Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rethinking Judgment and Hell

I apologize for the delay in posting. Let's just say life got in the way. I have been meaning to post about my thoughts on hell.  I'll start by stating what I was taught (again with the Southern Baptist view) regarding hell.

Everyone will stand before God for judgment. If a person rejects Christ and his teachings he is bound for hell, a place of eternal torment in flames.

I have always struggled to rectify how a loving God could administer so strict a punishment as to make someone eternally suffer for rejecting him. Why not just kill him and be done with it? Why make the person suffer forever? Arguments I heard growing up were that God is the ultimate just judge and that his ways are not our ways. People are given multiple chances during their life to follow Christ. If they still reject him after all of those opportunities then they get what they deserve.

I set out to rethink my Christian beliefs regarding what I was taught and as I do so I continue to hold these beliefs up for scrutiny based on what Jesus said and taught. Let's look at a few passages.

Matt. 8:10-12.  A centurian asks Jesus to just say the word to heal his dying servant. He has such great faith he believes Jesus can perform the healing without being present. Jesus remarks that "I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith." He goes on to say that many will come from east and west  and will take their places a the feast of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. "But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

I believe this reference targets the religious Jewish leaders who believe they have a ticket of passage into God's kingdom but their heart and actions prove otherwise. Is this place of outer darkness a physical place of punishment? I cannot say. Often Jesus overstates to indicate the separation of those who reject the heart of his true teachings from fellowship with God.

Matt. 8:28-29.  Jesus heals a demon possessed man by casting out the demons into a herd of pigs and when the man spots Jesus the spirits in the man cause him to say "have you come to toture us before the appointed time."

This passages seems to state more about what the Jews believed about judgment and torment than what Jesus had to say about it. However, this man recognized Jesus for who he is, the true Son of God who can pass judgement on us.

Matt. 11:20-24.  To the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum who saw his miracles and did not repent, he said, "it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."

Again, this refers to those who witness Christ's works and hear his teachings but reject him despite that. Jesus states there will be judgment.

Matt 12:30-36  vs 30 "He who is not with me is against me..."
vs 31 "Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven"
vs 33 "A tree is recognized by its fruit"
vs 36 "Men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken."

He compares our lives to that of a fruit bearing tree. The fruit we bear testifies to our heart condition and we will be judged accordingly.

Matt 13:24-30  Jesus tells the parable of the weeds and then explains the meanings in 36-43.
The weeds, those who are not the good fruit, are thrown into a fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We may draw our concept of eternal burning in hell from this and other passages but I have to ask, is this really to be taken literally or figuratively? Remember that often what Jesus said wasn't intended to be taken literally.

Other passages about judgment include Matt 22:1-14 the parable of the wedding banquet.

Luke 3:9 Trees that do not produce good fruit are thrown into the fire

Luke 3:17 Chaff will be thrown into unquenchable fire

Those are just some passages to consider. There are plenty of others. In my next post I will look at three major concepts of hell.