We cannot understand our views on Hell until we understand why we want Hell to exist. We must pause and access that portion of our thinking that gets angered or offended at the idea that people “worse than us” could have the same eternity.
Last week I showed how Gehenna (Greek word for Hell) was the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, which was the city dump just outside of Jerusalem known as the valley of Hinnon. The same “inside/outside” imagery is used in Revelation 22:15 when describing the “New Jerusalem” or heaven.
Like a typical light switch, binary language creates contrast to illuminate concepts that are hard to grasp. Maturity moves us into a (dimmer switch) framework. Our concept of Heaven and Hell must also mature similarly.
In a binary way the Kingdom of Heaven was contrasted in parables with weeping and gnashing of teeth, so the Book of Life is contrasted with the Lake of Fire. Similarly, the scripture views the Lake of Fire as a repository for all things false. It’s the contrasting place to those in the Book of Life (Revelations 21:27).
The binary interpretation focuses on the extremes of Heaven and Hell but misses the bigger story of Truth. Biblical images point to something bigger than the images. God is Truth. Within perfect Truth, falsehood cannot exist. The scripture uses the Greek word (Pseudos) for lie, deception or falsehood.
What if every living being is known completely by their (True) name given by their Maker? Isn’t perfect Truth a synonym for the knowledge of God (Psalm 139:16)? Thus the “Book of Life” (perfect Truth) cannot contain a pseudonym. Ultimately the False Self (name not written in the book of life) cannot exist. Furthermore, everything based in falsehood cannot ultimately exist either (Revelations 21:27).
This is why the Lake of Fire exists. It is the only logical place for such falseness. Every false thing is to be consumed by fire. Truth destroys falseness, light destroys all darkness (1 John 1:5). Consider this, death and Hell itself are ultimately thrown into the Lake of Fire (Revelations 20:14) too. All pseudonyms are thrown there too, leaving only perfect truth.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE?
Once we move into a ternary (three) framework, scripture begins to open up. Everything false is punished and destroyed in the presence of Truth, but the true self emerges. (note: Many Christians approach this by way of holiness instead of Truth. Love also works as a framework to see this. The Bible uses all three in stories.
Scripture repeatedly uses fire to purify and cleanse. Like the metaphor of the crucible (Zechariah 13:9, 1 Peter 1:7), the fire purifies the gold by burning off the slag. This imagery depicts a person finding their true self. We go through Hell to find ourselves.
What about our deeds? Do they matter? Yes. We are told each one is examined on the day of judgement (Revelations 20:12). Not a single deed is missed. Contrary to popular opinion, sinful deeds do not make us into sinners. Instead, we sin because we are sinners. The meta-narrative of scripture says we are born into a context of sin. We are born with a pseudonym into a (pseudo) system. If we do not exchange the (pseudo) system for the kingdom (truth), we become defined by the system. This system imprisons the true self until the fire (suffering) releases it.
Reformed anthropology (Calvinistic) views humanity as totally depraved. Rousseau is a philosopher that saw humanity as good but corrupted. Both anthropologies require repair and the theology ensues. Any theology that camps out on one side is too small. We ARE both and we potentiate both thus Heaven and Hell are within us (Zechariah 12:1, Luke 17:20), they are states of consciousness here and now.
What makes us think we will go to Heaven one day if we miss it here and now? What makes any of us think we can escape a purifying fire?
Thus judgment day is TODAY! It’s every moment of awareness. Nonetheless, scripture uses the notion of a future “Day” to anchor us into a self critical awareness. This helps us when our faith is young, but as we mature, the future day is less vital because we remain more and more in the presence (present moment). Saying this another way, we posses the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), or we live by the spirit (Rom 8:4), so we don’t fear judgment (Rom 8:15).
So what does the Bible actually say?
“— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.“
1 Corinthians 3:12-15