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It’s not fashionable to believe in Hell.

But Jesus did, showing us a glimpse behind the curtains in his story about “The Rich Man and Lazarus.”  His teaching on the last judgement in Matthew 25 also gives us some clues, although it seems to run counter to our Protestant Evangelical teaching on Justification by Faith.

The Hebrews have Gehenna and Sheol. The Greeks had Hades, Tartarus, etc. (and they borrowed Gehenna from the Jews for good measure). The proto-Germanic folks had “Hjala” which ended up “Hell.”

Afterlife “geographies” come in two flavors: Rehab/Purification and Punishment. Both Sheol and Gehenna double dip a bit on these concepts. Roman Catholic Purgatory, of course, is the ultimate example of the former.

Much like our prison system, we can’t seem to decide which it should be–rehab or punishment.

It’s also unclear in the Old Testament whether just “bad people” or everyone went to Sheol at death. Some Jews believe that everyone goes there and after 11-12 months they end up in Olam Ha-Ba (The world to come).

Jews in the New Testament couldn’t agree about whether or not there was a Resurrection from the dead. Paul cleverly exploited this controversy to his advantage to get out of a courtroom scrape.

The Jews still can’t agree on the afterlife. We Christians share more with Muslims than we do with Jews when it comes to what heaven and hell are all about.

Most etymologies have a word for grave and then, by extension, a capital-G-eternal-Grave of the same name.

Major human instinct senses an afterlife of some kind; it doesn’t just come from what we read in the Bible. Think of the lengths the Egyptians went to prepare for the realm to come. We seem to come hard-wired to believe in it. Not believing in an afterlife is, overwhelmingly, the exception and not the rule for us humans.

Compare Ecclesiastes (3:19) and Daniel (12:2) and you will see that the Bible itself has quite a range of teaching on this topic.

What are your thoughts?

Is there a hell? Who goes there and why?


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