the hell there isnt….

“She thought she could get well again if children believed in fairies…

Peter flung out his arms. There were no children there, and it was night time; but he addressed all who might be dreaming of the Neverland, and who were therefore nearer to him than you think: boys and girls in their nighties, and naked papooses in their baskets hung from trees.

“Do you believe?” he cried.

Tink sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to her fate.

She fancied she heard answers in the affirmative, and then again she wasn’t sure.

“What do you think?” she asked Peter.

“If you believe,” he shouted to them, “clap your hands; don’t let Tink die.”

Many clapped.

Some didn’t.

A few beasts hissed.”- Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, Chapter 13: Do You Believe in Fairies?

Of course, none of us desire for there to be a literal, Biblical place of eternal torment where “the worm does not die, and the flame does not go out”, a “lake of fire reserved for the devil and his angels” Our consciences are singed at the very thought of an all loving Father, for whom even His very own Son was considered an available sacrifice to take away the sins of the world, sending some individuals into the outer darkness, perpetually separated from His love, and where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. My heart’s desire is that, when the final trump(!) is sounded, that this all encompassing loophole of God’s compassion, this universal salvation of substitutionary attonement would grant that every human ever created would willingly bow the knee and slip gracefully into the bosom of Abraham. But in 2000+ years of orthodox saints, sages, writers, luminaries, and other professional thinking persons it seems like the view of an all encompassing salvatory experience that does away with the necessity of Hell is a disesteemed position to take, if not completely nonexistent.

While we could all sit around reading and debating the works of the early church fathers, the apostolic fathers, Irenaeus of Gaul, Arnobius of Cicca, Athanasius, Origen, Augustine, Rohr, Bell, and all the rest, personally I am more persuaded by looking at the teachings of Jesus Himself. The Greek word “Hades” appears a limited number of times in the mouth of Christ, either in the gospels or accredited to Him elsewhere (in John’s Apocalypse for instance), and unfortunately He never sits the apostles down for a heart to heart about the specific mechanism, function, and even relationship between His uses of this term for the Greek otherworld reserved for tortured souls of the dead, the outer darkness, the lake of fire, and all of the other phrases He turned to describe the final judgement.

What was Jesus trying to teach when He scolded “That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”?  When He implored that it was better to go on with ones right eye, right hand, or various other limbs willfully plucked off rather than risk hell’s chastisement?  When He exhorted Peter as the scaffolding on which the church would be built, against which the very gates of hell would not prevail, or chided the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees for making their disciples twice the children of hell as they themselves already were?

The closest I think Jesus comes to a clear explanation of the existential divide between hell and “the bosom of Abraham” (whatever the heck that is) is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.  As with all His other parables it’s important to look at the intended audience of the fable.  Obviously the original listeners would already have had some experience with this explanation of the afterlife, with their own preconceived notions about who, what, when, where, and how which we twenty-first century westerners have regrettably little connection with.

The “Tinkerbell Effect” is an expression which reveals that people expect existence based solely on other people’s belief. I think it’s patently clear from this rambling response that I have absolutely no idea about the nuts and bolts beneath the surface of this great mystery, but I think it’s extremely important for us to listen to each other’s (sometimes opposing) viewpoints on what is obviously an incendiary topic of debate within our faith. And to extend to each other the same measure of grace we would desire for ourselves, not as a free pass that allows us to throw off all restraint under the guise of Christ, but as an offering of love and peace within the family of His church.

boom went JerichoOrigen of Alexandria wrote, “Once the -people of God had surrounded the city Jericho, it had to be stormed. How then was Jericho stormed? No sword was drawn against it, no battering ram was aimed at it, no javelins were hurled. The priests merely sounded their trumpets, and the walls of Jericho collapsed. Jericho will fall, then; this world will perish. How will the world be brought to an end, and by what means will it be destroyed? The answer of Scripture is, by the sound of trumpets. If you ask what trumpets, then let Paul reveal the secret: The trumpet will sound, and the dead who are in Christ will rise incorruptible.