I received a few great questions from Jan via email last week and wanted to share my responses with you as well.
The first question had to do with Christianity and other religions and I referred Jan to what I had previously posted:
The next question was one to which I had not responded before – Does hell exist?
To start, I think that people have many different conceptions of hell. An eternal place of punishment, a lake of fire, and separation from God are just a few of the ideas that someone may have when thinking about hell. I best understand hell as a place of separation from God. God’s free and unmerited love for us and the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to live in relationship with God.
I believe that we can choose to receive God’s freely given love and live our lives in response to this good news. Alternatively, we have the opportunity to choose (either actively or passively) not to be in relationship with God. I believe that God does not force us to be in relationship. If we refuse this relationship, the alternative is living in a way in which we are separated and moving away from God. Eternal separation from God would be hell.
I believe one may experience hell on earth, in the sense that we can live in isolation from God and other people. This may be a result of our actions and it may be a result of the actions of others. I think of circumstances of divorce, suicide, unexpected death, the death of a child and many other circumstances may elicit these feelings. Our way out is the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
Jan followed up this response with a clarifying question about specific mention of hell in the Bible.
- One of the most frequently cited references is in Matthew 25.
- Also several places where a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth is mentioned.
- Luke 16:19-31
- Also a few passages including the word hell
There is a discrepancy about how exactly such passages should be interpreted. I do not know the word that is translated as hell in English to be able to speak to the nuances of the original language.
How would you respond to Jan’s question? What did I miss in my response? Where could it be improved? What do you think?