Going to Congress
When Lincoln was running for the House of Representatives from Illinois, he was charged with being “a scoffer at religion,” wrote the historian William J. Wolf, because he belonged to no church. During the campaign, Lincoln attended a sermon delivered by his opponent in the race, Reverend Peter Cartwright, a Methodist evangelist. At a dramatic moment in his performance, Cartwright said, “All who do not wish to go to hell will stand.”
Only Lincoln kept his seat. “May I inquire of you, Mr. Lincoln, where you are going?” the minister asked, glowering. “I am going to Congress” was the dry reply. When he was president, Lincoln also liked the story of a purported exchange about him and Jefferson Davis between two Quaker women on a train: “I think Jefferson will succeed,” the first said. “Why does thee think so?” “Because Jefferson is a praying man.” “And so is Abraham a praying man.” “Yes, but the Lord will think Abraham is joking.”
Heaven May Not Be Your Home If…
In some popular conceptions of the afterlife, God’s love gets reduced to unconditional affirmation. But in truth, God’s love is always a holy love and his heaven is an entirely holy place. Heaven is for those who conquer, for those who overcome the temptation to abandon Jesus Christ and compromise their faith (Rev. 21:7; see also Revelation 2–3).
“But,” Revelation 21:8 goes on to say, “as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” No matter what you profess, if you show disregard for Christ by giving yourself over to sin—impenitently and habitually—then heaven is not your home.
Hell and Gehenna
The word Gehenna is used by Jesus twelve times in the four Gospels. God’s first response to the belittlement of his name is this Greek word Gehenna, which we would translate “hell.” The interesting thing about the word Gehenna is that it is a reference to a ravine in the south side of Jerusalem where, about a hundred years before Jesus was born, there were these really odd kind of Blair-Witch–like murders going on. The Jews began to view this area as cursed. It basically became a trash heap or a dumping ground for Jerusalem.
When the pile got too big, they just set the whole thing on fire. Can you picture this? The word Gehenna conjures up a very vivid image: a stinking, smoldering place of destruction and neglect. When Jesus uses the word Gehenna, he’s saying, “It’s like this ravine, the valley of Haman; this is what I’m talking to you about.” The image to hold in our mind is putrid and repulsive; it is dead and deadly; it is smoldering when not blazing. It is utterly desolate, spiritually dark, and endlessly oppressive, and it is the established picture even in these extremes of the slightest falling short of God’s glory.
Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others…but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God “sending us” to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.
Hell in the Bible
First, Sheol in the Old Testament and Hades in the LXX and in Greco-Roman thought can be used to refer to both a general place for all the dead as well as a place of torment or consignment for the unrighteous. Second, this place was normally located under the earth, although it could also be referred to as “beyond the sea” or, in the case of the righteous dead, in the “third heaven.”
Third, over time, and especially during Second Temple Judaism, this general place of the dead was increasingly discussed in terms of its compartments, namely one for the righteous and another for the unrighteous. The former is often referred to as “paradise” and “Abraham’s bosom” in Second Temple literature, while the latter is referred to using terms like “Hades” and “Gehenna.” Tartarus, the prison for evil spirits, was also generally conceptualized as a lower portion of the unrighteous compartment of the dead.
Hot Down Here
A Minneapolis couple decided to go to Florida to thaw out during a particularly icy winter. They planned to stay at the same hotel where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier.
Because of their hectic schedules, it was difficult for the couple to coordinate their travel plans. So the husband left Minnesota and flew to Florida on Thursday, while his wife planned to fly down the following day.
The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room, so he decided to send an email to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter of her email address, and sent the email without realizing his error.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Houston, a widow had just returned home from her husband’s funeral. He was a Baptist minister who was called home to glory following a heart attack.
The widow decided to check her email, expecting condolence messages from family and friends.
But after reading her very first email, she screamed and fainted.
The widow’s son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read:
To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I’ve Arrived
Date: March 21, 2012
I know you’re surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send emails to your loved ones. I’ve just arrived and have been checked in.
I’ve seen that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then! Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was.
P. S. Sure is hot down here!!!
In his play No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre gives his own vision of hell. Two women and a man, doomed to perdition, enter a room that seems to threaten no torment. But they are sentenced to remain together in that same room for ever- without sleep and without eyelids.
All three enter with pretensions about their past. The man pretends that he was a hero of the revolution. In reality, he was killed in a train wreck when he tried to escape after betraying his comrades. The women have even more sordid lives. In the forced intimacy of the room their guilty secrets are all wrung out.
Nothing can be hidden, and nothing can be changed. Sartre’s imagination has well prepared us for his famous like, ‘Hell is other people.” But the moral of the play is the line of doom to which the drama moves: ‘You are- your life, and nothing else.”
Jean-Paul Sartre in Edmund Clowney’s The Message of 1 Peter, p 43.
N.T. Wright on the Possibility of Hell
It seems to me… that if it is possible … for human beings to choose to live more and more out of tune with the divine intention, to reflect the image of God less and less, there is nothing to stop them finally ceasing to bear that image, and so to be, as it were, beings who were once human but are not now.
Those who persistently refuse to follow Jesus… will by their own choice become less and less like him, that is, less and less truly human…I see nothing in the New Testament to make me reject the possibility that some, perhaps many, of God’s human creatures do choose, and will choose, to dehumanize themselves completely.
Nor do I see anything to make me suppose that God, who gave his human creatures the risky gift of freedom and choice, will not honour that choice…This, I think, is the way in which something like the traditional doctrine of hell can be restated in the present day.
The Parable of the Onion
Take Dostoyevsky’s fantastical parable of the onion. A very wicked woman dies and is tossed into the lake of fire. Her guardian angel devises a plan to rescue her. Because she was so wicked, the angel does not have much to work with—nothing, in fact, except for an onion the woman once pulled out of her garden and gave to a beggar. The angel asks God if this good deed might be enough to get her out of hell.
And God has a mediating proposal: “You take that onion…hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold of it and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.
It’s a deal!
So the angel stands on the shore of the lake of fire, holds out the onion, and tells her to catch hold so she can be pulled out. She does and is almost free when everyone else in the lake sees what is happening and grabs hold of her feet, so they can be pulled out with her. Because she is a very wicked woman, she begins thrashing about.
Kicking them off, yelling, I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion…not yours ” And as soon as she says this, the onion breaks in half and she falls back into the lake of fire, where she remains to this day. Take care of who you’re becoming. You might have to live with yourself forever.
Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer p.130. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
The Samurai and the Zen Master
A belligerent samurai . . . once challenged a Zen master to explain the concept of heaven and hell. But the monk replied with scorn, “You’re nothing but a lout—I can’t waste my time with the likes of you.” His very honor attacked, the samurai flew into a rage and, pulling his sword from its scabbard, yelled, “I could kill you for your impertinence!”
“That,” the monk calmly replied, “is hell.” Startled at seeing the truth in what the master pointed out about the fury that had him in its grip, the samurai calmed down, sheathed his sword, and bowed, thanking the monk for the insight. “And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”
Thy Will be Done
There are only two kinds of people—those who say “Thy will be done” to God or those to whom God in the end says, “ Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Hell. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!