HELL 10

This series must be read in order. Begin with HELL 1 here.

I was talking to one of my best friends by phone the other day. She was seeking advice from my wife and I about a very difficult situation in which she finds herself with her mom, who is older and essentially wheel-chair bound.

Her mom owns a house, but is unable to live independently and care for herself. Seriously concerned about her well-being, my friend welcomed her into her own home and began caring for her.

Unfortunately, this is not what her mom wanted. She insisted upon returning to her own home, even if it meant putting herself at serious risk. And being that my friend does not have a legal right to make decisions on behalf of her mom, and being that her mom is of the right mind to make decisions, my friend complied with her mom’s wishes, even though she believed that it was to her mom’s detriment.

She could not force or impose her will on her mom.

Even though she loves her.
Even though she wants to care for her.
Even though she wants better for her.
And even though she can visualize her living a life in greater wholeness and fulfillment.

Her mom said that she would just prefer to go home in isolation and face death.

The truth is that one can’t force a person to receive or reciprocate love, or force a person to want a better life for themselves. And even though one may be able to visualize, and even long for, a person to live in greater wholeness and enjoy the loving community of others, it can still be refused.

Although highly historically symbolic, if the book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of where this future trajectory in God is ultimately heading, we find that our future is not being whisked away to a disembodied Heaven, but resurrected into a renewed and restored creation in which God’s habitation is now among us. While all of creation has been groaning as a woman in labor, that which is being birthed in the present, and then fully delivered in the future, is a new creation.

Although it is impossible to imagine Heaven and Earth coming together as one, like a marriage, and even more impossible to imagine this union giving birth to a new creation, we are given images of what it might actually be like in Revelation.

In this marriage of Heaven and Earth, God’s dwelling is now among us and there is wholeness, completeness, and harmony in all things. And it is in this place where we at last find perfect union with God within ourselves, with other people, other cultures, other nations. It is where we each bring our pains, our burdens, our heartaches, our failures, our misgivings, our injustices, our tears and they are all wiped away in mercy and healing and restoration. In this new creation, there is no more death and no more sorrow.

And the community that lives in this city of new creation is full of life and love and celebration. It is a community in which creativity flourishes, in which occupation animates the spirit, in which serving others is our greatest gift. And it is a community in which the lights never go out and, despite the unfounded belief by some that there is a wall to keep others out, the gates of this city will never close.

This community never stops loving and never closes the city gates on anyone. Their invitation for others to join the celebration and feast at the table never ends.

This may be surprising to you, but the text also suggests that there will be those who have chosen to live outside of this city of shalom, outside of this community of life and love. That may be why Jesus says that the path away from life is wide and leads to apóleia. While apóleia is typically translated as destruction, it can also mean to be cut off from what could have, or what should have, been. It is a loss of well-being.

That is the judgment and punishment of God. It is God allowing a person to walk away from life and love and everything that makes them fully human and fully alive.

God can’t force a person to receive or reciprocate love, or force a person to want a better life for themselves. And even though God can visualize, and even longs for, a person to live in greater wholeness and enjoy the loving community of others, it can still be refused.

But the fundamental difference between our life experience now compared to our life experience in the new creation is faith.

While faith in the present is the belief in things unseen, in the new creation there will no longer be faith. We will finally be in the presence of God’s love-essence and will no longer need to have faith in what is unseen because it will be fully revealed. While humanity has walked in dark shadows, grasping the walls in faith to find our way forward in God, in the new creation we will finally see and experience this love with no need for faith.

What we have only tasted in part in the present, will be fully realized in the Age to Come.

And I wonder, in light of this fully realized future reality, who will be able to stand before this cosmically-sized love of God without being completely transformed?

In my opinion, no one.

That’s why I believe all will ultimately be saved.

I imagine each of us falling to their knees and saying, “My God, my God. I never knew.”

For our God is a consuming fire. And it is this love-essence that cleanses, purifies, and brings to the surface the truth of our lives and who we have been. It’s no wonder that John the Baptist said that there would be one after him who would baptize with fire.

For it is in this fire where one faces opportunities lost and injustices inflicted in their lifetime and views them in light of God’s eternal love. This experience may elicit anguish, consuming sorrow, and shame, but surrounded by the loving kindness of God, it is also the place where self-reflection and contemplation meet and transformation begins.

And in the distance is the loving community of God with gates and arms open wide. Like the father awaiting his long lost son, they are all standing united at the city gate welcoming home every prodigal, reminding them that they have always been worthy, they have always been loved, and that they have always belonged.*

If you are having trouble with this idea that God will be generous in mercy in the Age to Come, it is for this reason that Jesus told the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.

In this parable, the landowner paid the same amount to those hired late in the day, as he did those who had worked all day. As you can imagine, this angered those who had been working all day. But in response to their anger, the landowner asks them if it is not lawful for him to do with his money as he wishes. He then calls out their agony at his generosity.

The point of the story is to be joyous when God surprises us by rewarding everyone equally, even when others join in at the last moment, even when they miss all of the work in the vineyard, and only drink the wine at the Wedding Feast.

So whether it is in this parable, or in any other parable or teaching that reveals the wisdom of God, it never makes sense to our limited human wisdom. Our every inclination in trying to understanding the way God works has always been wrong. God’s kingdom-ethic is always upside-down and always antithetical to our ways.

So as the overwhelming majority of Christians believe that 95% of all humankind will burn in Hell for eternity at the hands of a retributive God, I am inclined to go with the God of unconvention, the God of surprises, the God of restoration.

The God who says that the ways of human beings are not his ways. The God that cares more deeply about the integrity of the heart than religious pretense or ritual. The God that partners with and elevates the outcast, marginalized, and stigmatized as the greatest in his Kingdom. The God that takes the seat of least importance in the back of the room rather than the seat of honor in the front. The God that leads by serving. The God that blesses when cursed. The God that turns the other cheek when hit. The God that forgives when being tortured. The God that loves by dying. The God that wins by losing.

I am putting all of my chips in on that God.

The God that just might have the audacity to restore EVERYTHING and have mercy on EVERYONE, even and especially when the so-called wisdom of the overwhelming majority says that it should all be destroyed by fire and sent to Hell.

And if this is really who God is, who will we be in the Age to Come?

Will we be angry and indignant at the unending patient mercies of God to redeem everything and everyone? Will we be the accusers who say, “But not that person! They don’t deserve it!” (Even though we all know that none of us deserve it). Will we be the people who gnash our teeth because we refuse to ever be in community with that person, that group, that nationality, that race?

Or, will we be on tippy-toe among the crowds lining the streets in celebration for the God who never abandons and who tirelessly seeks out the one? Will we be standing at the gate with our arms open wide joyously welcoming every person home into this community of shalom? Will we be standing among the multitudes in exaltation as Christ baptizes them in the Lake of Fire and then raises them up transformed as a new creation in this resurrection life?

For it is in this, the greatest story ever told, that God will be all in all. For every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, but it will not be as a result of fear or threats of punishment of Hell, but because of the goodness and mercy of God and a love that reveals and transforms the hardest heart. We are not being saved from Hell, but being invited into the love of God. And it is in this love that every disparate part, in heaven and on earth, will be brought back together in wholeness and unity and harmony.

This is the renewal of all things.
This is the restoration of all things.
This is the reconciliation of all things.

This is salvation for all people.

And behold, all things are made new!

Peace and love…

Brandon

 

*I believe the model for this is in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 2: 5-8, Paul writes, “If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”

 

Additional Quotes from the New Testament and Early Church Fathers

We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life. – Clement of Alexandria

Our Savior has appointed two kinds of resurrection in the Apocalypse. ‘Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection,’ for such come to grace without the judgment. As for those who do not come to the first, but are reserved unto the second resurrection, these shall be disciplined until their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection. – Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397 A.D.)

All men are Christ’s, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, not of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all? – Clement of Alexandria

In the liberation of all no one remains a captive! At the time of the Lord’s passion the devil alone was injured by losing all the of the captives he was keeping. – Didymus, 370 AD

Mankind, being reclaimed from their sins, are to be subjected to Christ in he fullness of the dispensation instituted for the salvation of all. – Didymus the Blind

For the wicked there are punishments, not perpetural, however, lest the immortality prepared for them should be a disadvantage, but they are to be purified for a brief period according to the amount of malice in their works. They shall therefore suffer punishment for a short space, but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them…the penalties to be inflicted for their many and grave sins are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the mercy to be showed to them. – Diodore of Tarsus, 320-394 A.D.

The Son “breaking in pieces” His enemies is for the sake of remolding them, as a potter his own work; as Jeremiah 18;6 says: i.e., to restore them once again to their former state. –Eusebius of Caesarea (65 to 340 A.D). – Bishop of Caesarea

These, if they will, may go Christ’s way, but if not let them go their way. In another place perhaps they shall be baptized with fire, that last baptism, which is not only painful, but enduring also; which eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice. – Gregory of Nyssa, 335 to 390, Oracles 39:19

For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, when every creature shall have been made one body.” He also says elsewhere, “Wherefore, that at the same time liberty of free-will should be left to nature and yet the evil be purged away, the wisdom of God discovered this plan; to suffer man to do what he would, that having tasted the evil which he desired, and learning by experience for what wretchedness he had bartered away the blessings he had, he might of his own will hasten back with desire to the first blessedness …either being purged in this life through prayer and discipline, or after his departure hence through the furnace of cleansing fire. – Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390

Wherefore, that at the same time liberty of free-will should be left to nature and yet the evil be purged away, the wisdom of God discovered this plan; to suffer man to do what he would, that having tasted the evil which he desired, and learning by experience for what wretchedness he had bartered away the blessings he had, he might of his own will hasten back with desire to the first blessedness …either being purged in this life through prayer and discipline, or after his departure hence through the furnace of cleansing fire. – Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390

So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is “all in all.” And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be “all in all” – Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3

In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one. – St. Jerome, 331-420

It appears to me that there is a deed that the Holy Trinity shall do on the last day, and when that deed shall be done and how it shall be done is unknown to all creatures under Christ, and shall be until it has been done. — This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from eternity, treasured up and hidden in his blessed breast, only known to himself, and by this deed he shall make all things well; for just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity shall make all well that is not well. – Julian of Norwich, 13th Century Christian Mystic

I know that most persons understand by the story of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures. – Jerome, 331-420

And all people will see God’s salvation. – Jesus, Gospel of Luke

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. – Jesus, Gospel of John

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. – Paul, Letter to the Corinthians

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. – Paul, Letter to the Corinthians

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. – Paul, Colossians

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. – Paul, Romans

For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. – Paul, Romans

As a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Paul, Letter to the Ephesians

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. – Paul, Letter to Timothy

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. – Paul, Letter of Titus

That in the world to come, those who have done evil all their life long, will be made worthy of the sweetness of the Divine bounty. For never would Christ have said, “You will never get out until you hqave paid the last penny” unless it were possible for us to get cleansed when we paid the debt. – Peter Chrysologus, 435

I am of the opinion that He is going to manifest some wonderful outcome, a matter of immense and ineffable compassion on the part of the glorious Creator, with respect to the ordering of this difficult matter of (Gehenna’s) torment: out of it the wealth of His love and power and wisdom will become known all the more—and so will the insistent might of the waves of his goodness. – St. Isaac the Syrian

The Word seems to me to lay down the doctrine of the perfect obliteration of wickedness, for if God shall be in all things that are, obviously wickedness shall not be in them. For it is necessary that at some time evil should be removed utterly and entirely from the realm of being. – St. Macrina the Blessed

The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard Him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of His grace. – Theodore of Mopsuestia, 350-428

In the present life God is in all, for His nature is without limits, but he is not all in all. But in the coming life, when mortality is at an end and immortality granted, and sin has no longer any place, God will be all in all. For the Lord, who loves man, punishes medicinally, that He may check the course of impiety. – Theodoret the Blessed, 387-458

HELL 7

This series must be read in order. Begin with HELL 1 here.

One must understand the end toward which we are moving with God in order to interpret and understand the points along the biblical narrative’s trajectory.

In other words, if a person believes that eternity in Hell is the end toward which the majority of people throughout history are heading, then it is only natural that they would interpret specific words, phrases, teachings, and parables in the Bible toward that end.

But, what if there is an end toward which we are moving that isn’t eternity in Hell?

And what if this end is the interpretive lens that will help us understand specific words, phrases, teachings, and parables in the Bible differently?  

I would suggest the end toward which we are moving, that is in line with the prophetic vision throughout scripture, has always been the restoration of all things.

It is the realization of a renewed cosmos in which God will be all in all, in which death will no longer prevail, and whole and healed individuals and relationships will flourish.

It is the belief that, at the right time, all things in heaven and earth will be brought together into perfect unity in the Christ, also known as the reconciliation of all things.

And this makes the goal of God’s justice restorative in nature, rather than retributive.

When I was in college and dating Jenny (who is now my wife), there was a Friday night in which we were planning to hang out. As the minutes, and then the hours, began to pass, I became increasingly impatient, frustrated, and angry that she was taking so long, not answering my phone calls, and basically ruining our Friday.

But after several hours of waiting in my room with no response, there was finally a knock at my door. And as she walked in, my anger was evident. I was fuming mad and peppering her with a litany of questions.

Where have you been?
What have you been doing?
Why are you so late?
Why didn’t you answer my calls?

I am certain I wasn’t listening to anything she was saying. There wasn’t an answer that would satisfy my anger.

But then, instead of trying to answer my questions, she just handed me a card.

And it wasn’t just any card.

It was a card that she had meticulously and patiently and lovingly crafted for me over the three previous hours. And it detailed, in overwhelming specificity, all the memorable moments we had shared together as a couple and how much she loved me.

I got very silent.

Like stick-my-foot-in-my-mouth silent.

And then, despite my anger and bewilderment, and the fact that it would have been easier for her to simply withhold the card, or just break up with me because I didn’t come close to deserving the card, she demonstrated her unwavering love by giving it to me anyway.

My anger turned to regret.

And it was her kindness, not her justified retaliation, that made me see my ugliness. It was her kindness, despite how I violated our relationship, that changed my heart.

When you are confronted with the reality of an undeserved kindness, it can be transformative.

And that is what we find in one of the most misunderstood parables of the Bible- The Rich Man and Lazarus. Many have used this moral story as a definitive proof text for eternity in Hell, but it is far from it.

In the parable are two characters- the rich man and Lazarus.

From the grave, or after his death, the rich man is confronted with how he treated Lazarus, a poor beggar, during his life. Upon facing the truth of how poorly he treated him, he was filled with sorrow.

So what do we know about this parable?

The rich man represents Israel. We know this because, in the last line, Father Abraham says to the rich man, “If [your brothers] do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded, even if someone rises from the dead.”

And like the majority of Jesus’ parables, this parable is an indictment of the arrogant religious leaders of Israel for how they viewed themselves and how they viewed and treated others. But more importantly, the parable is teaching them the necessity for living righteously in the present.

A few things to note.

In this parable we find words like Hadestorment and suffering.

So it seems pretty obvious that this parable is telling us about what eternity in Hell is like, right?

Not so fast.

What if I told you that, in facing the truth of his life, the rich man is being tested and refined? And what if I told that he is not being tormented by a wrathful God, but transformed and restored into a right relationship with God and others? And what if I told you that what he is experiencing is not suffering, but rather the pain of regret and the consuming sorrow of facing this truth about himself?

Well, that is what the biblical text actually suggests.

The rich man is experiencing odynáō, which is a Greek word that means consuming sorrow, not physical suffering.

More importantly, the word básanos, which is translated as torture in this parable, means a touchstone. A touchstone is a black silicon tablet, like slate, that is used to test the purity of soft metals.

To me, this implies that there is a process one goes through to determine the quality of one’s life.

Absolutely fascinating.

This reminds me of Paul’s words to the Corinthians when he writes:

Each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it is revealed (or tested) by fire, and the fire will prove what kind of work each person’s is. If the work that someone has built endures, he will receive a reward; If anyone’s work should be burned away, he will suffer loss, yet he shall be saved, though so as by fire.

Interestingly, this is exactly what we find in another parable referred to as the Unmerciful Servant.

For context, Peter asks Jesus how many times a person ought to be forgiven. Jesus responds that we should not simply forgive seven times, but rather forgive “seventy times seven,” which is a direct reference to The Year of Jubilee within Judaism.

According to Jewish law, the Israelites were instructed to celebrate a Sabbath year at the beginning of every seventh year. This meant that every seventh year the land, animals, and people were to be given a rest from work. It was a time for rejuvenation and replenishment.

And then, after seven cycles of seven Sabbath years (49 years) the people would celebrate by proclaiming freedom throughout the land, returning land to their original owners, and cancelling all debts. The poor would no longer be oppressed and all slaves would be set free.

This was The Year of Jubilee.

It was a time of resetting and righting inequities and injustices.

So what about a cycle of 70 Jubilees times seven?

Theologian NT Wright writes, “That sounds like the Jubilee of Jubilees! So, though 490 years—nearly half a millennium—is indeed a long time, the point is this: when the time finally arrives, it will be the greatest ‘redemption’ of all. This will be the time of real, utter, and lasting freedom.”

So to Peter, Jesus is suggesting that we keep forgiving until all is restored, that we keep forgiving until all is made right, that we keep forgiving until all are made free, that we keep forgiving until all are redeemed, and that we keep forgiving until every debt is paid.

That’s when he tells the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.

It is a story about a king who forgives the debt of a servant who owes him ten thousand talents, or about twenty years worth of wages. The servant then goes to a fellow servant who owes him significantly less money and demands that he repay it immediately. But because his fellow servant could not repay it, he threw him in prison.

Based upon the context in which this parable was told, with the Jubilee of Jubilees hovering closely in the background, where do you think this parable is heading?

How do you expect the king to now treat his servant who was unmerciful to the other servant? And if the king represents God, how do you expect God to treat those who unmerciful to others?

The way the story is typically translated and understood by Christians is that, like the King, God will torture people in Hell who are unmerciful to others.

But shockingly, guess which word shows up in this parable?

Básanos.

It says that the king, in his settled, controlled anger (orgē), hands the slave over to the inquisitor, not to be tortured, but to face the truth of who he had become and to test the quality of his life until the debt is repaid.

But see, that is the kicker. What debt needs to be repaid to God?

The only debt that needs repaid is love.

In the context of the Jubilee of Jubilees, or in light of the “greatest redemption,” we know that God is a God of forgiving all debts in love, forgiving until all is restored in love, forgiving until all is made right in love, forgiving until all are made free in love, and forgiving until all are redeemed in love.

And that is the thing about facing the refining fire of God’s love, or facing the inquisitor, or being salted with fire, it reveals the truth of who we are and how we have treated others. But, it is not for the sake of retribution and punishment. It is for the sake of individual transformation and wholly restoring a person into a right relationship with God and with others.

And to be honest, that’s why so many Christians misunderstand so many passages throughout the New Testament, because they read it as if the whole point is wrath and punishment rather than forgiveness, mercy, and restoration.

For instance, many Christians read Romans 9, not as a set of rhetorical questions that Paul is asking as a part of a larger thought, but as an apocalyptic horror story read without context in which God creates objects of wrath for the purpose of destruction.

I, however, read the larger thought of Romans 9-11 as a fitting end to the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

It is about how God’s kindness and mercy will ultimately prevail and lead to Israel’s restoration, despite her unrighteousness.

In fact, Romans 11 ends by stating that, despite everyone’s disobedience and unrighteousness, God has “mercy on them all.

Imagine that.

Whether it is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus or the King and the Unmerciful Servant, or whether it is Jesus’ words about forgiveness and the Jubilee of Jubilees or Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, what we consistently find woven throughout every word and every account is a forgiving and merciful God who is always working for the restoration of people and relationships, who is always working toward Eden, who is always working toward shalom.

And it is this kindness of God that leads to repentance and transformation and whole and healed relationships.

Just like Jenny’s kindness when I didn’t deserve it.

It was her forgiveness and mercy that helped me see the truth of who I was and what I had become. Sure it produced a grief and sorrow within me that was painful to face. But it led to my own transformation and then to a restoration of our relationship… and then to a beautiful marriage with three kids.

The truth is that some people are able to discover the kindness and mercy of God, and then face the reality of who they have become. Some sooner than others. Some even be in this lifetime.

But whether it’s now or sometime in the future, we all will face the consuming fire of God’s love. But it’s not the fire of Hell for eternity we have been threatened with our whole lives.

I know a few of you were salivating and licking your chops, imagining that I left Hades dangling without address. No worries though. In HELL 8, we will finally get to HELL. Yes, we are going to go there. All the way.

Peace…

Brandon

HELL 3

If you haven’t read HELL 1 and HELL 2, please start here.

In my previous post, I called into question the idea of God sending people to an eternity burning in Hell, also known as Eternal Conscious Torment.

As you can imagine, there were many responses and questions to the post.

There were those who asked, “What about God’s judgment?” And others who asked, “Are you saying that anything goes then?”

All great questions.

And while we will get to those questions later in the series, the most prominent and important question that will actually help us begin navigating this topic of Hell is, “If there is no Hell, then why did Jesus have to die on the cross?”

For those who asked that question, there is an inextricable connection between the cross and Hell.

Within this framework, the cross is the only thing that keeps people from going to Hell, because it is where God’s anger and wrath were directed on Jesus rather than us. Jesus literally absorbed all of God’s anger toward us because of our sins and, as a result, saved us from God’s judgment and sentence to Hell for eternity.

Deep breath.

If you go to any church service on any given Sunday or hang out with Christians long enough, you will very likely hear something like this, “Thank you Jesus for what you did on the cross for us.”

And what that means is, “Thank you Jesus for dying on the cross to save me from my sins.”

Growing up in church, I heard all about sin. I sang all the songs about how the only thing that would “wash away my sins” was the “blood of Jesus.” And I was told that I needed to be saved from my sins so that I wouldn’t go to Hell when I die.

I had this idea that there were these sins that were infecting me and I was a terrible person for letting them do their bad work in me.

And if it wasn’t the old hymns that I sang that continued to tell me how “full of sin” I was and how I needed to “be made clean,” it was the Apostle Paul writing in Romans about how sin “rules” me and “enslaves” me. That sin “seized” the opportunity and “sprang to life” in me. That sin was “living” in me and “putting [me] to death.”

The implication was that these entities, these sins, were active and alive and doing something to me. And that to be “saved,” I needed to be washed of these sins that I have allowed to rule, reign, enslave, deceive, and kill me.

The thing we failed to recognize was that Paul was a writer who used literary devices to teach people and help them understand difficult concepts. In fact, after the section in which he uses personification to bring the concept of sin to life, he writes, “I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations.”

Paul straight up tells the people that he is using literary language since they are having a hard time understanding sin.

Paul anthropomorphizes sin, or gives it human characteristics, as a teaching tool.

But as modern day readers, we have a real tendency to read ancient Scriptures flatly and at face-value, taking everything literally. And as a result, we have taken this literary language and created theologies and doctrines about sin as an entity that infects us and enslaves us and that needs to be cleaned, cured, washed away, and put into remission.

All the while, we have been told that we are horrible wretches who deserve God’s wrath, punishment, and Hell because of our sins. And then, we have turned Jesus and the cross into a cosmic magic trick to take away these sins, these dark stains, these evil blemishes so that we will be saved from God’s wrath and escape the flames of Hell.

But of course,  I have a few questions about all of this.

What if this narrative has been wrong all along? What if our misunderstanding of Paul’s literary language led us to certain conclusions about sin that were just plain wrong? What if sin isn’t something that has to be cured or put into “remission” in order to save us from Hell? What if sin is something else entirely? And what if an accurate understanding of it will help us understand what Hell really is?

I don’t know about you, but I am eager to find out.

I have previously written about the original Greek word for sin, hamartia, and that it means to be without a share in, or to miss the mark, or to stray. As you have heard before, it is a Greek archery term that indicates “missing the mark.” It is a relational position. In fact, to go a bit deeper, the root words for hamartia are- a/ (not) and /meros (a part, share of), which I find absolutely fascinating.

The word hamartia indicates that in our relational disunion with God, we are not taking part in our part or share of this abundance.

THAT IS THE DEFINITION OF SIN.

And it sounds a whole lot different than everything we’ve been told.

When we live out of our relational disunion with that which is LIFE and LOVE, namely God, our lives begin to look less than LIFE and LOVE. And that is truly what SIN is. It is living out of disunion with God.

Sin is NOT a thing. Nor is it an entity that infects us. It is a position of disunion out of which we begin to live our lives. And our sins are simply an outflow of this broken relationship. So when you hear a line like, “For the wages of sin is death,” it is not talking about an entity that infects us and causes us to die. Rather, it is the price we pay for living in disunion from the One who gives life.  

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that God’s intention for us has never been about sending us to Heaven or Hell because of our “sins.”

God’s intention has always been welcoming us back into a relationship, into union. It has always been about reconciliation, or bringing each of us back together with God in wholeness (shalom). It has always been about God offering us life in an abundant relationship and longing for us to enjoy our portion of this abundance.

You don’t believe me? Let’s look at a few parables and stories of Jesus. Because what you will discover is absolutely, positively mind-blowing. And I promise you have never looked at sin, the cross, or the idea of Hell from this perspective.

Read the next post in this series HELL 4 here

Peace,

Brandon