We have reached the end of our summer Elephant in the Pew series and our final questions are once again about Hell. They are: If God forgives everyone, then why does hell exist? ...and What is the nature of hell?
Hell is one of those topics that we love and hate to talk about. There are movies and TV shows that depict the end of the world and what the punishments of hell might be like. We all have opinions about Hell – whether it truly exists, what it might be like, and who should go there and for what reason.
There has been a lot of debate by the scholars as to whether or not Hell is real. It seems that we could debate the topic ourselves, because it was on our list last year during our Elephant series, too.
Many believe that hell is very real, and that we are all in danger of ending up there if we don’t repent and change our ways. Others believe that hell was created as a scare tactic centuries ago to try and keep the population in check and easier to manage – and therefore irrelevant in today’s world.
When we look at scripture, we will find texts that support both sides, and how you read those texts can sway you one way or another. Logically, it’s hard to say what is true or not, because there is no tangible proof one way or the other. Plus, we don’t know anyone who has been there and came back to tell about it. There are no stories of individuals having near death experiences saying that they have been to hell. We only have stories of “heaven” encounters. The happy, light filled, family reunion, walk with Jesus stories. We don’t have anything that proves there is another possibility, a darker possibility. So, that could mean a few things:
Reality is all humans are imperfect, we all sin (do wrong) in some way or another – and some of us more boldly than others. If you were to read Dante’s inferno, you would, most likely, find a place for yourself within his 9 circles of hell, and a description of the torment or punishment you are destined for.
Yet, as Christians, we are reminded that Jesus’ death on the cross made it possible for us to avoid eternal punishment. We are assured that we will be able to reside with God in eternal joy and peace – if we profess our faith in God.
In this life, humanity has created a system of laws that help keep our behaviors “in check” or “balance”. We know that there are consequences for our negative actions and behaviors here on earth. Yet what about once our bodies give out? Are there eternal consequences for the way we live in spite of our profession of faith?
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells us there are consequences for our actions and our inactions:
34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” AND
41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me…
Jesus tells both - “Truly I tell you, just as you did/did not do it to one of the least of these, you did/did not do it to me. 46And (those who did not do) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous (those who did) into eternal life.”
The majority of scholars agree that Hell, in part, is life without God, or living outside of the presence of God. Without a relationship with our creator, without a connection to the source of all life, we will eventually wither and die. That in itself is an eternal punishment.
What is the duration of our punishment? Is the “punishment” for eternity, as the Matthew text states, or is it for a shorter period of time?
Again, the Bible has texts on both sides. Such as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah – 2 real towns located on the southern tip of the Dead Sea, their physical destruction was a once a done thing. You can see the remnants of them still today. So there “eternal” destruction is symbolic for a punishment that has eternal consequences (Reagan). It is meant to be a warning to others as to what will happen if you live a certain way. For people who live near the remnants of these 2 cities, the warning is still very real.
Since our roots come from the Jewish tradition, I looked for information on what they truly believe about Hell. I found the train of thought from the Chabad Lubavitch, a Hasidic spiritual revival movement within the Jewish tradition, very interesting. When asked if Jews believe in Hell, one individual responded in this way:
“We believe in a type of hell. Hell is not a punishment in the conventional sense; it is, in fact, the expression of a great kindness.” Punishment as kindness, really? How so? I wondered. I understand that parents punish their children out of love and to help them learn proper behavior, what not to do so they won’t be hurt, etc., but to see punishment as a kindness? That’s a stretch.
The article continued to say, that “The Jewish mystics describe a spiritual placed called Gehinnom – usually translated as “hell,” but a better translation would be the Supernatural Washing Machine. Because that’s exactly how it works. The way our soul is cleansed in Gehinnom is similar to the way our clothes are cleansed in a washing machine.”
Let’s take a sock for example: “If you were a sock and thrown into boiling hot water and flung around for half an hour, you might start to feel that someone doesn’t like you.”
Yet, “We don’t put socks in the washing machine to punish them. We put them through what seems like a rough and painful procedure only to make them clean and wearable again. The intense heat of the water loosens the dirt, and the force of being swirled around shakes it off completely. Far from hurting your socks, you are doing them a favor by putting them through this process.
So, too, with the soul. Every act we do in our lifetime leaves an imprint on our soul. The good we do brightens and elevates our soul, and every wrongdoing leaves a stain that needs to be cleansed. If at the end of our life, we leave this world without fixing the wrongs we have done, our soul is unable to reach its place of rest on high. We must go through a cycle of deep cleansing. Our soul is flung around at an intense spiritual heat to rid it of any residue it may have gathered, and to prepare it for entry into Heaven.
Of course, this whole process can be avoided. If we truly regret the wrong we have done and make amends with the people we have hurt, we can leave this world with clean socks” (Moss) and hearts.
Wow, now that’s an interesting thought. “Every act we do (or don’t do) in our lifetime leaves an imprint on our soul. The good we do brightens and elevates our soul, and every wrongdoing leaves a stain that needs to be cleansed.” I think that is one of the best explanations I have heard yet for the connection between the cause and lasting effects of how we choose to live.
We all recognize that we have some “dirty laundry” in our lives. Things that we need to do some cleaning on. Maybe it’s well hidden, but often it’s still there just like a stinky, dirty pair of socks left forgotten on the bottom of the laundry bag. It can hide for a while, but eventually it will come out.
With this thought in mind:
My friends, no matter where you are on your spiritual journey, know that God is on your side and willing to guide you and help you along the way. Remember…..nothing is impossible with and through God.
May it be so….. AMEN
Moss, Aron, article Do Jews Believe in Hell? Printed on https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1594422/jewish/Do-Jews-Believe-In-Hell.htm
Alighieri, Dante, “The Divine Comedy” translated by Allen Mandelbaum. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House/New York, NY, 1995
Considine, Kevin P., article Faith in Real Life, published on www.uscatholic.org/print/30965
Reagan, David R. (Dr), article The Nature of Hell, printed on christinprophecy.org/articles/the-nature-of-hell/
Psalm 11 Song of Trust in God
1 In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me, ‘Flee like a bird to the mountains; 2 for look, the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart. 3 If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?’
4 The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven. His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind. 5 The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence. 6 On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulphur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. 7 For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
Romans 6:15-23 Slaves of Righteousness
15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Here we are in week 4 of our Elephant in the Pew Series and our question is: Where did Adam and Eve go after they left the Garden?
The Bible is pretty cryptic about the life of Adam and Eve after they are kicked out of the Garden of Eden. In fact, it tells us nothing about where they go, other than the fact that God “drove out the man” and that God placed cherubim with flaming swords east of the Garden of Eden to prevent Adam and Eve from having access to the tree of life (v24).
The Bible goes on to tell us of the birth of two of Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel. We can also read of Abel’s death at the hands of his brother Cain.
This is the beginning of humanity’s downfall into a life of major depravity that eventually leads to the flood and the destruction of everything and everyone who is not with Noah and his family on the ark.
So, within scripture, we span several generations and centuries of life in a matter of a few pages and chapters, and that leaves plenty of room for speculation. We aren’t told about many of the details of life. Naturally, we want to know all the details.
Well, Googled the topic and looked through my commentaries – especially the Jewish ones – and there isn’t a lot out there that seems to tell us the “story” of Adam and Eve’s life after the garden.
On Amazon, I found a few resources. One that seemed to fill in some of the blanks is “The First & Second Books of Adam and Eve – the Forgotten Books of Eden Series,” edited by Rutherford H. Platt, Jr, in 1926.
Platt indicates that his writing “is simply a version of a myth or belief or account handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation of mankind…… This is the most ancient story in the world – it has survived because it embodies the basic fact of human life…the conflict of Good and Evil; the fight between Man and the Devil; the eternal struggle of human nature against sin” (p5). While found in the works of numerous near East, ancient writers, this version given in Platt’s book “is the work of unknown Egyptians. Parts of this version are found in the Talmud, the Koran, and elsewhere, showing what a vital role it played in the original literature of human wisdom” (p6).
A 2nd resource I found is entitled, “The Life of Adam and Eve,” which is translated from a Latin text, Vita Adae et Evae” and has been translated by B. Custis with the assistance of G. Anderson and R. Layton. This translation from the Latin has a lot of similarities to Platt’s text.
Platt writes how Adam and Eve, once driven from the garden were led to a new residence called the Cave of Treasures, where they were to live out their days.
For Adam and Eve, moving into the cave was like moving to a different country for us. The land beyond the gates of the garden were very different. They “saw the broad earth spread before them, covered with stones large and small, and with sand” (Platt, p11). Definitely not the lush almost tropical like environment that they had been living in.
According to Platt, every new experience, every little change brought a couple of responses from Adam and Eve:
To better understand, we need to look at Genesis 2:4-25, where we read about the life of Adam and Eve in the Garden in a bit more detail. In this portion of the extended creation story, we see the deep and communal relationship that God has with them. God visits them daily, spending time walking and talking with them. They forge a deep bond together. That bond is severely tested on a particular day when the seeds of doubt and of independence are sown within Eve’s heart and mind when Satan, in the guise of a serpent entices her to try the fruit of the Tree of Life – which God had pointedly forbidden them to eat. Upon tasting the forbidden fruit, Eve’s and Adam’s eyes are opened, they receive knowledge of right from wrong just like the divine beings. And, just like for us today, Adam and Eve learned there were consequences – harsh and lasting ones – for their disobedience and rebellious actions.
After their expulsion from the Garden, in Platt’s writings, we see that God continues to look out for and provide for Adam and Eve. God doesn’t break the relationship even though they have disobeyed God’s commands. The relationship continues, but in a slightly different way.
Platt tells us how Adam and Eve’s days are filled with trying to regain their former place within the garden. They beg God for forgiveness and to let them back in. God patiently, but firmly tells them that their exile will last 5,000 and 500 years, and they would not be readmitted into the garden, God’s kingdom, until the time when “One would then come and save him (Adam) and his seed (children)” (Platt, p12).
Platt tells us that approximately 7 months pass from the time that Adam and Eve were walked out of the Garden for them to come to terms with the fact that they will not be returning to the Garden anytime soon. Throughout those 7 months, Adam and Eve spend most of their time grieving, praying, worshiping, fasting, and begging God for forgiveness.
Also, during those 7 months, Platt indicates that Satan does his best to tempt and further separate Adam and Eve from God’s way. He appears in numerous disguises, plays various tricks on them, and while Adam and Eve start to fall for some of them, God intervenes and “rescues” them over and over. When trickery doesn’t work, Satan tries – and fails – numerous times to kill them.
One thing remained consistent throughout Adam and Eve’s time away from the Garden – God is always with them. At no time did God abandon them. In spite of what they had done, God continued to provide all that they needed – shelter, safety, food (once they are ready to eat it), a place to work, and eventually children to bless their lives.
According to Platt, it was 223 days, or 7 months and 13 days from the time they left the Garden, before Adam and Eve began to start a family (p172), or to “be fruitful and multiply” as God told them to do upon their creation.
Here in Platt’s writings, we find out that Eve gave birth to not just the boys we are familiar with, but at least 2 girls as well. Cain was born along with a twin sister named Luluwa. When the twins were 40 days old, Adam and Eve made an offering to God on behalf of their son; and at 80 days they made an offering on behalf of their daughter.
A couple of years later, Eve gives birth to Abel and his twin sister Aklia. Following their birth, Adam and Eve repeated the cycle of offerings and blessings before God for their new son and daughter.
As the children grew older and stronger, Platt says that Cain was hard-hearted and continually disobedient to their father, while Abel was meek and obedient to Adam. It is said that Cain ruled over Abel.
As the children aged, Satan makes a reappearance and tries to lead both of the young men astray. Abel repels Satan’s efforts by praying to God, who responds and drives Satan away. But, Cain became susceptible to Satan’s manipulations. He believed Satan when he is told that their parents love Abel more than him (Platt, p179-180).
That sounds familiar. Not much has changed in family life today. Sibling rivalry is still strong, and often one child feels less loved than another.
Unfortunately, Platt tells us that the evil one (Satan) remained in the heart of Cain, and worked on him until his jealousy overcomes him. And at the age of 17 ½, he ends up killing his younger brother Abel (15). Why? Because God seemed to favor Abel over him – the first born. As a result of Cain’s jealous and violent actions, he is punished. The most difficult part of his punishment was his permanent removal from God’s presence.
Platt tells us that it is 7 years after the death of Abel that Eve conceives and gives birth to their 3rd son, Seth.
In a lot of ways, not much has changed since Adam and Eve’s time. Life is not easy for us. Families often have difficulties, and relationships are broken apart. We often feel that we live outside of God’s presence, yet in reality, God is merely waiting for us to open our hearts and minds and invite God back into our lives.
Scholars claim that we, like Adam and Eve, are always seeking to return to life in the Garden. We are grieving the loss of our deep and abiding connection with God. We long for the carefree days of abundant blessing when our ancestors once lived inside God’s realm.
Today, we recognize that we are one step away from that Garden. As promised to Adam and Eve – the One, God’s Word made flesh, came to live among us, put on skin and lived within the parameters of human existence outside of the Garden, and died for us that we might be redeemed and find our way back home.
So….How do we return to life in the Garden? By making God our first priority. By opening the channels of communication and inviting God into our lives. By relying on God to provide for all our needs and guide us to live our best lives. By reclaiming our baptisms and our identity as God’s beloved children.
My friends, let today be your first day fully back in God’s presence.
May it be so…… AMEN
Genesis 3:8-13, 22-24
22 Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’— 23therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove out the man; and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
Platt Jr, Rutherford H., The First & Second Books of Adam and Eve – The Forgotten Books of Eden Series. Abela Publishing/London, UK, 2012.
Here we are at week 3 in our Elephant in the Pew Series. Over the last two weeks, we have talked about: Why bad things happen to good people, especially the innocents, and how God’s Grace is a true gift in our lives.
This week’s topic asks us to stop and think about the way we prioritize our lives and where God and our faith fits in them. So, let’s start by thinking about this:
What are your daily/regular tasks?
Do you bring God into your everyday life/routine?
If you were asked to choose, what would be your first priority?
Does it/do they always come first?
Most likely not. We might like to think it is that way, but reality tell us that our priorities can change as life changes – especially when there is a crisis, illness or emergency.
I want you to honestly think about this next question:
Where does God fit into your life - What # would you give God on your list of priorities?
Why does God fit below family – kids/spouse, even friends, etc.?
In our Matthew text Jesus tells us that God alone must come first in our lives. Yet, we know that there are very few people, if any, in the world who can claim that they always – always put God first.
Laine sent me this topic/question to me last year right after our Elephant series. She worded it like this: “I can’t claim that I love God more than my family. Shouldn’t God come first? The hierarchy for me is family and close friends, then God, then everything else. I’m sure I’m probably not the only one that feels this way. How should we navigate those feelings?”
This is a big question for each of us. It hits right to “How do we live faithful lives in the midst of our crazy busy schedules and world?” I think we can all relate to this, and as we just mentioned, for each of us, God doesn’t get the top slot in our priorities – BUT God does usually get within the top 5.
The moment I read Laine’s questions in her e-mail, the “safety speech” that you hear a flight attendant give popped into my mind – specifically the part about the oxygen masks. I feel it is a critical rule of thumb for us when we are looking to figure out where God should fit in our lives. It goes something like this:
In the event that cabin pressure changes and your oxygen mask drops from the compartment above you, please put on your oxygen mask before helping the person sitting next to you.
This seems totally counter-intuitive for a parent and most people who are “helpers,” like I am. How many of you would follow the instructions as given and help yourself before helping another more vulnerable person sitting next to or year you?
Why would you want to make sure you take care of your own need before you helped someone else - even your own child?
In the case of the oxygen mask, it’s pretty obvious when you really think about it – you can’t help anyone else if you can’t breathe.
Why should we consider the need to put God before even our children/spouse/partner?
Again, the answer seems simple again – yet is so difficult for us in practice: Without taking time to refresh and renew ourselves, we cannot be at full energy to help others. If all you ever do is GIVE to others and put others first, then what happens to you? You become empty. Even Jesus took time apart to pray and rest before he dove back into meeting the needs of the people around him.
So, where, when do you go to be replenished? Who gives to you?
Just think how much easier your days and life would be if you spent a few minutes a day being replenished by God and inviting God into your life – into your concerns, fears, disagreements, moments of hurt – rather than going it alone and focusing on solely meeting others’ needs.
This quote by St. Francis de Sales is a great reminder for all of us: Everyone needs at least 30 minutes a day in prayer, unless you are busy – then you need 1 hour.
I know that some of you are thinking that “I’m too busy to give God that much of my time.” I get it – really, I do. Sometimes I find myself falling into that mentality – the type A: I’ve got too much to do, I’m the only one who can do it, and it must get done as quickly as possible – so I put my head down and push through the tasks until the list is cleared. Yet, because I don’t take time for myself, it’s harder than it has to be. I find myself feeling more stressed, anxious, and tired. I get cranky, I’m not truly able to be fully present to others, and I often end up run down and/or sick at the end of the list.
So, over the last few years, I have been intentionally carving out time for “self-care” and time to spend with God. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, or needs to be taken all at once. I find that spreading out my connection with God throughout the day helps a lot. I’ve learned to keep it simple.
What does God offer us that could really help us get through our daily challenges – of being a parent, being a spouse/partner, employee or boss, etc.?
My friends, the reality is that God is with us every second of every day. It’s is we who push God away or down in our lives believing that we can go it alone. Putting God first is not difficult. It may even be the easiest thing we ever do. Pushing God away and going it alone is the most difficult thing we do.
Just like relearning how to breathe properly, putting God first must be a conscious, intentional, and mindful act in the beginning. With practice, it will quickly become an unconscious act as we come to accept that God is and always will be with us.
We will begin to notice more quickly when we don’t invite God in – when we try to go it without breathing in God’s life-giving spirit and energy properly. When we try to rely on our own limited power and authority rather than letting God’s limitless resources take the lead.
So, my friends…..make God a habit. Start intentionally putting God first. Invite God into your everyday and immerse yourself in the renewed, refreshed life that only God can give you, and allow yourself to become the best person, parent, spouse/partner, friend, boss, employee, beloved child of God you were created to be.
May it be so….. AMEN