For an update on this post, please see “A Personal Odyssey,” which I wrote a year and a half later.
Is this a vision of the eternal torment awaiting unrepentant sinners? Umm, nope. Sorry. Just some clay monsters created by children in my pottery class, superimposed on a photo of the insides of my fireplace. Cool, huh?
Hell has always been a puzzlement for me. Knowing the character of God from scripture, and later from personal acquaintance, it’s been difficult for me to reconcile myself to His being involved in the never-ending torment of humankind. I’ve skirted the issue, knowing there was something there I wasn’t getting. But then there are a lot of things I don’t get. I put them on a shelf, dust them off once in a while, maybe turn them over and around trying to figure them out, and wait for God to be ready to ‘splain them to me. Hell is one of those things.
David Flowers has just posted a blog on this subject. Here’s a teaser:
The traditional view of hell was born in the second century AD and it later became a concrete idea in the Middle Ages after being perpetuated by Augustine (c. 354-430). It was Augustine’s views that largely shaped Western Christianity.
Tertullian (c. 160-230) believed that hell was a “secret fire under the earth” where torment was everlasting. Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), taught that believers would be able to watch the eternal damnation of souls in hell from their lofty place of comfort in heaven. And of course it was Dante’s Inferno in his Divine Comedy that gave us a vivid close-up of the torments of this medieval hell.
And like the famous Jonathan Edwards sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, we revel on with the preposterous idea that God is moody and hell-bent on having his enemies over for a barbecue. Edwards’ notorious speech is most reflective of a vivid imagination than it is of sound biblical exposition.
These ideas, along with a whole host of pagan beliefs on hell, have penetrated the church and continues to permeate the culture today. Still today books are written by folks who have “been to hell and back” and have lived to scare the hell out of you too! It is a message of fear intended to produce converts.
It’s no wonder that many are presently emerging to see the pendulum swing in the opposite direction on the doctrine of hell.
Anyone carefully reading the book of Acts can’t help but notice the absence of “hell” in the preaching of the apostles. There isn’t even a promise of heaven to convince others to “walk the isle” and receive Christ.
The apostles did however speak about the resurrection of Jesus and the people saving themselves from “this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40). They did proclaim a coming judgment foretold by Christ and the Old Testament prophets.
Before we look at those Scriptures… let’s take a minute to reflect on the words of the one who is largely responsible for a slew of misguided teaching and practice within our faith.
“Do not follow my writings as Holy Scripture. When you find in Holy Scripture anything you did not believe before, believe it without doubt; but in my writings, you should hold nothing for certain.” St. Augustine, Preface to the Treatise on the Trinity
I’d love to know what you think about David’s post. It’s long, but well worth reading, and I do believe this subject is worth our time to delve into.