The Fires of Hell
Blogger Joanne Reed recently reflected on the question, “Why are things not always as they seem?” Her daughter, Maya, wrote a school essay on the topic, and Reed reprinted Maya’s paper in her blog.
Maya’s essay recounts how she views life looking through her window. Her day begins with a gorgeous sunrise, promising a new day filled with exciting possibilities. She watches as a couple strolls by hand-in-hand, seemingly appreciating each other’s presence. Others who pass by appear brightened by the cheery light of a new dawn. While the day seems new and fresh, her observations reflect that optimism.
As daylight wanes near sunset, however, Maya discovers that her outlook darkens. People now appear more downcast. The dimming light reveals that the returning couple she saw in the morning, who appeared so engaged in their lives together then, are not what they seemed earlier. Maya now recognizes his tight grip on her hand, and her refusal to look him in the eye.
Maya concludes her essay with this observation about why things are not always as they seem: “The true nature of the world is rarely seen. Constantly fluctuating emotions act as lenses for our window. They can taint, brighten, dull, enhance, blind, illuminate, and change the view of different surroundings. The way people let their emotions, conditions, and state of mind guide their perspective ultimately decides who they are as a person.”
It is a challenge to remain truly objective in our observations of the world. Our life experiences and preconceived notions of reality act as filters that bend our thinking to fit those notions. It can even taint our understanding of Scripture.
When it comes to the topic of the state of humanity in death, it’s easy to understand why many believe in the immortality of the human soul—and the fire and brimstone of everlasting hell—they’ve been unquestioned axioms for most people throughout their lives. Those who view scripture through that lens will see some passages that appear to reinforce those notions.
If we accept Bible concepts through our filters, it can be a soul-jarring experience to actually reread those Bible verses with the filters removed—and none are more challenging than the topics of the state of the dead and the torture of the lost.
With the filter of a life-long acceptance of the immortality of the soul, it’s easy to read Paul’s words in Philippians 1:22-24, “I desire to depart and be with Christ,” as, “I desire to depart and be with Christ immediately.” When we remove the filter, then we can see that Paul is simply expressing the same soul desire that most of us have: We’d rather be in heaven than here. It really doesn’t say anything about the timeline or our condition in death.
Similarly, throughout the ages many Christians have believed in an everlasting fire and brimstone type of hell. But this misconception is largely contributed to the limitations of language. The English word “everlasting” expresses God’s eternal being and also completion. Malachi 4:1 expresses the sentiment of completion in relation to God’s wrath on humanity.
We will not see things as they truly are, rather than as they seem to us, until we can objectively identify our personal filters and set them aside when necessary.
Connecting: Is there a popular song that you thought you knew the lyrics to, only to discover later that you’d been singing it wrong? Which version do you prefer?
Sharing: Why do you think that the immortality of the soul and our immediate arrival in heaven at death is such an attractive belief?
- No one wants to think of their loved ones decomposing in the grave
- It’s attractive as long as we can justify the thought that our loved ones are in heaven; it’s not so attractive if we’ve assigned them to hell
- We want to see them in a better place, enjoying heaven’s glories and free from this messed up world
- If we can view them in heaven, then we can assure ourselves that we will be there someday with them
- It’s comforting to think that our dearly departed are directing our earthly affairs today — “My mom in heaven helped me score the goal that won the game”
Applying: What do you do with confusing Bible texts? Do they jar your faith? Do they motivate you to dig deeper in study to understand them? Try and identify trusted friends with whom you can share your questions and explore those topics.