless instruction. (LLT)
OK, don’t buy it? This word for “punishment” (which is from your english translation from the reformers who predominately believed in an angry g.o.d. that needed a sacrifice to be happy and was too “pure” to even look on sin even though Jesus hung out with us sinners…..oh my) is only in your Greek Bible twice. Want to see the other time?
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (ESV)
Well, must I say more? Maybe those who need a “correction” are those who haven’t been perfected in love and need some intense loving to find their true self as a perfect human in Jesus? Just maybe.
So many in the west are disturbed by this line of thought. They say “Where is my Hell?” and “you can’t take away Hell” and all of that. Why? Because most of evangelical fundamentalist western Christianity is “hell-bent” on “hell.” They must have a hell because that is the reason for Jesus. They must have an eternal punishment because that is what keeps us from spinning off into chaos. They must have an eternal torment because they need to see people punished. It is the “good-bad” forbidden fruit in its most glorious presentation. Sorry….that hell ain’t real. It is a figment of fallen human wisdom and an incessant desire for more forbidden fruit. Jesus set us free from all of that.
Now let me say (like Rob Bell) that HELL IS REAL in the sense that Jesus uses the concept. The Hell on Earth that we experience every day is very real. The consequences of our choices are very real. Just look around. Human trafficking, rape, abuse, addictions, genocide, murder…come on! The Christian religion has people hoping and praying for a rescue mission to some other place. This is our home. The Kingdom is here and is being revealed and will someday be glorious. This is the place of God’s intent. This is the home of His children. His version of a rescue mission is to bring the fullness of the Kingdom to His creation. He has already reconciled the whole cosmos. Now His glory is being revealed. To run away from the Hell that is already here is not like Jesus. To run from sinners and sinning is not Jesus. To run from misery and pain and sickness and death and brokenness and disease and hurts and addictions and so much more….IS NOT JESUS.
So “Where is my Hell?” Right here brother and sister. It is time we stop judging and rejecting and start accepting and loving. It is time we stop threatening people with Hell and instead partner with GOD in rescuing people from Hell. Just saying. Oh yeah, you aren’t late for the party. There are plenty of parking spots. Jesus has been waiting for you to start. It is OK to be embarrassed. Now get over it. He is that good.