The Mythology of Hell
Great anger has been expressed at one time or another against God, for the condemnation of the greater part of His creation to a place of eternal torment called "hell." A basin filled with fire and scorched with the inferno of all wickedness, this "lake of fire" is the eternal reward of all that are wicked. Since all are wicked, all will go there, except those who accept Jesus Christ.
This theology paints a frightening picture. It has scared many into professing Christ. But is it accurately portraying the message of Christianity?
We will begin our attempt to find out in Luke, where Jesus tells of Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.
Luke 16:19: There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
16:20: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
16:21: And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
16:22: And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
16:23: And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
16:24: And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
16:25: But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
16:26: And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
16:27: Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
16:28: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
16:29: Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
16:30: And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
16:31: And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
It is so that many people take this segmant literally. It is said that this actually happened, and Abraham literally told these things to the rich man.
However, certain questions arise just from this section, if it is to be taken literal. For instance, how was the gulf between them transversed that the questions might be asked? Also, would Abraham actually be the one to ask to go back? Can Abraham raise the dead? And is Abraham actually alive to be asked such questions?
First, note the body of Luke chapters thirteen through fifteen. It begins,
Luke 13:1: There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
13:2: And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
13:3: I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
Notice the emphasis on parables here. Luke 13:6, 14:7, and 15:3 all specifically mention parables. But Luke 13:18 and 20 only say, "what is the kingdom of God like," and "whereunto shall I resemble it?" And the Parable of the Feast recorded in Luke 14: 16-24 does not refer to itself as a parable.
Notice the parables of Luke 13:6, 14:16, and 15:11, The Prodigal Son. Each begins with, "A certain man." This here and now is generally telling you two things, regarding Biblical usage. One, it is a parable, which is a fictional story drawing a moral analogy of life, and two, the moral of the parable is to be found primarily regarding the actions and reactions of the "certain man."
The analogies of each of these parables are tied into a day of reckoning. It begins with the aforequoted verses one through three of chapter thirteen. It is the theme referred to again and again in these chapters. Thirteen: five, "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." Thirteen: twenty-five, "are there few who be saved?"
The section of Fourteen: seven through twenty four all deal with being "bidden to the feast," and Fifteen: seven again deals with repentance. This section is dealing with who we be justified at the Day of Reckoning, and each parable is an analogy. In between Jesus gives commandments regarding man or woman's obligations now in preparing for that day. Sounds like much of his ministry, doesn't it?
Luke Fifteen:ten says, "...there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repenteth." It is then that Jesus reports the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Then begins chapter Sixteen.
Luke 16:1: And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
16:2: And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
16:3: Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
16:4: I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
16:5: So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
16:6: And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
16:7: Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
16:8: And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
16:9: And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
Everlasting habitations? Jesus said it, must be true. The Jews could receive everlasting habitations through befriending people with money.
Nonsense. Yes Jesus said it, but as the lesson of a parable, as an analogy. There is a lesson to be learned. Simply that the Jews were to wisely control their mammon, their financial wealth, so it did not control them. In this world they would fail. But they could seek support from those who did succeed financially, and in the next world, they will not fail, as long as they did not serve their greed. We'll see this.
Luke 16:10: He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
16:11: If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
16:12: And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?
16:13: No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Huh? It just said in verse nine the Jews were to make friends with, to befriend, the mammon of unrighteousness. It simply means the Jews were not to antagonize people who do not walk the way the Jews as believers did.
Luke 16:14: And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
16:15: And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.
16:16: The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
16:17: And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.
16:18: Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.
16:19: There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
And it was the Pharisees who were covetous. This section gets back to the question of gain, and the subject of just reward.
The Parable of Lazarus is in the context of seeking temporal rather than eternal gain, and at serving self rather than God and neighbor. But it is addressed to the Pharisees.
Furthermore, it did not use the Old Testament reference of "Hell" as "the grave," "a place of burial." It did not use the Old Testament reference to death as a place wherein "the dead know not anything," and "there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave." It did not use the Old Testament assumption that death required resurrection for continuation of all the activities of consciousness and awareness.
Rather, this parable spoke in the language of the Pharisees. It did not agree with their doctrine of eternal torment, it did not agree with their doctrine of conscious awareness in death, it merely used them for this parable. It was an analogy.
Was a gulf bridged for the question to be posed? No, for there is no device, no cunning intention, in the grave.
Was Abraham capable of raising the dead? Pharisaic doctrine, rooted in Caballa and mysticism, would have taught so. But not Old Testament scripture. Jesus was simply using their doctrine to convict their hearts that they might repent.
Was Abraham alive to be asked such a question? What do the scriptures say?
Jesus said regarding the resurrection of the just that "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Were the dead alive to worship God, there would be no need of any resurrection. That is the testimony of Jesus regarding Abraham outside of any parable. (Matt. 22:23-32, regarding the resurrection.)
Paul regarding Abraham said he died in faith, not having received the promises. (Heb. 11:13.) And if the dead are already in heaven, why in I Thes.4:13-ff do the dead need to be risen? Why are the dead then not referred to as "alive but embodily challenged?"
And when did the dead stop "knowing nothing," as Solomon reports in Ecclesiastes Nine:five? (Eccl. 9:2-10, the definitive scripture on the essence of death.)
Therefore, we see a great license of oratorical liberty in the telling of a parable, things not meant to be taken literally, but figuratively used to convict the foolishness of the Pharisees by using their own mythologies against them. What then of the myth of a fiery lake of torment?
Fire consumes. Fire destroys. In I Corinthians Three: twelve through fifteen, fire utterly consumes the chaff of a Christian's life at the day of rewards. Perhaps unpleasant to a degree and certainly much loss as well as reward, but not eternal torment. However, that which is burned is utterly consumed.
How about the "Lake of Fire?" Revelations says, "death and hell were cast into the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:14) This is the "second death," and sense there is no awareness in death, people are not there being tormented. Those men and women who have utterly rejected the gift of life from God are burned and dead. Fire consumes and leaves only ashes. Furthermore, this too, this lake of fire, is gone by Revelations Twenty one: one, for there is a "new heaven and a new earth."
No, "hell" is "the grave," and "the lake of fire" is a place where all wickedness and evil shall be utterly destroyed and consumed. Therefore, "Lazarus in the Bosom of Abraham is a parable drawing a moral analogy using "a certain rich man." Knowing this, reread this section in chapter sixteen of Luke and see what new insight God shows you!