How Shall Christians Understand God’s Definition of Hell?

I share the view along with many liberal theologians that hell is not a physical place – it is a state of mind of any one choosing to avoid the presence of God in this life.

In support of this concept, I believe God establishes the criteria for righteous living given to us in the life, death and teachings of Jesus, and if individuals reject or ignore his guidelines for living forever, they will stay on a wrong course and drive themselves into an “eternal state of hell” – both in this life and the life hereafter.

However, the majority of Christians, including all fundamentalists, believe hell is a physical place. There are a number of scriptures (particularly in Matthew) that support their theological position.

Many in the clergy, maybe one half, believe the scriptures describe hell as a symbolic place of dissent, suffering and pain after death, where sinners, by the grace of God, may, over time, receive expiation for their sins. The Catholic Church expresses this intermediary condition as “purgatory” where lost souls may be redeemed after a period of suffering and misery.

It is hard for me to accept Biblical statements that condemn   any of God’s children to experience pain and suffering – forever. Why would our God of the N.T. give us his son to suffer and die for us and then cut off some of his children – forever?

Is it possible that the word “lost” should be interpreted to mean – temporarily “lost”? If we believe that God loves us all, then our God of love, forgiveness and redemption must surely provide a path of salvation for even life time common criminals and terrorists. With some period of proportional punishment, after death, could it be that all will be given a chance to be reconciled to God through a change of heart? Maybe for some, this process will take a hundred years or more to be converted and saved. It should not be easy, but I believe it should be possible.

This theological rationale is compatible with what Jesus said to one of the convicted criminals on the cross. When the criminal confessed that he wanted to be saved, Jesus,  in Luke 23:43 said: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”. According to the dictionary, and I quote, “paradise is an intermediate place or state where the righteous departed await resurrection and judgement”. It would appear that the criminal was given a chance to be redeemed and saved prior to entering into heaven.

In Romans 5:10, we are assured that all persons shall be reconciled to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And so there may be a temporary state where all sinners may be reconciled to God before being accepted into heaven.

Some additional thoughts for our consideration are:

  • Church going or non-church going does not decide who is saved or who is not. Personal resumes’ are not important – only honest, sincere Christian beliefs, attitudes and loving actions count in God’s sight.
  • God presents the path to eternal life, but each individual must choose to obey and follow, and as sinners, continuously ask for forgiveness for our transgressions.
  • Temptation is not a sin – Jesus was tempted. True and honest ignorance is not a sin – however, most of us know when we sin and cannot hide behind “ignorance”.
  • God does not directly punish people for their sins while they are living. People during their lives may receive suffering (punishments) as the result of their conduct as acts of free will.

In conclusion, this writing has been composed after considerable pray, study and thought. It is my hope that our God of love, forgiveness and redemption, presented to us in the New Testament, prevails over any concept of God of wrath and condemnation.

W.F. Peck

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The Evolution of a Christian Prayer Life

The heart and soul of a Christian life is our prayer life. Any Christian seeking to follow the teachings of Jesus, has an active prayer life. However, overtime, conscientious Christians learn to grow in their knowledge and depth of how to talk to God.

Here are descriptions of possible types and levels of praying that most of us may experience as we grow in our Christian faith:

  1. No active prayer life – praying spontaneously only when serious needs arise
  2. Periodic “routine” praying – “now I lay me down to sleep” – “Our Father who art in heaven… “
  3. Periodic private prayers – occasional, inconsistent but sincere prayers
  4. Social praying – an accepted public prayer, before a group
  5. Personal praying – a commitment to pray privately and regularly
  6. A complete prayer life – talking daily with God on a continuing  basis

The best model for praying, the Lord’s Prayer, was given to us by Jesus. It begins with praise and adoration, then asks for forgiveness, cautions about temptations and concludes with expressions of trust in the power and glory of God. Much can be learned by a thorough study of this prayer.

The Bible, in most every book, offers many beautiful prayers from the prophets and the gospel writers. In Psalms 103:1, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name”. Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” – and in Philippians 4:6, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”.

Sometimes we fall into the habit of repetitive praying and fail to remember there are many types of prayers. Some of the most common prayers may focus on:  Thanksgiving, Forgiveness, Praise and Adoration, Intercessory, Resting, or Suffering prayers. There are two approaches to praying – Ritualistic praying and Informal praying. Both have a proper place and both are entirely acceptable to God.

God accepts all types and levels of praying from all peoples from every age, race, ethnic, religious or national background. He is open to the most simple to the most complex prayers we chose to submit. When and where we pray does not matter. In the midst of our greatest sins, God encourages us to pray. He always accepts and loves us as we are.

It is very human that some prayers center on the needs and feelings of the person praying. Others seek to express our concerns for the needs of others – both nearby and far away.   Sometimes we find ourselves “telling” God what needs to be done – fully realizing he already knows. It is very human- particularly when things are not going well- for us to ask God to intervene in the lives of people. I think this sincere asking is acceptable by God – but it seems rare for him to interfere with his created laws – accept when he decides a miracle is warranted. Miracles do happen – but sometimes they are delayed or changed by God. Under these special circumstances, mature Christians learn to trust in the fact that our heavenly Father is:  all powerful, all knowing, all present and all caring.

In the middle of all that our lives experience, we must remember that the lifelong goal of praying is to continue to strive to align our lives to the Will of our heavenly Father.

W.F. Peck