knowing that most of you don’t linger on my blog to read many of the comments, i thought i’d share with you my response to two really good ones…comments that challenged me to work hard… not just to be clear in my response… but to be clear in my thinking and understanding.
i’m really grateful when people care enough to question or even disagree. it’s the only way iron is sharpened.
the first comment asked me to give my understanding of one of jesus’ most difficult teachings in luke 16:19-31. you might want to take a few minutes and read the passage before you read my response. here it is:
Here’s my short response (realizing that all parts of it can, and should be, challenged). First, although there are some who believe Luke 16:19-31 is an accounting of an actual historical event, I believe this story falls into the category of a parable…Jesus’ primary method of teaching in the NT. I have always taught (and been taught) to be very careful to avoid ascribing literal meaning to every detail of a parable, but to look for the over-arching meaning. This parable appears to me to be about the deceitfulness and deadliness of making riches your god, rather than seeing the parable as the description of what hell is going to look like.
Second, even if we agreed this parable gave a “real”, rather than a “figurative” description, the problem is with what it is describing. It is not describing the final judgment or the final destination of the wicked…it’s describing what goes on in Hades. Trust me, I am no expert on this! But in my limited study of Hades (and its OT counterpart, Sheol), I’ve always understood it to be a temporary place…the place that the dead go to wait the final judgment. For the righteous dead, it’s a good place. For the unrighteous dead, it’s a bad place. Some even believe its a place where the unrighteous might even get a second chance. (I’m not sure I buy that, but many believers through the ages have). Either way, it seems obvious to me that this story has nothing to do with the final judgment. Its a story that speaks of the torment that would take place for the wicked during that temporary, in-between time before final end is played out. To me, it does not speak of eternal, unending torment.
the second was a comment regarding the definition of words translated “hell” in the new testament…as well as the nature and extent of god’s judgment. here’s my response:
I appreciate your struggle with my interpretation and position on this matter. None of us are able to come up with definitions and interpretations completely on our own. Years ago, I submitted myself to a set of scholars, Bible interpreters, pastors and theologians who helped frame my understanding of Scripture on this matter. I understand fully that people do not all see the Bible alike, nor do they always come to the same conclusions and understanding of Biblical definitions. We all subject ourselves to sources of information and wisdom and have to do our best to pick and choose those we trust for the most accurate rendering of truth. I am no different from anyone else on this. I read, study, compare, criticize, question and ultimately choose who and what I believe.
My understanding of the word gehenna does not include the word “unending” in it…though I do agree it appears to refer to the “final” judgment. In my study, there seems to be a rich Jewish history to the word that is somewhat complicated and very specific to the Jews in Bible times. I have come to understand gehenna to refer to a “smoldering dump” where trash and refuse was sent to burn. But my understanding of trash burning is that though a pile of trash may smolder and burn indefinitely, it will only keep burning because new trash is thrown on…the original trash eventually burns up and is no more.
As far as “the lights just going out” not being enough punishment for those who don’t know or experience the love of God through Christ…I just have to disagree. To get to the end of 50-60-70 years of painful, disappointing, unpredictable, up and down human existence… and then miss out on an unending, limitless, eternal and everlasting perfection in the presence of our Creator…well, that seems like over-the-top justice to me. My mind simply cannot comprehend…nor has my study of Scripture presented me with a God who needs to inflict unending torture and suffering on top of the most heinous punishment I could imagine: to be left out.
To me, justice is fully served by God cutting off his relationship with his unbelieving and unrepentant creation forever. And just like when the door of the ark closed, I believe the unredeemed will know they have missed out on the Great Banquet as their last experience of consciousness. How much worse does it need to be?
my hope is that this dialogue has motivated you to take your study of god’s word…and his command to be salt and light in a dark world…more seriously. remember, if you want to dig deeper into this topic, i gave you some pretty good resources in the previous post to begin your journey.