My Belief About Hell in Exactly 50 Words

Lately people have lately been asking my opinion on hell. So here it is:

The whole idea of a place, sanctioned by God, where in the afterlife people spend eternity having the living flesh seared off their bones, is so mind-bogglingly childish that it should be illegal for anyone who believes such a place is real to drink alcohol, drive a car, or vote.

Print Friendly

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://WilliamGCook.wordpress.com William

    Hell yeah!

  • Carlos

    Hey, John. Well said. Well said.

    That book has set off ripples, I’ll tell you. See this story:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42248810/ns/us_news-life/

    If there is a hell (and I am somewhat agnostic/universalist on the topic), and God is the source of love, then it seems the most appropriate hell is one created by ourselves: a place without God, which is a place we chose by our actions and inactions. God doesn’t have to put us there. We do when we reject His goodness.

    Just my $0.02.

  • Kara

    Love this.

  • Crystal

    So you’re calling Jesus a liar? I’m confused. You profess belief that Jesus is God incarnate, correct? So when he preaches the sermon on the mount for instance and warns people of the dangers of a real hell was he lying or confused? If so, why in the world would you want to follow him or call yourself a Christian? This is an issue I think you should revisit. http://www.equip.org/articles/why-should-i-believe-in-hell-

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      So is your bib plastic, or did you get one of those cool cotton ones?

      Sorry. I found that degree of obnoxiousness a tad irresistible.

      As to the “revisit.” This is a topic I never get off of. So I’m good. But thanks for suggestion.

      • Crystal

        All I’m asking is why you would choose to follow someone that you don’t believe is telling you the truth? I don’t think that Jesus words in the sermon on the mount when he mentions hell are words that are difficult to understand. It’s not a parable that he’s telling that can be interperted many ways – he’s pretty straightforward. I only put the link because I’m not an english major or a writer and I’m not as eloquent as someone who might put into words a logical argument in a better way than I could.

        • http://amandajustice.blogspot.com Amanda

          It seems to me that Jesus was capable of speaking metaphorically and using figurative language. I don’t believe that’s something common only to more modern societies.

        • DR

          Or perhaps Carla, instead of boxing John and others like him into a corner with a question like this that gives absolutely no option of providing a *real* answer, ask “How do you contrast your belief with what Jesus said about hell?” and let them really respond.

          The way you phrased this is manipulative and is much more about your emotion and reaction that clearly got activated when you read this. I sense that you feel what John has offered is unBiblical and misleading, that it could potentially hurt people. So I think you’re responding out of that place.

          But here’s the problem with that. Clearly people who have articulated that they believe that Jesus is the Son of God (like John does) do not believe He’s a “liar”. Your question doesn’t provide any real ability for you to dig in and understand the point.

          I’m actually assuming positive intent, that you’re willing to really listen and hear his perspective. If you’re not, then stop boxing people in with questions like this that are really more statements you want to offer, it’s way less manipulative and people respect it more. I’d far prefer you saying “You’re in direct violation with what Jesus has stated about hell” instead of wasting time with a question that wasn’t even a question to begin with.

        • DR

          Don’t use the excuse of “I’m not an English major” as a reason why you are getting the replies that you’re getting now. You’ve already drawn a conclusion about John’s actual faith in Christ and you’re trying to trap him, people with and without English majors do that all the time. I used to do it myself, so it takes a crook to catch a crook.

          Unsolicited advice, take it or leave it (I really don’t care). Chill out, slow down, take a breath and ask questions before you draw conclusions about someone and communicate those very personal, very nasty conclusions in the “loving name of Jesus” and evangelizing on his behalf.

          • Suz

            DR rocks, again.

          • Suz

            *snark*

            Silly Putty can say, “I’m sorry you took it that way. That’s not what I meant.”

          • Don Rappe

            The sword of the Lord and of DR.

        • Don Rappe

          Crystal, I would suggest there is a problem with this assertion: “I don’t think that Jesus words in the sermon on the mount when he mentions hell are words that are difficult to understand. It’s not a parable that he’s telling that can be interperted many ways – he’s pretty straightforward.” Is it really so simple? See Luke: “Blessed are the poor, they shall receive the Kingdom … Damned are the rich, they have already received their consolation.” I do interpret this as an expansion on the Torah words: “Thou shalt not steal.”

      • Mike Henry

        Hey John, I love your stuff. I’m curious though, what exactly is you take on whether or not there is a Hell or not. Jesus did talk about Hell quite a bit and he did say that this “Hell” does exist. Do you believe what he says about it?

    • Carlos

      Is John saying there is no hell, or is he saying that hell is not necessarily a place of eternal, physical, fiery torment? I think the latter.

      And…who are you to question whether someone is a Christian based on what you interpret Jesus said?

      • http://megaloi.blogspot.com Redlefty

        I like the latter as well, as it rings true with Leonidas in the movie 300 (“Tonight….we dine… in HELL!”). So he’s thinking hell at least has restaurants.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      Crystal, is it not possible that Hell is real but does not exist? If it were to exist in the sense of some well-defined physical object or location, it would be readily demonstrable and there’d be no real controversy over it. And if even evil at all were to exist, it should find its true being by way of the ground of all being—God—Creator of all: And He saw that it was good. How then can evil be found among what exists? God divided the light and the darkness, but not the light of the beautiful from the light of the ugly; He divided heaven and earth, not heaven and hell; land and see, but not good and evil; the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of that very delusion! Now if Satan exists, and God is all-powerful and all-loving, Satan, being unloving, should consequently be found to have no power. Yet the power of evil is palpably real; it just doesn’t really exist. The evil one is not privileged to share a reality with the Good. So one is connected to objective existence, in what we call Truth, and the other is not.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        *land and sea

      • Don Rappe

        I know what you mean, Matt, and I agree with you.

  • Marie

    THAAAAAAANK YOUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dude, you are spot on ONCE AGAIN!!!! :D

  • Mary

    http://www.shelbystar.com/news/pastor-54251-pulpit-denying.html

    A local Methodist pastor fired for making a Facebook post in support of Rob Bell.

  • http://anitasblog.com anita

    Amen that.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Then what *is* going to happen to the living flesh on the bones of one whose resurrection (re-spiration of flesh in new body) is not unto everlasting life?

    • Don Rappe

      Destruction.

      • Don Rappe

        To clarify a little. God does not need fire to destroy garbage, like humans do. These ideas of a Tartarus are related to ideas of a human soul which is immortal in itself without divine sustenance. Some people believe that, although I don’t. (I think it lacks sufficient humility.) I hope for an eternal life which is a participation the Life of the Eternal. That of me which cannot participate in this Life is damned. If the center of my being consists wholly or necessarily upon my damned elements, then I am damned. In this way my risen body and soul will be “purified”. Death simply means “not alive” whether temporal or eternal. Therefore I pray: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in the heavens”. If, by grace, God reveals his will to me and strengthens me to do it, and if I do it, then, I believe I participate in his Life which is Eternal. May God’s Peace be with you Matthew. “Destruction” and other similar words are graphic metaphors like parables. Jesus speaks to us in parables because this is (only) what we can understand. And so also, we speak to each other in this way. It may be that those who willfully confuse parables with physical facts are sinning against God’s Logos (Parable) and thus blaspheming God the Son. May God have mercy on their souls. I cannot find much in scripture that condemns “universalism”. I find verses that speak of universal opportunity of salvation through God’s Son, frequently represented by the divine figure of The Lord Jesus Christ.

        • Don Rappe

          I wish to make a slight correction: If, by grace, God reveals his will to me and strengthens me to do it, and if, by faith I do it, then, I believe I participate in his Life which is Eternal.

        • Matthew Tweedell

          I appreciate your excellent remarks here today, Don!

          I agree that the only soul I am aware of in men and women is mortal, their years being numbered such that they should be not proud, but humble before the Lord and willing to sacrifice for others, as the ultimate reason of everything is love, which can only be realized when it gives of itself. And although God needs nothing, out of love, God does everything! After the first death, separating joint from marrow, soul from spirit, God’s love, the very fire of the Holy Spirit (from which shines the true light), does destroy the wicked: entropy increase and enthalpy decrease—structural break-down and heat release—unto ash, as of ash is such made.

          What you say, however, is true (as far as I can tell).

          Yet I have a different answer to suggest to the question that I posed: Does it really matter?

          Peace to you as well, Don!

  • Ashley Prince

    John, I love this! I have never believed in a Hell like that. Ever. And so many people gave me crap for it and still do. I love that you posted this. Truly sir, you are awesome.

  • Suz

    Nailed it! Who needs a whole book?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Rob Bell’s publisher. Rob Bell’s agent. The bank who holds the mortgage on Rob Bell’s house.

      • Suz

        OK. Besides them.

      • http://benhusmann.com Ben

        The hundreds of thousands of people that will read anything Rob Bell writes and haven’t discovered John Shore yet, that’s who needs a whole book.

        Regardless of what one thinks about Mr. Bell, he has a wide audience, some progressive and some conservative. He’s also got a certain amount of credibility (though he’s always been controversial). The fact that HE is putting out this book raises the topic up for consideration in mainstream Christian circles in a way that demands response.

        So I think it’s a great thing, this book and all of the reactions. Personally, I’d rather read something else or watch Dr. Who cause John’s 38 words are enough for me.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          Thanks for these very kind words, Ben. And you’re right about it good RB is bringing these things into the mainstream. I WISH I had his readership (or a tenth of it), so I could truly help with what he’s doing. Or at least what he seems to be doing; as I say, I haven’t read his latest. I read his “Elvis Pelvis,” or whatever it was called. It wasn’t awful.

        • Diana A.

          John’s 38 words are enough for me now. Once upon a time, I needed more than that. Even now, when fundamentalist thought comes back to haunt me, I break out my copy of Thomas Talbott’s “The Inescapable Love of God.” I highly recommend this book for those who need more than John’s 38 words. It argues that Universal Salvation is both biblical and logical. It’s not an easy read, but well worth the effort.

  • http://www.shadsie.deviantart.com Shadsie

    The thing that always confused me about the idea of a physical Hell is that… when a person dies, (aside from the meat and bones that is their body), aren’t they (their soul, spirit, that mysterious ineffible thing that strict materialsts don’t believe exists)… isn’t the soul, by definition, not-physical?

    I understand how the problem could be “solved” by the ressurection at the end of time thing, but, in the meantime, talking about someone suffering firey-torments in the *now* would make little sense to me except as metaphor or an “approximation of spirital pain put in physical terms,” because if you aren’t “attatched” to flesh and bones anymore, how can you have the flesh seared from your bones over and over again as a punishment? It’s just sort of a “logic goes doink” thing for me.

    • http://amandajustice.blogspot.com Amanda

      It’s all about the zombies *nods*

  • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

    A physical location in this Universe? No. An eternal separation from God based on our refusal to be at peace with Him? Yeah. And it will make real fire & brimstone look like a walk in the part.

    God clearly wants His children to desire to be with Him, to follow His Word and to love one another as we love ourselves. I don’t know how the final cull is going to be made, but at a certain point some souls will he become so hardened or corrupt that they can not recognize God’s moral goodness, and they will of their own volition kept themselves separate from Him. (This is the unforgivable sin Christ mentions; to believe that God is evil & not worthy of love & worship.)

    The Bible says that after Christ was crucified but before He was resurrected He descended into Hell (technically Sheol, where the souls wait for the final judgment) and rescued those who would accept Him. If Sheol is a place outside of Time and Space as we know it, then it is possible that some people who died unrepentant in this life may get one last chance (i.e., Christ went to Sheol when it was at its maximum occupancy, not merely at the moment when He died).

    I know this: It’s pointless to bicker over what the afterlife will be like, especially since we have so much to do in this one. Love God, love your fellow man, all else is commentary.

  • http://blueberrypancakesfordinner.wordpress.com/ Erika

    yes. like.

  • Stephen Smith

    If it takes a big-name and a semi-thick book to raise the dust we see flying around from every well-worn religious highway, then GIVE A THICK BOOK. PLEASE!! Personally, I like the fact that the religious zealots among us, leaders and followers alike, have vacated their pulpits and pews long enough to show the world who they really are. Makes me know how blessed I am to have escaped the dust-covered religious monuments that cover the landscape, each one built on the belief that WE IS THE SAVED ONES, AND THEY IS THE OTHER. (And may more dust fly on the speaking of these words!! Here’s to the freedom we have to RAISE THE DUST AND ESCAPE THE PRISON.)

    • Matthew Tweedell

      May the big Name with the good thick Book be willing, our dust be raised and the prison be escaped, unto Life everlasting!

  • Don Rappe

    I would like to criticize this very American and intelligent statement just a little. “The whole idea of a place in the afterlife where people spend eternity having the living flesh seared off their bones is so moronic that anyone who believes it should be required by law to wear a bib.” Unfortunately, it is a bit of an insult to mentally retarded people. Most I have known would not accept this idea and can also eat without bibs. I myself, might often do better if I do have a bib, In fact my Italian descended sister-in-law has made and given me a very beautiful and colorful bib. I pretend it is only for spaghetti and lobster, but the fronts of my shirts bear many permanent stains, in spite of the best efforts of my beloved housekeeper.

    There is also an implication that this belief is infantile, which I agree with. Unfortunately, many of us have made a practice of teaching this to infants. These images grasp at immature minds and won’t go away. While they may serve a purpose similar to the story of Hansel and Gretel, our mature minds have more difficulty examining the subject then they do with the “woods”. The concept of Hell, like simplistic understanding of sacred writings in a general way, is infantile. It is also widespread. Jesus tells us we must approach the Kingdom “like a child”, but, gives no examples of children approaching Hell. Leading children to the ancient idea of Tartarus as a place of punishment for criminals in the underworld realm of Lord Hades, as though it were a gift from God, is a form of parental child abuse. The formerly abused become the abusers. Whether the slap John gives our inner child will just wake it up to the fact that now it is grown, or simply anger it into stubborn tantrum, is hard to know. But, I cannot say I do not care. Paul said something that makes me think we should put away the vain never ending elaboration of myths (presumably Christian sacred stories) and think like grown ups. Faith like a child. Mind like a child of God who has entered into a covenant with him; He shall be our God and we shall be God’s people. Let us not offend the little ones who believe in him and put a millstone around our own necks.

    • http://www.shadsie.deviantart.com Shadsie

      Hmm. I have a book somewhere among my closet-books (ones that won’t fit on my bookself, don’t want displayed and/or just have an objection to throwing in the trash because they’re *books* regardless of content and books hold a bit of sacredness for me)… a book about people’s Near Death Experiences going to Hell. “To Hell and Back” by Maurice Rawlings. I bought it (“dontated a love gift,” har har) to TBN back when I was in that “phase.” When I was unpacking it, I skimmed through it again, various parts of it – and then I realized “Why did I buy into this? The writer’s voice drips with such an agenda.” – Like, I vaugely remember a chapter where he talks about New Age beliefs and Eastern Religions and now that I have the Internet I can tell that his ideas on those were simplistic, perhaps purposefully so just to be insulting. In the end, I think it was probably written to keep people in thrall to fear and giving money to TBN.

      Then there are my own current thoughts on NDEs in general.

      As for all the metaphors and symbols and such, I’ve run into a lot of people (atheists, anti-thiests, some pagans) who whine “If the Bible/Jesus/whaever is God’s word, why wasn’t he CLEAR with us? Why are there so many intepretations and sects?” While such people do have points to make about the supposed omniscence and omnipotence of God, I think they miss something very important: Human stupidity. I’m pretty well convinced that if anything in the totality of existance is more powerful than God, it’s human stupidity. I don’t think God *can* be clear to us. We’re still very much animals, still very limited – perhaps by God’s design, he likes us this way, and perhaps a little bit of our own stubborn pride and refusal to understand. It seems to me that Jesus spoke in parables becuase it was really the best way to speak to us. If he gave things to us “straight” there may have been lots of heads exploding.

      And of course, some people don’t understand the nuance and importance of symbolism. I think maybe writers have a better shot of it than the average person, but we are prone to mix our signals, too.

      Remember what Jesus calls us, over and over again: Sheep. Personally, I don’t think of that as the endearing image that most people seem to take it for. Ever try to communicate with an animal? Sure, your dog is smart and knows commands and can understand you a lot, but you’re never going to discuss 20th Century British Literature, or the implications of Time Travel with him. Those things are too big for the canine mind to handle, plus there’s a language-barrier – even a concept-barrier. Now think of a sheep. Some of the *dumbest* animals in existance, a step-up from chickens, maybe.

      I think we start out on spiritual journeys as infants, and take shaky steps as toddlers, and progress from there, which is why I try not to be ashamed of the roots of my salvation too much (it’s hard when you first “believed” because of televangelism, I tell you…) But, that’s the way things are. Sometimes we have to enter in through fear and come out of it. A journey, not a destination.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        I am reminded of Proverbs 9:10.

        “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom….”

      • Don Rappe

        You start in a weak place but finish strong? Just another proof of the omnipotence of God!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2010/10/06/about-lgbt-folk-ill-listen-to-my-god-thanks/#comments slick

        Shadsie, you said, “While such people do have points to make about the supposed omniscence and omnipotence of God, I think they miss something very important: Human stupidity. I’m pretty well convinced that if anything in the totality of existance is more powerful than God, it’s human stupidity. I don’t think God *can* be clear to us. We’re still very much animals, still very limited”

        You may have touched on a great insight. I don’t know if our stupidity is more powerful than God, but clearly, the power of our stupidity is staggering. And despite how great our stupidity is, it is the one thing that we almost always overlook when discussing such things. Thanks for making a great, and rarely noticed, point.

  • Denise

    Many will be surprised, who think like John, when they realize there is a Hell — it is very real and they are spending eternity in it. I’d never tell anyone that there was no Hell as, if indeed (as I believe) there IS one, then there will be a lot to answer for, in leading others astray. Just my two cents worth…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      You overestimate the value of your observations.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2010/10/06/about-lgbt-folk-ill-listen-to-my-god-thanks/#comments slick

        Hi John,

        Could you go a bit farther as to what you think constitutes “hell”? You said what you don’t think it is, but didn’t give a lot of followup info. I’m not asking for debate purposes, but rather to learn. The main reason I come to your site is to read what you have to say, since you are sort of a mega-entertaining writer. But I also like the fact that I learn some stuff along the way. So I guess what I’m wanting to know is do you think hell exists, but is different from the description, or if it’s like Rob Bell says where everyone is saved?

        My best guess is that it exists, but is not as described. The reason I would guess that is that I can’t really see how someone like, Adolf Hitler, and others like him, would be saved. Anyway I was just curious if you have some more thoughts on this that you wouldn’t mind sharing.

        • Matthew Tweedell

          Just so you know, Slick, I’m not aware of Rob Bell’s saying that everyone gets saved, but rather I am aware of his claiming not to be a universalist.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2010/10/06/about-lgbt-folk-ill-listen-to-my-god-thanks/#comments slick

            Thanks Matthew. My bad.

      • Diana A.

        Thank you.

    • DR

      A nun once told me that hell is a place where people choose to be because they hate the things of God SO much that they can’t stand being in the sight of love, truth, mercy, justice of forgiveness. It’s done with full consent and deliberation.

      That a loving God would actually “send” someone to hell or even having someone “answer to” having the wrong understanding of hell because they believe He is too good and loving to send people to a place that they didn’t really understand too well right from the beginning or were never properly educated about? That is kind of crazy to me.

      • Diana A.

        “A nun once told me that hell is a place where people choose to be because they hate the things of God SO much that they can’t stand being in the sight of love, truth, mercy, justice of forgiveness. It’s done with full consent and deliberation. ”

        Yes. I agree with this idea of Hell. More and more when I think of Hell, I think of the oldest son in the story of the Prodigal. He had the choice to go inside and join the party but instead he chose to stay outside and sulk. Yet, the father went out to him and tried to persuade him to come inside. It may be that the father eventually went back inside to join the party, but even then, I suspect he left the door open for the oldest son to come back inside so that he, too, could celebrate the return of his brother.

        • Matthew Tweedell

          I like that analogy, Diana. And one does have to wonder how the light of God’s love, shining out around the door to the Father’s house, hinged up on the doorposts onto which the spotless lamb’s blood has been smeared, in the day of preparation for the Passover, could truly, if only by the hardest of hearts, prove resistable, when the Lord has become all in all.

        • Don Rappe

          The older son was filled with understandable resentment. But, he is not the “bad guy” in the story. Since the younger son has already spent his inheritance, the father reminds him that EVERYTHING he has belongs to the older son. This is a reminder, not a reprimand.

      • http://www.reverbnation.com/donhildenbrand Don Hildenbrand

        Wow. If hell is a place where people choose to be because they hate the things of God SO much that they can’t stand being in the sight of love, truth, mercy, justice of forgiveness, I have to be very afraid that a large portion of Evangelicals will be there. I guess maybe they could start a church. ;-)

    • Mindy

      Oh, Denise, go on.

      Here’s my take on it (not that you asked, but I feel chatty). *Your* God, the one who leads your patriarchal, authoritarian brand of Christianity and punishes and demeans in order to herd all to compliance, is not only omnipotent, but has an omni-ego. Therefore, He believes that any place He isn’t is hideous and horrible and, therefore, Hell. Like the bully who says, “if you’re not hanging out with my crowd, you’re a big, fat loser. And you can’t hang out with my crowd unless you do exactly what I say, or I’ll kick your ass.”

      Whereas those who don’t believe in your version of Him, or Him at all, will feel absolutely peachy spending eternity someplace He isn’t. It’s all about perception. I’m of the belief that any God who punishes those who disagree with or simply ignore Him, is an “if you’re not with me, you’re against me” sort, and personally, I have no interest at all in spending eternity anywhere near that kind of bully.

      So there ya go. And if I wind up surprised after my death, I guess you’ll have the last laugh, eh? But somehow, I don’t think that is how it will go . . . .

      • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

        He’s not punishing, Mindy, he’s saving. We’re drowning in the cesspit of our own sinful nature; He’s is offering a hand to pull us to safety.

        He refuses no one, He denies no one, He turns no one away.

        All ya gotta do is take the salvation being offered you.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        That’s an excellent point: some believe in a lesser God who says, because he himself believes, any place he isn’t is hell! The funny thing is, they cling to the same precious name as I call upon as the Incarnate Deity who proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that God isn’t nearly such an egomaniac (and in fact is so unimposing about His omnipotence that he hasn’t yet used His awesome but subtle power to smite such who are, truly, against Him)!

        I don’t think anyone who won’t be condemned to hell would be laughing at you in the end if you should happen to end up there, Mindy.

      • RoeDylanda

        Mindy, I wish you were my sister. Or next door neighbor, or something.

        I am amused by the human perception of a God who is all concerned about *our* opinion of *him.* Going back to the sheep analogy, do we think that the shepherd worries that the sheep think he’s insufficiently awesome? He’s just trying to stop them from falling into ravines or being eaten.

        I feel like this whole obsession with hell, whether there is one, exactly how terrible it might be, and whatnot is like being invited to a beautiful banquet and then spending every second leading up to dinner reading up on various choking hazards, the heimlich maneuver, and CPR. You won’t taste a bite and the people sitting near you are going to have a lousy time. Also? Kind of insulting to the host.

        • Diana A.

          I like this.

    • Jeannie

      I am always curious when I hear something said like this. What exactly has John said that would lead others astray. He has not questioned anything except the existence of eternal torment. Do you really believe that people will only do the right thing if they are promised Heaven or threatened with Hell?

      If that is what you are saying, then I must agree with John that you overestimate your observations.

    • http://megaloi.blogspot.com Redlefty

      Ah, the classic Pascal’s wager. Better to believe in hell and be wrong, than to be universalist and be wrong?

      I never played it safe anyway. I drive cars and everything.

  • Carol

    I’m not a Christian; I’m Jewish–though certainly not an expert on the subject! I’ve always been told that Judaism generally focuses on doing good works here & now, as a way of making this life as close to heaven as we can. As I understand it, there is no definitive Jewish answer to the whole Heaven/Hell mystery. However, I have always embraced a wonderful story I heard many years ago, attributed to a Talmudic scholar. Since I was feeling too lazy to rewrite it, a few minutes’ searching on the internet brought me a pretty good version. Here is the link:

    http://scheinerman.net/judaism/Sermons/heaven-hell.html

    Enjoy! I’m curious to hear about how this story resonates with Christians.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2010/10/06/about-lgbt-folk-ill-listen-to-my-god-thanks/#comments slick

      I think it is an absolutely wonderful story. I loved it.

    • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

      I had heard that story years & years ago in an old country church. It’s wonderful & it does share an important truth: That to those whose love is focused outward there is heaven all around them, while to those who focus only inward sooner or later there is nothing but hell.

      By chance today I had an opportunity to do a little background research on Carl Panzram, one of the most violent & hate filled serial killers in American history. He was a surprisingly literate man, and he left behind a first person narrative of his career that is doubly harrowing: For the atrocities he committed, and for the unrelieved pain he went through himself.

      He was the author and sole instigator of his acts, and no matter how terrible his childhood there is no excuse for his crimes, but one can still empathize with him for the intense pain he felt that he could articulate only through violence & victimizing others.

      If ever there was a man living in hell on earth, it was Carl Panzram.

      And I posted below, I believe Heaven = fellowship with God & Hell = separation from God. Panzram was about as separated as one could get.

    • skip johnston

      I heard this story in church as a kid (From a rabbi. Liberal church.) It forever protected me from the legal obligation of wearing a permanent bib.

    • Diana A.

      Yes. I love this story.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson

      thanks, Carol. very astute… i personally agree completely with the notion that both “heaven” and “hell” are merely a distraction from our duty to God in the temporal world. Jesus barely mentions “hell” in his sermons as reported in the Gospel; i believe the medieval church built up the traditions on the subject as a way of building hope (and loyalty) for the peasants, whose temporal lives were generally pretty miserable. Jesus did mention “heaven”, but i don’t think we can get there by wanting to get there, because wanting to save one’s own soul is essentially a selfish thought. rather, Jesus said, “love thy neighbor as thyself” and “by this (and not by outward piety) all shall know that ye are my disciples.”

    • Juliet

      I have heard this before. It still resonates. Thanks for sharing it.

  • http://asinusspinasmasticans.wordpress.com MuleChewingBriars

    As a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, I was wondering how this common Orthodox opinion would resonate with you all here:

    For those who want the short, TLDR version, this is a good summary:

    “‘The end of the world’ signifies not the annihilation of the world, but its transformation. Everything will be transformed suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye…. And the Lord will appear in glory on the clouds. Trumpets will sound, and loud, with power! They will sound in the soul and conscience! All will become clear to the human conscience. The Prophet Daniel, speaking of the Last Judgment, relates how the Ancient of Days, the Judge, sits on His throne, and before Him is a fiery stream (Dan. 7:9-10). Fire is a purifying element; it burns sins. Woe to a man if sin has become a part of his nature: then the fire will burn the man himself. This fire will be kindled within a man; seeing the Cross, some will rejoice, but others will fall into confusion, terror, and despair. Thus will men be divided instantly. The very state of a man’s soul casts him to one side or the other, to right or to left.

    “The more consciously and persistently a man strives toward God in his life, the greater will be his joy when he hears: ‘Come unto Me, ye blessed.’ And conversely: the same words will call the fire of horror and torture on those who did not desire Him, who fled and fought or blasphemed Him during their lifetime!

    “The Last Judgment knows of no witnesses or written protocols! Everything is inscribed in the souls of men and these records, these ‘books’, are opened at the Judgment. Everything becomes clear to all and to oneself.

    “And some will go to joy, while others — to horror.

    “When ‘the books are opened,’ it will become clear that the roots of all vices lie in the human soul. Here is a drunkard or a lecher: when the body has died, some may think that sin is dead too. No! There was an inclination to sin in the soul, and that sin was sweet to the soul, and if the soul has not repented of the sin and has not freed itself from it, it will come to the Last Judgment also with the same desire for sin. It will never satisfy that desire and in that soul there will be the suffering of hatred. It will accuse everyone and everything in its tortured condition, it will hate everyone and everything. ‘There will be gnashing of teeth’ of powerless malice and the unquenchable fire of hatred.

    “A ‘fiery gehenna’ — such is the inner fire. ‘Here there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.’ Such is the state of hell.” Archbishop John Maximovitch

    Now, we aren’t a progressive lot, we Orthodox. We will never have women clergy, much less marry homosexuals. I’d like to take this up as well, as this seems to be an accepting sort of place.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      Totally sound doctrine as far as I myself am concerned. (But I’m biased: I secretly enjoy thinking of myself as orthodox—not necessarily of the Eastern sort, but of the everyone-who-doesn’t-believe-exactly-like-me-is-a-heretic sort. But, really, I have of late found myself participating, though not desiring membership, in an OCA parish, and my having lived in Ukraine, having a wife from there (albeit of largely Tatar—culturally Islamic—heritage), might well have shaped my own understanding. But then again, I myself attribute it to such understanding simply being the reasonable wisdom of the ages.)

      I would add, however, that that human soul in which the roots of all vices lie, however real it is, doesn’t exactly exist, at least, strictly speaking, in some grand eternal sense. It is the construct—the deception even—of the ego: “myself” asserted throughout the preceding paragraph!

      I do not doubt the radical tradition of Christianity to reveal a conservative faith itself to be the truly progressive Way; so about woman clergy and homosexual matrimony, never say never.

  • JoAnn Mitchell

    Oh, spring come! Let the birds again seek the shadow of a leaf; green buds upon branches; lodging in a tree. May all creation sing; through the chirping of new life; that God reigns….

    Blessings to all… speak blessings into this earth.

    We torment ourselves; we separate ourselves from the goodness of life, earth, God.

    The place of hell is BUILT within our own soul over time. When bitterness, unforgiveness, unacceptance of all (including our brothers and sisters we have LABELED gay).

    The Bibical explaination of Hell; accepted as truth is Hell is dark (blackness in our soul and view around us); Hell is aloneness (no interaction with others in Hell; caught in our own self); Hell is viewing others enjoying, being peaceful, filled with joy….

    If you want to save someone from Hell… help them to not let resentment eat them up from the inside out.

  • http://gaychristiangeek.blogspot.com Rainicorn

    IMO, the weirdest thing about the whole Rob Bell controversy is the vast numbers of people, judging from the traffic-counter on my blog, who are googling “is Rob Bell gay?” or some variant thereof. Apparently a lot of people believe that if you espouse a single liberal Christian viewpoint then you are well on the road to being a GODLESS HEATHEN who participates nightly in GAY ORGIES. Or something.

    • Diana A.

      No way! That’s scary-funny.

      • Roberto

        Dude, check him out on video,

        This would-be theologian Rob Bell sounds like, walks like, a flaming poof.

  • Amon

    The idea of hell, like the idea of God, seems entirely faith based, entirely a subjective construct based on what each individual finds appealing or sensible, trying to argue this, one way or another is like trying to convince others to agree that cheesecake is the best dessert in the world. Well kind of like that. I guess one major difference there is, generally no one gets offended or hurt when arguing over desserts. Unfortunately when people argue that they KNOW what will happen in some possible afterlife, they generally appear to be the most desperate and lazy kind of person, in my opinion. It must be a great comfort to have some nice tidy answer you can regurgitate, something very black and white that allows you to get on with your day.

    I for one believe cheesecake should only be had in moderation, and even then while the first few bites are delish…too much is just too much. ——-I am livin’ here.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      It does seem, at first glance, that even thinking hell is bad is much like thinking cheesecake is good. However, cheesecake is an objective reality which we match to subjective states, while hell is a subjective reality which we match to objective states.

      God, unlike hell, is an objective reality, and while you would be right then to think that it is up to a man to ascribe to him glory and goodness, He nonetheless glorifies Himself, because God is incarnate, in the flesh: there is a body that is fully man that also is that of God, for His Spirit, which is fully God, has descended unto mankind.

      How does that work, you might wonder? Well, although you suggest that God (technically “the idea of God,” you say, with which no one should argue since ideas are elements of the mind, but I assume you mean to imply God Himself) is “entirely a subjective construct based on what each individual finds appealing or sensible,” I would suggest you have it backwards: I propose that the “individual” is the subjective construct.

      Fittingly then, as for God’s goodness, this can be given certain objective definition, because the findings of the individual regarding what is sensible (accurately descriptive and predictive of our world, or accurately prescriptive of how to accomplish appealing goals) or appealing (to the true self, based in one’s true nature—some instance of the nature of one’s kind, such as humankind—which can be sought when the “individual” ego is taken out of the equation) can be right or wrong as measured up against a certain objective thing called truth, other than in accordance with which, our minds are processing whatever thoughts vainly! Truth then, is beneficial in accordance with the goals of the mind. Truth, then, is good, regardless whether we know it or not. Truth, then, shall be my Lord and Savior.

      Regarding what will happen after my own life in this world has ceased: that certain things are true even as one’s individual mind is not apprehending specific knowledge of them we can say with as much certainty as there is in my having correctly remembered my name. Nothing desperate in such a view, but perhaps I am indeed somewhat lazy for not caring to give a long comprehensive explanation, consideration of examples, etc.—I’ve deemed it not so important to waste so much time on right here and now.

      • Reginald Touchton

        Your statements about God as the object and humanity as the subject is classical Reformed Theology, as presented by John calvin, John Knox, and later theologians.Thank you .

  • http://allmyeggsinoneblog.wordpress.com/ Monica

    It’s moronic, but one thing for sure, it puts butts in the pews( I am sad to say). I might be wrong, but even if we just look at it from the idea of parenting, wouldn’t throwing your kid into a neverending pit of fire and worms for lying be a bit much? It would be down right abusive. So I guess my question is this: Why does God, or the idea that many evangelicals have of God, have to be such an abusive bully?

    I mean, I understand that folks do horrid, horrid things. But I also understand that the idea of hell isn’t just for them. It’s for people like me who through one reason or another lost belief, but still try to live a moral life(because being a d-bag is wrong yo). It’s for people like my boyfriend who is the gentlest person I know, but because he hasn’t asked for eternal fire insurance by way of inviting Jesus in his heart(someone actually told him he should accept him just in case, wtf) is going to be poked by demons. I’m sorry for what I am going to say, well more like the tone: the fact that people would use hell as a recruiting tool or are joyous that folks like me are going to be burning there is so morally reprehensible to me that I honestly believe they lack any true ethics. Because whatever they do, it is to avoid the “bad place”. Not because it’s the right thing to do. And I dunno, if I had to choose between being a heathen(as I’ve been called) or a hypocrite, I’d rather be a heathen. Because if there is a god, I think he/she would prefer that I was honest on that subject than try and pull a fast one on them. And yes I know that was a run-on sentence but I got a bit fiery.

    • http://www.reverbnation.com/donhildenbrand Don Hildenbrand

      Why? Because it puts butts in the pews.. to borrow your words. ;-)

  • Dan

    please tell me that’s hyperbole

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      That’s hyperbole. I think it’s okay if they drink.

      (Hyperbole again!)

  • http://lisainbc.blogpost.com Lisa Salazar

    This is good John. Now, can you say it in 200 characters?

  • Patrick Mahoney

    When I became a “born-again” believer at age 16 I had no concept of sin, the afterlife or hell. After some time I became very familar with the evangelical take on these subjects. I soon came to an understanding of sin that made sense to me, but my ideas about the heaven and hell developed slowly. After four decades, the jury is still out concerning my ideas about heaven, but as a “universalist” I have defined an “eternal hell” out of existence; God is good and just and merciful. He has, in some sense, in ways deeper and more real than anything I can understand made things right. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, I can only respond, “Be merciful to me, a sinner”. I must live each day mindful that my ways are often not His ways, that the things that really matter are often out of my hands or beyond my current understanding. Yet I have an opportunity each moment to say “Take my will and my life, guide and show me how to live.” BTW Does anyone have any thoughts on CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce? A great parable concerning heaven and hell and our journey toward one or the other.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X