Saturday, April 12, 2014

Through Your Sacred Wounds, a Lenten pilgrimage to the Prodigal Feast

Part Four: How Misinterpreting Hell, Leads to Misunderstanding God

The history of the Church's misinterpretation of the Old and New Testament words for what we think of as "hell" have had a monumental and disastrous impact upon our understanding of God and God's nature. In short, the words which we interpret as "hell" have no basis in the ancient languages in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, or the Aramaic language of Jesus, or in the Greek in which the New Testament was written. What is so disastrous about these misinterpretations is that they invoke a fear of God as condemning, judgmental and as a deity which would punish people harshly and eternally. These presentations of God as vengeful have no basis in the teachings of Jesus or in the epistles in their original context or languages (for a detailed explanation of these historic interpretations and misinterpretations please see (

When we study the real words behind the interpretive ones we find that the intentional use of words in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek share no real shared meaning with our modern misinterpretations. Very briefly (and please use the link above for greater details) the concept of "hell" in ancient days didn't exist as a place of individual eternal judgement and suffering for souls after death. The ancients considered after death to be either nothing, simply where souls reside after death or a paradise, none of which reflected upon the earthly life of people but as predetermined as the "resting place" as cultural expressions. When the Hebrews of old spoke of judgement it was of the nation and it's kings and leaders. It was the same with Jesus as well. The other sense of judgement was in how a person affects himself by his mistreatment of others as being diminished of one's own self, or "eating one's self". I think this would have been Jesus' view as well, to treat others badly does more harm to the antagonist and is self inflicted. So it makes sense too that to live Christ's teachings would then bring "abundance". As well, the notion of a punishing God develops when states and religions become inter-tangled, as reported by Augustine,

"This seems to have been done on no other account, but as it was the business of princes, out of their wisdom and civil prudence, to deceive the people in their religion; princes, under the name of religion, persuaded the people to believe those things true, which they themselves knew to be idle fables; by this means, for their own ease in government, tying them the more closely to civil society. (Augustine, City of God, Book IV, p. 32, cited by Thayer, Origin & History, p. 37.)
Contriving doctrines to control people? Who would have believed it? Well, the Greek world did, the Roman world did, and evidently between the testaments, the Jews got involved, as well, as the concept of endless torment began appearing in the apocryphal books written by Egyptian Jews."  (Jesus' Teachings On Hell,,)

It seems that the Church has suffered the same after Nicaea. Of course then the concept of afterlife as hellish judgement or or heavenly paradise, at God's hand, paints the perspective in which we then judge God's nature. Unfortunately our culture has transformed Jesus' God of mercy into a platonic imperial state projection of tyranny, a god no better than the nobles, wealthy and powerful.

So finally I had to decide which God I would believe in and honor, the God of mercy or the God of vengeance. Day after day, I choose to believe and honor the God of mercy. There is no perfection in vengeance, only in love. So to be in relationship with the perfect love which is God, is to be fearless in God's love and to love more perfectly, without fear and vengeance.This is for me divine logic of the highest order. For me this is the key which unlocks the doors of liberation, compassion and peace in the presence of Christ all around me. I think this was the goal of the Original Church which found itself splintered after Nicaea and forever after being constantly battered about in struggle between the unholy alliance of Church and state. The time for Christ's peace is with us now, in which the journey begins with choosing the Church of Christ's compassion and to bring this community of compassion and Christ's spirit to your church.

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