I don't think I understand the concept of hell...

(133 Posts)
deadlift Fri 12-Apr-13 20:10:15

Hi, I hope I can explain my question clearly. I've been thinking about it for a while and I just don't really understand.

As a Christian, I would never condone torture because I don't think we should ever treat people like that, regardless of what they've done. If I can love my neighbour enough not to condone torture than how can God, who loves us more than I could ever love anybody, commit somebody to eternal torture in hell? I don't think I could condemn anyone to that (I certaintly hope I couldn't) so how could an all loving God do that?

I'm sure there's probably an explanation that I just haven't thought of (I know my current understanding of God is pretty rubbish) and I'd really appreciate it if somebody could help me.

HolofernesesHead Sat 13-Apr-13 13:04:11

LizzyDay and HeadinHands: Most, if not all religions have a kind of spectrum of believers from those who are very conservative and take everything very literally, to very liberal / progressive who take everything as metaphor, with most people somewhere between the extremes, using the time-honoured combination of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience to work things out. So obviously you'll get different responses depending where people are on that spectrum.

LizzyDay Sat 13-Apr-13 13:22:33

Holo - yes that's my point - everybody believes something different and puts their own slant on it.

Which is fine, as long as people recognise that they are their personal standards and that they have no right to judge others or make laws concerned with 'what God ie me and my gang wants'. There's surely no such thing as 'what God wants' is there, if nobody can agree on what that is?

HolofernesesHead Sat 13-Apr-13 13:33:42

I see Christianity as quite a plastic thing, which is probably one of the reasons it's survived, and grown. That's from an historical POV, not a spiritual one. The plasticity of Christianity is one of the reasons why I think that Christians should be tolerant of each other's views / expressions of faith. I don't see any of this as a bad thing.

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 13:36:06

I don't deny that there is a large difference in the way verses are interpreted today, I'm referring to a general shift over time in the way Christians read the verses about hell i.e. more Christians opting for the metaphor translation than would have say 200 years ago. For example your average Christian Joe Bloggs on mumsnet tends to see hell as a parable but your average Christian Joe Bloggs in Victorian times would have rejected such a possibility.

HolofernesesHead Sat 13-Apr-13 13:39:43

True. Is that a bad thing?

HolofernesesHead Sat 13-Apr-13 13:41:12

Although obv, bear in mind that the same works across space as through time; Christians in other parts of the world might interpret the Bible v differently.

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 13:41:22

No, it's wonderful that it allows itself to be shaped, but I propose that that plasticity is strong evidence for it being man made in that, so far, it evolves alongside humanity albeit a very bumpy ride. If we say 'no, god knew that would happen' how do we excuse him condoning slavery and the rape laws in the OT and the illness thing when he had a fantastic chance to teach us about medicine and farming and anything you can pretty much think of that we benefit from today.

LizzyDay Sat 13-Apr-13 13:49:25

"Although obv, bear in mind that the same works across space as through time; Christians in other parts of the world might interpret the Bible v differently."

Unfortunately that is true - some of the nastier fundamentalists are still around, and don't show any sign of going away.

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 13:49:37

No it's not. It's a phenomenon I use to explain, in part, why I reject the bible as inspired by god. And I'm very grateful that, as a whole, Christians have adapted their views. It's testament to the human capacity to reason and learn beyond where we are today. And that's great. Hope that's clear enough grin

PedroYoniLikesCrisps Sat 13-Apr-13 20:43:29

Matthew 13 is an interesting chapter to pick a sentence out from in order to take it literally, given that the entire chapter is about metaphors and parables

Interesting? Not really, but in any case, there are plenty of references in other places. Are all these in the metaphor sections too?

Actually, what might be useful is if we could just get a list of which bits of the bible are metaphor and which are truth because otherwise it's terribly confusing for us mortals to work out what is going on.

Matthew 25:41: "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." This passage relates to Jesus' judgment of all the world.

Mark 9:43-48: And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched." The reference to fire is repeated three more times in the passage for emphasis.

Luke 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." This is a plea described as coming from an inhabitant of Hell.

Revelation 20:13-15: "...hell delivered up the dead which were in them...And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

Revelation 21:8: "But the fearful, and unbelieving ... shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone."

HolofernesesHead Sat 13-Apr-13 20:52:17

Okay Pedro, a rule of thumb: everything in Revelation is metaphor. The seer is straining at the very edges of language to describe what he has seen, and what we get is 'it was like this....it was like that....' One of the reasons why I am so in love with Revelation, even despite all the death etc.

As for the other passages, what about seeing them as variations on a theme? Or explorations of a concept? There are more literary genres than simply 'metaphor' and 'fact', so why not consider the Bible to contain within it a wealth of literary forms?

And the whole of the gospels of course - clearly metaphor

HolofernesesHead Sat 13-Apr-13 21:19:28

I disagree. As I said, there are more than two literary forms.

niminypiminy Sat 13-Apr-13 21:22:09

Are metaphor and truth incompatible? There are a lot of things that can only be expressed through metaphor. Indeed, metaphor is central to the way we use language -- we use metaphors all the time. The phrase 'natural selection', for example, is a metaphor.

HolofernesesHead Sat 13-Apr-13 21:29:56

Niminy, yes, I agree totally, there are types of truth which are best expressed in metaphorical / poetic / mythic terms. That's essential to being human IMO. I was meaning that within the Bible there are many literary genres, not just metaphor and so-called neutral report (I don't think any writing is neutral ever, because I don't believe any neutral space exists.)

PedroYoniLikesCrisps Sat 13-Apr-13 21:31:02

There are a lot of things that can only be expressed through metaphor.

Such as?

In any case, metaphor is open to a great degree of misinterpretation.

Sounds to me like the whole bloody bible is a metaphor.

And no, metaphor and truth aren't incompatible, but they are most certainly not the same thing.

Perhaps we should flip the question and ask which bits are actually true, not metaphor, not ambiguous references but actually true?

HolofernesesHead Sat 13-Apr-13 21:35:47

Pedro, metaphor best describes love. Think about the enormous metaphoric outpouring in love poetry, pop songs etc. if they were replaced by pyschological and physiological accounts of live, the eorld would be a very different place!

HolofernesesHead Sat 13-Apr-13 21:37:56

So, fwiw, and in the full anticipation of your disagreement, I believe that Paul's letters contain accounts of the faith in Jesus of the early church which are historical reflections of that faith, and the Gospels bear witness to the person of Jesus, who was real.

HolofernesesHead Sat 13-Apr-13 21:41:07

Sorry for typos; hope it was clear anyway, that love lifts us up where we belong / love is a mystery / love is a battlefield / love makes the world go round / etc. Thinking of the scene in the elephant in Moulin Rouge now! smile

PedroYoniLikesCrisps Sat 13-Apr-13 21:43:09

Pedro, metaphor best describes love. Think about the enormous metaphoric outpouring in love poetry, pop songs etc. if they were replaced by pyschological and physiological accounts of live, the eorld would be a very different place!

No, you said things which can only be described through metaphor. Love can be described in many non - metaphorical ways.

Redbindy Sat 13-Apr-13 21:45:02

I think hell is something invented by early christians in order to morally blackmail people to join up. The old testament has a completely different take on it to that described by Saul of Tarsus.
Holo, do you have any contemporary proof of the existence of Jesus (the gospels don't count - they contain no eye witness evidence)?

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 21:49:38

The strength of out pouring of emotion doesn't prove the deity of the object being loved. If that were the case I've dated quite a few gods. And Go West are divine. smilegrin

PedroYoniLikesCrisps Sat 13-Apr-13 21:54:18

I believe that Paul's letters contain accounts of the faith in Jesus of the early church which are historical reflections of that faith, and the Gospels bear witness to the person of Jesus, who was real.

We seem to be missing the point that stuff which is written down is not evidence for anything.

joanofarchitrave Sat 13-Apr-13 21:54:43

The point of a metaphor is to make things clearer by relating them to something you can understand. If hellfire is a metaphor, it suggests that the primary features of hell are pain and destruction. If hell is separation from God, metaphors that would occur to me more readily would be ice, deep water, distance, fences/gates/walls, the eye of the needle, fog, mist, silence ... lots of things. But not fire.

It was a very different time. Pain must have been far more of a constant in most people's lives than we in this last hundred years or so in the developed world have to deal with. I really don't think it would be such a stretch that hell would be thought of as a place of eternal physical torture. Which is why my great fear is that there really is an afterlife.

HolofernesesHead Sat 13-Apr-13 21:57:01

Pedro, I didn't say some things can only be described metaphorically, I said best described.

Red, I work on the basis of historical plausibility (not my term, but quite a good one nicked from a prominent historical Jesus scholar). So no, before Jesus' death no one wrote about him - but why would they? There was no need to.

HiH, you miss the point: I didn't make any connection between the type of love described in pop songs and God, I cited that type of love
as Something best described metaphorically.

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