Friday, February 9, 2024

The Cross and the Consuming Fire

There is no “hell” as such. There is an idea that has been cobbled together and weaponized by certain strands of Christianity and labeled “hell,” but such a realm is not found in the Bible. There is Hades, certainly, the realm of the dead, which has been defeated by Christ, through the Cross and Resurrection. 

And there is Gehenna, which is not an other-worldly, post-mortem experience but a geographical location outside of Old Jerusalem. It was the place of historical judgment warned about by the Old Testament prophets. In the Gospels, it is the prophetic warning of the historical judgment that would soon befall Jerusalem.

But there is no “hell” as such. Yet there is most certainly divine judgment, which is the putting right of all things. It is not retributive in nature, for God is love, and love is not retributive. But it is restorative, for that is the way of Love. The judgment of God is nothing other than the self-giving, other-centered love of God, revealed most acutely through our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. Looking to that moment, Lord Jesus announced, 

Now is the judgment of the world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself. (John 12:31-32)

The Cross is the place of judgment, and it is there that whatever does not belong in us, because it does not come from God, is done away with, so that only what does come from God remains. It is the place of divine fire, the refiner’s fire, the fire of God’s love — and Lord Jesus tells us that we must all be salted with it (Mark 9:49). For the God who is a Consuming Fire is none other than the God who is Love. So the fire of judgment is not retributive but purgative and restorative.

For those who are unprepared for the fiery love of God that purges and refines us, and turn away from it, it may seem a great torment until it burns away the bondage and the blinders and finally sets us all free. Those who turn toward God’s consuming love will experience it as it truly is — the utterly self-giving, other-centered love of God, revealed supremely in Christ on the Cross.

A Haiku on Hell
Scripture tells us that
God is a Consuming Fire,
and that God is Love.

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