THE QUESTION (No. 60)- Regarding Hell
(From Brother William Zeitler, who is the translator of the Faithful New Testament)
There's one doctrine that is repulsive to me and that is that there is simply a binary 'heaven' and 'hell'. Even human justice -- as enormously imperfect as that is -- takes into consideration the capacity, background, and circumstances of the defendant's choices and metes out a spectrum of penalties. Not just 'a lifetime of torture' or 'a lifetime
in a luxury resort'.
It seems to me that the possible uses of a penal system are revenge, punishment (as a deterrent to repetition and an example to others) and rehabilitation. Of what possible point is eternal agony ('revenge')? It's also too late for deterrent value -- to the perpetrator or to others. And it's too late for rehabilitation.
What are your thoughts on hell?
I have the same reservations about eternal punishment, but have come to considerable peace with the issue by reckoning that it is, like almost everything else in the gospel, to be viewed in the Light of the Great Principle. I am not yet fully satisfied with my view and hope to learn more.
Hell is not vengeance. It is not punishment. It is not rehabilitation. It is not deterrence, though the threat of hell may deter some. It is none of these things, but our minds have been so conditioned by false Christian doctrine that we just automatically think of it as punishment or vengeance.
What is it?
It is waste disposal!
It incidentally also provides for final justice. Hereafter, the merciful (now) will receive mercy and the forgiving (now) will be forgiven but the unmerciful (now) will receive no mercy and the unforgiving (now) will not be forgiven. The exalted (now) will be humbled, and the humble (now) will be exalted. Justice will reign -- justice as only the Lord can mete. Tables will be turned. The scales will finally be in balance.
So it is with the case of the rich man and Lazarus:
Lk.16:25 But Abraham said: Child, remember that you received your good [things] in your zoe-life , and likewise Lazarus the evil. But now he is encouraged, and you suffer torment (odunasai).Let's take a look at the New Testament Greek word for torment, odunasai. It is the same word used to describe the anxiety of Joseph and Mary as they sought Jesus and found him in the Temple.
Lk.2:48 FNT And seeing him they were astonished, and his mother said to him: Son, why have you done to us thusly? Behold your father and I suffering pain (odunasai) were seeking you.
Many translators, influenced by the traditional view of everlasting, eternal punishment for sinners in an eternal hell will, for example, take the same word, odunasai, and render 'anguish' when it is a wicked person who experiences it, and 'anxious' when it is Joseph and Mary! So, my guess is that scribes and translators through the centuries have rendered the text, both Greek and English, in such a way as to make certain words mean more than they mean in some applications, less in others due to preconceptions.
Gehenna is a key. This is the word that reads "hell" in many English versions of the New Testament. I specified waste disposal as it's meaning, above, and there are reasons for that. In Israel in 1978, the Valley of Hinnom (Biblical Gehenna) was one of the places I determined to visit. After spending half a day wandering about it's numerous dusty trails, I was satisfied. Even then, in 1978, it remained a place of waste disposal! Scattered across several acres in the valley, directly below and to the South and Southwest of Jerusalem, there were numerous piles of smoldering waste -- where someone, (Perhaps the city garbage collectors or individuals disposing of household waste?) had left household refuse to burn. I saw nothing else in the Valley of Hinnom other than the dusty trails and scrub vegetation and many smoldering piles of waste material.
The history of the place is that it was cursed from the beginning of Israelite dominion. The Jebusites erected an altar to Baal (or Moloch) within it that was called Topheth, whereon they offered children as burnt offerings. Early Israelites also offered their children to Yahweh on an altar similarly situated in the Valley of Hinnom (Jer. 7:31, 19:5, II Kings 23:10). This practice was so heinous that it apparently made the valley an accursed place. It may has never been utilized for anything other than waste disposal with its flames and smoke visible, day and night, to the residents of Jerusalem! So, the flames thereof go up for ever and ever (Compare Rev. 19:3). It's historic association with child sacrifice (and even two of the Hebrew kings sacrificed sons there -- Ahaz, II Chr. 28:1-4, and Manasseh, II Chr. 33:1-6) left it under a curse that has been preserved by both Muslim and Jewish administrators to this day. This accursed history makes of it the perfect representation of waste disposal.
It is my current view that this image is the source of inspiration for the Christian view of hell and eternal punishment, even though they in general do not know it. It was and is not a place of everlasting torment for any individual, for even the child sacrifices were over shortly and the children consumed in the flame. We can also believe that the sacrificed children were slaughtered before offered as burnt sacrifices on an altar. This is one reason that I see the threat of hell in the Logos of Jesus as not implying individual, everlasting torment. The Valley of Hinnon (Gehenna) does not represent a place of continuing torment for the individual.
I mentioned the Great Principle. This is the screen that sorts all. Those who apply it to themselves in the hatred of PSUCH (life temporal) and the love of ZOE (life eternal) and so learn to love God and truly desire in their hearts to go to Him, are qualified to do so. Those who do not want to go to Him cannot go, because they do not want to go and the Father does not force anyone into his presence in Glory. Nevertheless, they require disposal. Something must be done with them, and the explanation of this is in the following parables:
Mt.13:24 FNT Another parable he placed before them saying: The kingdom of the heavens is like [a] man sowing good seed in his field. 25 But while the man sleeps his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and left. 26 So when the grass sprouted and bore fruit, then the tares also became manifest. 27 So when the slaves of the householder came they said to him: Lord, did we not sow good seed in the field? Whence therefore does it have tares? 28 But he told them, [An] enemy did this. So the slaves say: Do you wish therefore when we go that we gather them? 29 But he tells them, No, lest gathering the tares you uproot the wheat with them. 30 Allow them to grow together until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the harvesters: Gather first the tares and bind them into bundles in order to burn them, but the wheat gather into my storehouse.So the tares are worthless waste that requires disposal. Even today, incineration is the usual method. It is the a common method for disposal of industrial waste. I assisted with the burning of waste in the farm fields when I was a kid. Later, as an engineer, I worked on a project that included the design and construction of a chemical waste incinerator and exhaust gas purification system. There seems to be a law in nature, as well as in supernature, that any process of production also produces waste product that requires disposal. The ongoing process by which the Father produces children for himself is not an exception.
Then we have the Parable of the Net:
Mt.13:47 FNT Again the kingdom of the heavens is like [a] net having been thrown in the sea and having gathered out of every kind, 48 which when it was filled they drag [it] to the shore and having sat they gather the good into containers, but the worthless they throw out. 49 Thus it will be in the completion of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the midst of the just . 50And they will throw them into the furnace of fire. There shall there be wailing and grinding of teeth.Also from the Beloved Disciple:
JN.15:6 If anyone be not dwelling in me, he was thrown out like the branch and was withered, and they gather them and throw [them] into the fire and it is burned.To sum up, I see the destiny of those who love life in this world as being their place of disposal, not of punishment for sins committed, consistent with the Great Principle of Jesus. Ethically, it serves as a demonstration of the justice of the Lord, who in the full scope of experience -- both here and hereafter -- sees to it that the scales are balanced. Now, since all sin finds its tap root in the love of life, it is easy to understand how men, loving life, have interpreted hell as a punishment for sins committed. So interpreted, it only serves as another blinder to the real nature of sin that finds its essence in the love of life.
If the judgment of the wicked were a punishment, then justice would dictate that the penalty be apportioned according to the measure of the sin as you suggest. But the destiny of the lovers of life and haters of God is not a punishment, but a disposal of waste product that, in the process, provides a certain justice by putting down those who have, in bondage to the love of life, exalted themselves or been merciless or unforgiving.
The Critical Point -- Duration of the Suffering
I am able to confirm this view by a careful hearing of other relevant utterances of the Lord. Duration of the suffering is a major emphasis of much Christian doctrine regarding hell. It is also a major objection to this doctrine from persons that share your reservations, and justifiably so. It follows that the objection to Gehenna disappears if it can be shown that those who do not receive eternal life are dispatched quickly and humanely. This we do by listening to the Lord, and in particular to the following utterances:
Mt.10:28 FNT And do not fear those killing the body but unable to kill the psyche-life , but fear rather the [one] able to destroy both body and psyche-life in Gehenna .
Jn.3:16 FNT For God thus agape-loved the world: so that he gave his uniquely - begotten son, so that everyone believing in him not perish but be having eternal zoe-life.
Jn.10:27 FNT My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, 28 and I give them zoe-life eternal, and they will not perish to eternity, and no one will seize them from my hand.
Now, please note that the highlighted words, destroy and perish are rendered from the same New Testament Greek word, apollumi, that may mean different things depending on context. In this case you (the translator) have utilized two of these things, destroy and perish. More than that, they are rendered from the Greek aorist tense of the word.
The significance of the tense is crucial. In the Greek New Testament, whenever the aorist tense appears, it defines a kind of action. Specifically, it defines point-like, punctiliar action or action that is instantaneous, not continuous or of any duration. It follows that, in all three of these utterances of the Lord, he specifies punctiliar, point - like, or instantaneous action with no duration.
In the case of Matthew 10:28, we are told to fear the one able to instantaneously destroy body and soul in hell (Gehenna). The strong implication is that all who are sentenced to hell will experience instantaneous destruction.
In the case of both John 3:16 and 10:27, the experience is alternative to those saved for eternal life (eternal zoe-life). This refers to the condemnation of the unsaved because that is their judgment and the alternative to salvation. And, in both utterances, it is the Greek aorist tense -- instantaneous, punctiliar point - like action -- that is without duration.
As the one responsible for the translation of the Faithful New Testament, the source of the above quotations of the Lord, you will understand the significance of this much better than I.
We are not through yet -- there is more confirmation from the utterances of the Lord. Recall my assertion that the sentence of Gehenna (hell) is not vengeance. It is necessary to emphasize this because the Old Testament is replete with prophetic writings threatening the vengeance of God. We take a typical one, which also happens to have been utilized by the Lord:
The Lord utilized this text from Isaiah twice, one of them being witnessed by both Matthew and Luke; Luke cites one more. The utterance cited by both evangelists is his response to John the Baptist. First, the utterance cited only by Luke:
Isaiah 61:The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
Lk.4:16 FNT And he came into Nazareth, where he had grown up and entered according to his custom in the day of the Sabbaths into the synagogue, and stood to read. 17 And [the] scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him, and having opened the scroll he found the place where it was written:
18 [The] spirit of the Lord [is] upon me Because of which he has anointed me to preach to the poor He has sent me to heal the crushed, To proclaim pardon to the captives and sight to the blind, To send away the oppressed in pardon, 19 To proclaim [the] welcome year of the Lord.20 And having rolled up the scroll [and] having returned it to the assistant he sat, and all eyes in the synagogue were looking intently on him. 21 So he began to be speaking to them that: Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your ears.
The two parallel records from Matthew and Luke are:
Matt.11:2 FNT Now John having heard in prison the works of Christ, having sent through his disciples 3he said to him: Are you the coming [one] or do we look for another? 4 And answering Jesus said to them: Go tell John what you hear and see: 5 The blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and deaf hear, and dead are raised and [the] poor are good-newsed. 6 And blessed is he who shall not be offended in me.
Lk.7:20 FNT Now having arrived to him the men said: John the baptist sent us to you saying: Are you the coming [one], or do we expect another? 21 In that hour he healed many from diseases and torments and wicked spirits, and to many blind he graced to be seeing. 22 And answering he said to them: Having gone report to John what you saw and heard: Blind see, lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and deaf hear, dead are raised, poor are preached to, 23 and blessed is he who is not stumbled in me.
If you will compare these quotations from Isaiah with the record from Isaiah 61:1,2, you will see that the Lord omitted the last line, the day of vengeance of our God. He has come to fulfill the prophecy down to a certain point, which is the specification of vengeance. This supports my assertion that the sentence to Gehenna (hell) is not vengeance, because God is not a vengeful person and the Lord Jesus did not come into the world to exact vengeance or announce the time of God's vengeance on sinners.
One Questionable Utterance of the Lord
There is but one utterance of the Lord that remains questionable. You may know that the Lord uttered "punishment" (kolasin) only once, at Matt. 25:46:
And these will go into eternal punishment, but the just into eternal zoe-life .
Contrary to what I have stated above, this indicates that the judgment of the unsaved is to be a punishment. The context demands that we read "punishment" and that it be of eternal duration, the same as the eternal zoe-life. This immediately presents the obvious contradiction with every other applicable utterance of the Lord. There can be no contradiction in Truth, so I conclude that there is some problem with the rendering of this verse, standing alone as it does in the utterances of the Lord. I do not know how to reconcile this, but I suspect a scribal insertion in the very early decades following the publishing of the gospel. Some of the ancient witnesses repeat vs. 41 here, that reads:
. . . into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Until I learn better, this is the explanation I accept. In this case, the text 25:46 should read:
And these will go into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, but the just into eternal zoe-life.
Having surveyed the relevant utterances of the Lord, I come to the conclusion as stated throughout this response to your question. All who do not comply with the Great Principle, but who continue to love the life in this world, and seek to save it, cannot be accepted into the blessed destiny of the just, which is eternal zoe-life in the Father's house. The bottom line reason for this is that they have not wanted to leave life in this world. They become waste production in the process by which the Father begets children for himself and calls them into his eternal Glory. They will be disposed of as such, much as the household wastes of the City of Jerusalem that burns continually in the Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna.