Inspired by the documentary Kumaré, we decided to have a discussion from a Christian perspective.
Let’s consider this as episode zero of a future podcast!
Jason Boyett starts out by deconstructing many of our cultural associations with hell, pointing, not incorrectly, to Dante.
But is our imagined hell accurate? That is, does it jive with what the Bible really says? That’s the question I asked as I began researching my book Pocket Guide to the Afterlife. The answers were surprising.
While trying to ground his search for truth in the Bible, Jason ends up discounting Jesus’ words about hell:
I tend to think of Jesus as the poor-loving, outcast-accepting, grace-dealing Lamb of God. But he wasn’t shy about describing hell—and not as the ambiguous afterlife of Sheol, but as a place of fiery destruction and eternal punishment. Read Matthew 5:22, Matthew 10:28, or Mark 9. Jesus took hell seriously. When he mentioned it, he used the Greek word Gehenna.
Clearly Jesus taught that hell existed, but did he really mean it was a place of everlasting physical torment by fire? Or was that just a rhetorical flourish inspired by the local garbage dump?
My faith doesn’t depend on the reality of hell, of course. But these days, I have more uncertainty than ever about that part of the afterlife. If I’m honest, I have to admit I don’t know what to think about hell.
Don’t know what to think about it? For someone who considers themselves a follower of Jesus, why not take his word for it?
I hope, for her sake, that she doesn’t get trapped in a cycle of craving approval and fearing rejection. It’s a nasty spin cycle of confusion and hurt. Seeking approval from everyone in our orbit is akin to the nauseating dizziness a dancer experiences when she does not keep her eyes on one object as she twirls. Just as dancers are taught to spot, Christians are also taught by God’s Word to spot. The Bible tells us that we are to keep our eyes on the Lord and seek His approval only.
Being conscious of God’s approval or His displeasure is what the Bible calls “fear of the Lord.” It means to be in awe of, or to respect, more than merely to be afraid. Conversely, what we now call peer pressure, people-pleasing, or co-dependency is what the Bible calls “fear of man.” In a nutshell, the fear of man can either be a fear of what others think of us or will do to us, or a craving for approval and a fear of rejection.
A few weeks ago, I listened to a sermon by Mark Driscoll on 1 Peter 3:18-20, one of the most difficult to understand passages in the Bible:
Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
A traditional understanding is that after he was crucified, Jesus descended into Hell. This is codified in the Apostle’s Creed, which I remember being exposed to in my two semesters at a Lutheran school:
Jesus Christ … was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
John Piper has an interesting interpretation up that would make the narrative more consistent with the very clear passage of Jesus to the thief in Luke 23:43 (“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”):
With regard to 1 Peter 3:19, I take these words to mean that Christ, through the voice of Noah, went and preached to that generation, whose spirits are now “in prison,” that is, in hell. In other words, Peter does not say that Christ preached to them while they were in prison. He says he preached to them once, during the days of Noah, and now they are in prison.
I encourage you to read the whole post for a fuller picture of the evidence for this interpretation, as well as its consequences.
Why do we need sleep? For some people, it seems like a defect. If God created us perfect, then why make us waste a third of our lives lying unconscious. John Piper, in A Brief Theology of Sleep has an interesting answer:
Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved in his sleep.” According to this text sleep is a gift of love, and the gift is often spurned by anxious toil. Peaceful sleep is the opposite of anxiety. God does not want his children to be anxious, but to trust him. Therefore I conclude that God made sleep as a continual reminder that we should not be anxious but should rest in him.
Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). But Israel will. For we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day.
God wants to be trusted as the great worker who never tires and never sleeps. He is not nearly so impressed with our late nights and early mornings as he is with the peaceful trust that casts all anxieties on him and sleeps.