Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Provoking Thoughts and Questions about Hell

The book Martin Zender Goes to Hell was recently given to me, and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I knew nothing of Martin Zender and his writings until just a few weeks ago when a new friend introduced him to us. Zender’s writings are quite thought provoking; although, unfortunately for some, also quite full of sarcasm. Most of the time, I really wish he didn’t write with such a sarcastic tone (though at times, it brings on a good laugh) because many of the things he writes about are important truths. But some people may take immediate offense at his writings just because of the sarcastic tone.
Three years ago, God did an incredible work with me and my faith. Through a lot of agonizing and deep searching into His character and His ways and into the Scriptures, God opened my eyes to see things very differently from how I had previously been taught and believed about an eternal hell. I have written about some of that in a previous blog post—"GOD, The Savior of All Mankind"—and have much more that I still would like to write for further explanation. Some of what Zender writes in the …Goes to Hell book speaks of some of my own thoughts as I went through the process that God took me through regarding the subject of eternal torment in hell:

Speaking of God’s armor protecting us from Satan’s lies, the biggest lie Satan has ever foisted upon the church and the world—under God’s wise direction, of course—is the lie of eternal torment...This is also the lie of the failure of God. If any are eternally tormented (or exterminated), then God’s plan of saving them through Christ’s sacrifice is thwarted. God wanted humanity saved, but most of humanity were too stubborn to accept His means, that is, the cross. Thus, the cross is not the all-powerful and universal thing we’d hoped it was, but an offer so weak that a single “no thanks” from a mortal human rebuffs it. This is a terrible lie because it makes God’s will weaker than the human will, and evil greater than good. Worse, it makes the coming of Jesus the worst thing that ever happened to our race. Is this what you believe?
I meant what I just said. Think about it. Before the coming of Jesus, no one could go to hell. Why? Because no one can refuse a cross when there is no cross to refuse. After the cross, however, most of the world is doomed because of the near-universality of rejecting it. The doomed will say, “Um, no thanks,” and be damned. These three words, then, “Um no thanks,” and God’s hands are tied, and down go the majority of mankind. But if no one refuses Jesus, then no one goes to hell. Agreed? But we all know how many people are going to hell. Millions. Millions, because Jesus came, the multitude saw, and the multitude turned away. Looking at this squarely, my conclusion is that the worst thing that ever happened to humanity, the very worst thing that could have happened to it, was the coming of Christ. Before Him, everyone was safe. After Him, the race is on probation, dangling by a thread over a cauldron of ceaseless torture. Is this what you believe? Do you ever even think about it? Why don’t you think about it? Is it not important enough? Do you not need to know?
Where is the doctrine of eternal torment in the Old Testament? If you don’t know offhand, that’s okay. I will taunt you with another question: What if it’s not there? That’s a big one. If this doctrine does not appear until New Testament times, it would mean that the most horrible doctrine ever to hit Earth was saved for the most loving (and only) Savior ever to leave Heaven. (pgs. 25-27)
These are bold statements: That “the lie of eternal torment” is “the lie of the failure of God” … “Thus, the cross is the not the all-powerful and universal thing we’d hoped it was, but an offer so weak that a single ‘no thanks’ from a mortal rebuffs it”. Hence “it makes God’s will weaker than the human will and evil greater than good.” I pondered such thoughts as these many times, over and over, during my desperate search for the truth of God three years ago. I kept asking myself, “Has God failed to accomplish His will for the past, the present, and the future? Are His hands really tied when it comes to mankind’s will? The very mankind that He created and designed just the way they are? Is God truly the sovereign, all-powerful, omniscient God we say that He is or is He not? Can mankind really have so much power as to thwart the will of God?” When Job spoke to God (Job 42:2) and stated, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” was he mistaken? Can God’s purpose be thwarted? By mankind? By any of His creation? Is He GOD or is He not?
By the way, Zender makes a little side comment on page 25, “(I am neither a Universalist, nor a Calvanist. Neither am I a somnambulist. No one has yet discovered an ‘ist’ that fits me, except perhaps for a realist.)” Along with him, I say that I am neither a Universalist or any other “ist” label that it may be tempting to give to me for whatever my beliefs are. There is a problem with labels, and I write about that in two previous posts called “The Problem with Labels” and “The Problem with Labels, an added note”. So I have said before, I believe in and follow Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world. I am woman passionate for the depths and the truths of God, and so I seek Him continuously. That is who I am regarding my spiritual beliefs.
Zender goes on in his little book to write about how the doctrine of eternal torment is not in the Old Testament. Then he moves on to speaking of what the actual words were in the original language that have now been translated “hell” in most modern Bible translations.
(If you want to get your hands on some really good literal translations, more true to the original languages and words that were spoken/written, look for a Concordant Literal Translation, a Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible, or a Young’s Literal Translation. I prefer the Concordant translation out of all three.)
The fire of hell? That’s bad translating. Jesus never said the word “hell” in His life. Well? He didn’t speak English. The word that left His lips was Gehenna. That’s right. Jesus warned the Israelites about “the fire of Gehenna,” not hell, and any concordance will confirm this to you (see word #1067 in Strong’s and page 474 in Young’s.) Gehenna is a small valley along the southwest corner of Jerusalem. It’s a geographical location, a place you can walk in today. It’s a pleasant little valley now. You can fly to Jerusalem and walk in hell…As any dictionary will tell you, Gehenna is where the Israelites of old dumped their garbage and offered sacrifices to foreign gods. In the old days it was called the Valley of Hinnom…It may be a pleasant green valley today, but in the thousand-year kingdom it will function as a crematorium for the corpses of criminals…Unlike today, judgment during the kingdom era will be swift and sure…The fire of hell? Here is the only instance where the King James Version has taken the name of an actual place and made it something else…” (pgs 36-38)

Zender goes on to offer a little chart showing the names of various geographical locations and how they have been translated in the KJV, NIV, and NASB. The chart reveals how geographical locations are translated almost just like their original spelling/language; except for Gehenna. That is the one exception. He expounds on how in Isaiah 66:23-24 it foretells that the “corpses” will be burning; corpses are dead mortal bodies, not conscious people walking around.
Continuing on in the book, Zender writes about the coming judgment of the nations, the thousand year kingdom, the mistranslation of “aionion”, Jesus words specifically to the Israelite nation, the “unforgiveable sin”, the real definition of hell, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the words “eternal” and “forever” in modern translations, and the Lake of Fire. All of these subjects making for some very interesting and thought provoking reading.
As God grants the time and allows me, I hope to very soon be writing and posting more of what I have come to see and believe over the last few years regarding many of those topics Zender brings up in his book. I agree with the majority of what Zender writes in this book and also appreciate his matter of fact and to the point style. However, like I said before, I just wish the sarcasm wasn’t so intertwined into it. It may be hard for some readers to get past that aspect. For further in-depth reading into the subjects that Zender mentions in his book, you can also search the online expositions at Concordant Publishing. Their expositions are very serious, scholarly, and exceptionally profound.
Until next time…

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