Hell Might Be Empty June 22, 2016 (cont’d) This guest post is by Brian Niece.Published June 12, 2017
Hell Might Be Empty (Part 2)
The concept of “hell” is such a quandary. I mean, what the hell is hell, anyway?
In the Hebrew Scripture hell was not a concept. Anyone who died went to a waiting place, a time of gestation, called Sheol. In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of a literal place called Gehenna, which was the name of the city trash dump outside Jerusalem. “Gehenna” often gets translated into English as “hell.” Other New Testament writers barely even address the concept of “hell” because they were too busy celebrating the new reality that all of life is contained in God’s life. Or as Paul put it: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”
Great minds like C.S. Lewis and N.T Wright resist the traditional literal view of hell entirely. Lewis sees hell as a diminishing of one’s humanity. Wright, similarly, envisions hell as a process of one’s choice to dehumanize what was once human.
So what about Jesus?
The heaven/hell dichotomy for Jesus was a matter of life in the present, not specifically something after death. When Jesus spoke of “eternal” life, he was referring to a quality of life to be experienced right now, in the present. If all time and all the living and the dead are already contained in the life of God, then responding to such grace allows for God-quality life, right here and right now.
Finally, God’s infinite presence cannot be kept out of “hell” whatever and wherever it may be.
So if you’ve ever felt like you don’t measure up to some perceived standard that has been preached at you, remember this: the last will be first.
If you’ve ever felt like the church people who easily throw around words they don’t understand like “hell” and “sin” and “Lord” are barring your way to Jesus, remember this: he once said there will be many who call him “Lord” who don’t know him.
Look, I’m not some expert saying that this is what the future will definitely be like. But I tend to agree with Moltmann. If the God I know, in the final analysis, empties “hell” (whatever that may be) then I won’t be at all surprised. God’s grace is that powerful.
Brian Niece is a storyteller who communicates to and for outsiders, outliers, and people on the fringes, inspiring them to speak truth to power and live sacramentally in order to reimagine their stories.