In the book of Matthew 17:9, Jesus is giving an interesting talk about how people need to go to extremes when it comes to dealing with their sinful behavior. He says to his audience that they are better off gouging out their eyes or cutting off their hands if that is what is necessary, because it’s better to be blind or lame than to be thrown into the “Hell of fire.” Gehenna is the name for hell in this passage, and nearly all scholars understand that this was the area dump heap. This is where people burned trash and waste outside of town.
It is my personal mission in life to help people “repot” their old paradigms in favor of “new wine” or new paradigms. This means that I challenge their ideas and move them into a wider understanding of things. When it comes to a person’s beliefs about God and how they relate to him, then I can quickly become the “heretic” or the enemy if what I offer doesn’t line up with their traditional understanding. In this case, I think it is clear that Jesus is not warning people about an eternal condemnation for doing bad deeds as many traditional people believe. If people live forever, then the trajectory of someone whose hand causes them to sin is such that they will not only make a dump or a waste of their life in this world, but utter destruction may in fact be the best description of where that ultimately leads. Literal hell aside, the message of taking our shadow life seriously and turning it around is a great message.
Here’s the catch. If I say that I don’t think Jesus is arguing for an eternal hell, many will say I am not believing nor teaching the scripture. I’ll be called too liberal in my theology. I’ll be accused of selecting passages that favor one outcome over another and not taking the literal word of God at face value. So my question then is, where are all the one eyed, one handed bible believing critics? Could a case be made that if you do believe in a literal hell, and a literal interpretation of the bible, that a person is being selective with their interpretation if they don’t amputate themselves. Wouldn’t a person who did actually gouge out his eye be able to make a claim to someone who didn’t that they didn’t really take the bible seriously?
And that is my point. As well as Jesus’. It’s not so required that you take the scripture seriously, but that you take your personal growth and transformation seriously. No person takes the bible seriously. Even the most devout, ultimately select what they want to believe or at least how they want to believe it, thus making themselves the arbiter of truth. How many use Tilex for mold in their tubs rather than calling a priest? And if a person does focus on transformation and becoming the best, most authentic self possible, then Jesus’ talk later tells a person that when a person engages in this pursuit, that he will go to the greatest lengths to find you and to ensure that no single seeker is ever lost (v 14). Later he demonstrates that the process of doing something here in our life and in this world, is how we end up doing anything in Heaven. Another way of saying this is that the most heavenly minded person is the one who redeems his life and world today (18.) This means that if we are doing the right thing for the right reasons, we are proving that a form of heaven is here today and that we walk in agreement with the work of God (v20).
Heaven here and now. Jesus walking among us. Focusing on personal transformation. Seems like we need never fear any form of hell or dump heap. Jesus seems to love people so much that he spares them from a life of religious duty (in favor of liberation and authenticity). I think a lot of people could get good with that, if the the message wasn’t obscured by institutional power. So which is the the real Christian message? Be transformed by the love of God, or burn in hell if you don’t change. The former is where heaven and earth collide.