The Jewish Sheol is the exact same as the Greek Hades. Where the Hebrew text says ‘Sheol’, the Greek term ‘Hades’ can be used without any loss or alteration of meaning.
Neither Sheol nor Hades are the same as the Jewish ‘Gehenna.’
Sheol/Hades= abode of the dead.
Gehenna/Hell= abode of the wicked.
Sheol/Hades= the place of forgetfulness, ‘deadness’, ghost-life= half-life.
Dark, dank, and gloomy= ‘insubstantial.’
A nether-world, the mythical ‘Underworld.’
David in the Psalms refers to Sheol as a ‘Pit.’
Gehenna/Hell= the place of torment, unquenchable fire and the worm which does not die.
Those in Gehenna feel pain and weep. The worm gnawing away at the dead corpse= remorse. The burning flames that do not let up= self-reproach.
Abraham saw Gehenna as a ‘Fiery Furnace.’
Thus, Hades/Sheol= a Pit of Deadness underground, whilst Gehenna/Hell= a Furnace of Evil [equated with a valley, or chasm in the earth].
Hades/Sheol and Gehenna/Hell are not only metaphysical ‘places’ in the afterlife [from the perspective of the Greek mind], but also they are existential ‘conditions’ experientially real in this life [from the stand-point of the Jewish heart].
The Jews embraced Hades as well as Gehenna.
The Greeks tend to fix on Hades, and ignore Gehenna.
Christianity must be Jewish in confronting both ‘negative’ mysteries.
Around 1100 AD, the Jewish Rabbinical tradition identified Gehenna as the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem, where ‘filth’ was cast away. Though Gehenna is a symbol, a figurative expression, the equation of the symbol with the ‘Valley of Hinnom’ is very plausible.
‘Gehenna’ is Greek, yet it could very well come from the Hebrew for the Valley of Hinnom= ‘Ge Hinnom’ [thus= Gehinnom].’ In the Talmud, the name is ‘Gehinnam’, and in the Aramaic spoken by Jesus= ‘Gehanna.’ In modern Yiddish= ‘Gehenna.’
The King James Bible translates every occurrence of Sheol/Hades and Gehenna as ‘hell.’ In a loose sense you can do this, provided you know you are doing it.. But Jewish commentators speak with one voice – unusually for them – in saying only Gehenna should be translated as ‘hell.’ [An old Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘hidden’, according to one scholar.] Modern Bibles only use the term ‘Hell’ where Gehenna is in the original text, and use ‘Hades’ or equivalents when the text says Sheol.
If the Valley of Hinnom below Jerusalem is indeed the origin both for the symbol and the linguistic terminology of Gehenna passed on from Judaism into Christianity, that would make sense of the ‘unquenchable fires’ and ‘worms that do not die’.. Both these images are from Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and when Jesus uses Gehenna 11 times in the New Testament, he means Gehenna, not Hades or Sheol, because he borrows that exact prophetic imagery.
The story about Gehenna as a literal topographical place is very meaningful in regard to why it became Hell.
The valley began as a place where worshippers of the Canaanite pagan religion sacrificed their children [Chronicles, 28, 3; 33, 6] to the pagan deity called Moloch [one of several pagan ‘lords’, or Ba’als= St Gregory of Nyssa links Moloch to Mammon]. They burned their children in fire. Already this gives a profound meaning= Hell is the sacrificing of our children for religious reasons [idolatrous religion].
To the Jews, this place of pagan idolatry and cruelty was an utter abomination. Not only followers of the Canaanite religion but apostate Jews ‘practiced’ child sacrifice in this place, for a religious purpose [Jeremiah, 7, 31-32; 19, 2, 6; 32, 35]. [This throws the story of Abraham and Isaac into a different context.]
Such a place would attract evil spirits and evil forces in real numbers. ‘This is hell on earth’ we say, referring to situations, events, happenings, where evil power seems to be concentrated, so that doing good, fighting for justice and loving sacrificially, is particularly opposed from ‘the surrounding atmosphere’, and therefore becomes very difficult.
Over time, the Jews used this valley as a rubbish dump. They regarded it, however, as more than a place to throw away unwanted debris. It was regarded as ‘unclean’, religiously. Indeed, it was regarded as a place utterly ‘accursed’ [Jeremiah, 7, 31; 19, 2-6]. No worse place on the face of the earth could be imagined by Jews following Yahweh. Thus for them, it was a place of ‘filth’, literally and spiritually. Things regarded as ritually unclean were dumped there= the carcasses of dead animals, and the bodies of criminals. The Jews buried people in tombs above ground, thus for the body to be cast away in this manner was considered horrendous, almost the worst that could befall someone.
The ‘unquenchable fires’, and the ‘worms gnawing away without ever stopping’, as two images which are taken as definitive of what happens in Hell, come from a reality, then. They are not purely metaphorical. The Valley of Hinnom had fires burning in it all the time, to burn up the filthy trash, and especially the rotting flesh of animals and criminals, and of course, legions of worms found the corpses delicious= they literally became worm food. So, the ‘Hell’ derived from the Valley of Gehenna is a place of ever burning fires – with sulphur and brimstone added to make that burning more efficacious – and hordes of worms always eating.
Though Judaism before Jesus already had a multiplicity of differing interpretations, one point stands out, and should be flagged up as necessary to any understanding of Hell – as distinct from Sheol/Hades. Ending up in Hell is a kind of debacle, a disgrace, a loss of honour, a sign of no stature, a ‘destruction.’ In Hell, all your plans, works, aims, projects, end up ‘destroyed.’ Your life work, what you ‘did’ with your time in the world, comes to catastrophic ruin.
Judaism has always, to its credit, tolerated multiple interpretations of sacred texts and indeed had different streams of interpretation of the whole religion. This is very evident in regard to the interpretation of Gehenna/Hell. Judaism does not speak with one voice on this significant matter.
There were Jewish writers even before the time of Jesus who saw Hell as punishment for the wicked= not for those who are a mix of righteousness and sin, but for those given over, or given up, to real wickedness, and likely to go on forever; other Jewish writers thought of Hell as purgational. Some Jewish commentators thought of Sheol/Hades as purgational..
Such is the divergence of views, it is hard to derive any single teaching in Jewish tradition about Sheol/Hades vis a vis Gehenna/Hell..
Most schools of thought believed that Hades is where you go after death. It is ‘The Land of the Dead’ in some mythical systems. It is not annihilation, or complete obliteration of the human personhood. It is where, once the body is dead, the soul goes. But the soul, without body, is only half alive. Those in Hades/Sheol are ghostly in a strong symbolic sense= they are cut off from life, cut off from people alive in the world. They continue, as it were, but in some reduced state. In this respect, the Jewish Sheol and Greek Hades are similar, if not identical.
Sheol/Hades was regarded an ante chamber where you go after death, to ‘wait’ for the general resurrection, in which all people will regain body as well as soul. They will not be, ever, ‘purely’ spirit.
For some Jewish commentators, Sheol/Hades is a place of atoning for sins, and as such, is definitely purgational. People can ‘learn’, they can still face their life and repent, and let go of the illusions and errors they clung on to in life. Hades is a place of regeneration, and healing. Hades is restorative, for those who avoided inner wrestlings with truth during their time in this world.
Indeed, for certain Jews, Sheol/Hades had an upper chamber and a lower chamber.
The upper chamber is paradise [also ‘Abraham’s bosom’ in the parable of the rich man who shuns the leper at his gate], and is where people having attained sanctity in their life on earth go once it ends. The lower chamber is less salubrious but holds out the possibility of shedding past mistakes. It is not an easy place, but its outcome is very optimistic.
For other Jewish commentators, Gehenna/Hell — not Sheol/Hades — was the place of purgation/purifying/cleansing. You atoned for your sins, and thus sin itself was burned out of you, like fire consuming rotted wood. At the end of that ordeal in the furnace, you were ready for the general resurrection. You spent only 1 year in Hell! Moreover, only 5 people were in Hell forever! [The list must have increased by now..]
For modern Hasidism, once purged — wherever that occurs — the soul that is resurrected with its body proceeds on to heavenly happiness in the unceasing kingdom of God. These Hasids tend to dismiss the idea of a Hell where wicked people remain eternally, and are punished eternally.
If a Hasidic Orthodox Jew uses the symbol of ‘Hell’, it invariably has a purgational effect. The Fire of God burns out sin. It readies the person for everlasting bliss, and hence is a blessing, not a curse.
There were Jews before the time of Jesus, however, who held to an entirely Dualistic interpretation= this stream of Jewish tradition resembles the belief in ‘Heaven and Hell’ as eternal principles in the afterlife held by Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians of today. Indeed, many Jews and Christians down the ages have held to this Dualistic belief about the split eternity awaiting humanity. On this view, the wicked ‘go to Hell’, and they go there not to be purged, or regenerated, but to be punished. The law of karma is not overcome= as you sow, so you reap.
For Jews of this perspective, Sheol/Hades is a sort of ‘half-way house’ where people who have died await the general resurrection of everyone. Then, once everyone is raised in body and soul, the Last Judgement occurs, and this Judgement determines that the righteous will go to Heavenly bliss in God’s presence, whilst the wicked will go to Hellish torture in Gehenna. This Hellish torture is eternal. There is no let up, no change possible.
You can find places in both the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible where this traditional Dualism seems to be supported by the texts– though that is always ‘open to interpretation.’
None the less, it is more honest to acknowledge that at times, Jesus sounds Non Dualistic, even Anti Dualistic, whilst at other times, he sounds markedly Dualistic.
The paradox of both Jewish and Christian Scriptures is that Dualistic and Non-Dualistic texts both exist. It is easy to pick one kind of text, and ignore the other kind. But the Jewish and Christian Scriptures contain both kinds of text. This is either a glaring contradiction, or a subtle paradox, a tension that has to be accepted. Severity and Mercy co-inhere, and it is wrong to interpret the one without the other. Having to confront both horns of the bull leads on to a very different land of heart; severity without mercy is misleading= the error of conservatism; mercy without severity= the error of liberalism. The truth of love is both sharply true yet universally loving..
Such a koan means we cannot talk ‘about’ God, it forces us to speak with God.
For the Jews prior to the time of Jesus, sins likely to put a person in Gehenna included some obvious things, but also some things we might or might not question today= a man who listened too much to his wife was headed for Hell.. But more obviously= pride; unchastity and adultery; mockery [contempt= as in Mathew, 5, 22]; hypocrisy [lying]; anger. The Letter of James, 3, 6, is very Jewish in claiming that Gehenna will set the tongue on fire, and the tongue then sets on fire the entire ‘course’ or ‘wheel’ of life.
Good Deeds that protected a person from ending up in Hell= philanthropy; fasting; visiting the sick. The poor and the pious are especially protected from ending in Hell. Israel is more protected than the pagan nations all around her and always threatening her..
The worst of all sins= the idolatry of ‘sacrificing our children for religious reasons’, in order ‘to get on’ in the world. When we idolise a false ‘god’, it is always to get worldly benefits, it is invariably to profit from whatever we sacrifice to please this deity’s demands= ‘if you give me your children, I will give you the good life.’ This sounds more like a demon than a god. A deal is struck, you sacrifice something genuinely precious, then the devil will bestow upon you all manner of earthly rewards.
A literal interpretation protests that such things do not happen in our modern, enlightened, progressive, civilised, society! Or if they do, only in backward corners of that society, or only among backward uncivilised peoples.
But a more probing interpretation concludes that these very civilised peoples are all engaged in sacrificing their children to the devil, for the worldly gain it will bring them. Look more closely. Look more subtly. This most hellish of all actions is something many parents are doing to their children as a matter of routine, for it reflects the unacknowledged reality of society as a system where, in order to fit in, violence must be done to the person= they can never be true to their native humanity.
This native humanity has to be attacked, bent out of its prototypical shape, suppressed, before it can grow up and overturn the cosy and poisonous apple cart.
Leonard Cohen has an amazing song about this, ‘The Story of Isaac’=
The door it opened slowly,
My father he came in,
I was nine years old.
And he stood so tall above me,
His blue eyes they were shining
And his voice was very cold.
He said, “I’ve had a vision
And you know I’m strong and holy,
I must do what I’ve been told.”
So he started up the mountain,
I was running, he was walking,
And his axe was made of gold.
Well, the trees they got much smaller,
The lake a lady’s mirror,
We stopped to drink some wine.
Then he threw the bottle over.
Broke a minute later
And he put his hand on mine.
Thought I saw an eagle
But it might have been a vulture,
I never could decide.
Then my father built an altar,
He looked once behind his shoulder,
He knew I would not hide.
You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children,
You must not do it anymore.
A scheme is not a vision
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god.
You who stand above them now,
Your hatchets blunt and bloody,
You were not there before,
When I lay upon a mountain
And my father’s hand was trembling
With the beauty of the word.
And if you call me brother now,
Forgive me if I inquire,
“Just according to whose plan?”
When it all comes down to dust
I will kill you if I must,
I will help you if I can.
When it all comes down to dust
I will help you if I must,
I will kill you if I can.
And mercy on our uniform,
Man of peace or man of war,
The peacock spreads his fan.
Then, in reading ‘the sacrifice of our children for profit’ more metaphorically, we should extend the crime against children into, quite simply, the sacrifice of the most vulnerable humans for the sake of Mammon. The ‘crime against humanity’ is widespread; it has many takers today, as it always did.
The Valley of Gehenna, as a Hell on earth, a Hell in the world, is a typology much the same today as in the past. Hell is one of the constants in human existence over all of time.
Why? That is the real question.
The belief in God eternally punishing his human ‘children’ by forsaking them in Gehenna/Hell is oddly parallel with the pagan worshipers sacrificing their children in fire in the Valley of Ge Hinnom. William Blake is clear that the ‘god’ of damnation is Satan the Accuser, not the ‘hidden father’ Yahweh.
Isaiah, 49, 14-15= “But Zion [Israel] said, Yahweh has forsaken me, my God has forgotten me.” Then Yahweh replies= “Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
None the less, that does not mean Gehenna/Hell should be dismissed in polite company. It has a more powerful point, once free from the punitive misunderstanding.
One modern interpretation of Gehenna, which styles itself a ‘narrative historical hermeneutic’, makes sense of many texts, Jewish and Christian, by understanding the iconography of Hell more in terms of Israel’s struggle with its pagan neighbours. God will vindicate the Jews, finally, whatever the beating they take on the way. So, after all that long historical and political struggle, in which the Jews are repeatedly the victim, at last, at the very end, Yahweh will support and prove, vindicate and laud, the Jews – and ‘give hell’ to their pagan persecutors.
This interpretation makes sense of Isaiah and Jeremiah as well, because it reads those references to the ‘Hell’ coming to Israel as a warning of the imminent fall of the Jewish nation and Exile to Babylon. Thus Jerusalem itself will become like Gehenna/Hell [Jeremiah, 19, 2-6; 19, 11-14] once it falls to the Assyrians. Why? Because when Israel falls, it will be like the Valley of Rubbish, fires will consume it, worms will feed off its corpses.
In short, the images of Hell as the place of “the unquenchable fire” [Mark, 9, 43-48, quoting from Isaiah] and the place “where the worm does not die” [Isaiah, 66, 24; also repeated by Jesus in Mark, 9, 44; 46; 48] refer not to somewhere, or some state of being, we go to after death, but are images of destruction, down-fall, in this life. Both Israel, and her Assyrian enemies, will come to this Hellish condition after they ‘tumble down’, and are brought to ruin. Their own addiction to evil will bring upon them this terrible ruin.
There are at least two very important aspects to this meaning of Hell as final destruction of the Evil Way – not punishment for those who give in to the Evil Way, yet definitely the end of what they valued, pursued, built up, by its power.
 The warning that evil doing ‘comes to no good’ in the end is addressed not just to the Jews in their specific context, but to all of us in ever shifting contexts. The constant is that to fight the good fight and walk the good road is not simply difficult in itself, the hard way as the converse of the easy way, but more importantly, it is opposed by worldly forces, and the evil forces ‘secretly’ running them. Hell is ‘hidden’ in this world under cloaks of respectability, validation by human law which cares nothing for real ethical uprightness and tolerates ethical transgression, and an entire patina of poisoned fantasy images of ‘the good life in the earthly paradise’ that seduce and flatter to capture and corrupt human desire. In this situation, the people trying to live by ‘faith, truthfulness, justice, mercy’, are going to get a rough ride. The Way of Evil will prosper and rule, for a time, for a long time, and those opposing it, whether religious or not religious, will ‘get hell’ for their stand.
The imagery of Hell does not say that those who opposed redemption will never be redeemed. It is really addressed to those working for redemption, and facing ‘an uphill battle.’ These workers in the spoiled vineyard, trying to make it flower again, have gambled their life on redemption, and to these it is disclosed= you will be vindicated, in the end. Whatever the set-backs, and ‘punishments’ to be put up with from the Evil One and his servants getting up to ‘wickedness in high places’, the leap of faith — its trust in the unknown and non-secured — must be maintained ‘despite everything.’ Carry on. Do not throw in the towel. Do not conform. Dare to ‘come out of the woodwork’, in standing up for Truth against the Lie. ‘The meek will inherit the earth’= those heavily oppressed for the sake of righteousness will be victorious ‘finally.’ In this world, doing good and resisting passing on the evil done to you by doing the same evil to others, may not be respected or materially rewarded= more likely it will be punished; none the less this struggle is its own intrinsic reward, and significantly, it will ‘win out’ over the longer haul.
For people who serve nothing but falsity and lovelessness, their lives, their works, their successes in evil and edifices of vainglory, will end in whole scale and pitiless destruction.
The destruction will be in some sense a ‘final verdict’ on the betrayal of truth, and rejection of love, in such life-projects.
This need not have any implications for an afterlife, given the Jewish emphasis on the ultimate importance of this world.
 Never the less, even if Hell speaks of the mysterious spiritual power that will be fiercely active especially in the End Times, it does have one very important implication for the afterlife. It does not imply eternal punishment for evil doing, but it does warn the evil doer of two realities easy to sweep under the carpet. [a] Not only that they will, in the end, ‘leave nothing behind’ as a testament to their time in this world — their legacy to the world will be that they contributed nothing to its redemption and therefore their time in the here and now leaves only a record of guilt and shame. [b] But also that it is not possible to go into the everlasting, in the direct presence of God, with filth, with rubbish, with untruth, with lovelessness. It is not that God punishes us for having done X, Y, Z. It is that such is the divine truth, and the divine love, anything untrue and unloving cannot ‘abide’ in it. In this life, we can hide from truth, and hide from love, and seem, for a while, ‘to get away with it.’ To leave this life is to be stripped naked. No more hiding. The truth of our truthfulness or untruth, our attempt to love or evasion of love, is revealed. It is more than revealed= it cannot survive ‘forever.’ It had a brief ‘shelf life’, but it cannot go into the everlasting.
This is a way of speaking about what we take with us out of this world. We may own a house, a yacht, a car, but ‘you cannot take it with you.’ We are only custodians for a brief moment of these worldly things. Is there anything we can take into the everlasting from our life in this world which will survive in that new environment? Only the deeds of truth and love can ‘go on.’ These will be our robes of honour that we do take with us. Obviously, if we are heavily identified with and invested in untruth and lovelessness, then dying will be a shock, because all that we put such value in, such hope in, will be shown up as worthless, and ephemeral. When it burns up like yesterday’s newspaper in fire, ‘we will have nothing left.’ We will, in that case, enter the everlasting as the real paupers.
In Isaiah, Hell is called “the burning place” [Isaiah, 30, 33], and that this burning is ‘accursed’ speaks of something not so concrete as a ruined city after an invading army has sacked it, something more powerful and mysterious.
The historical-narrative hermeneutic should itself not be pushed too literally. Downfall, or destruction, has spiritual and existential meanings as well as a definite political and historical context. What unites all these meanings is what ‘destruction’ really means to, and in, the human heart.
God does not punish, only the devil punishes, and therefore the devil is the architect of the ‘reward and punishment scenario’, as the ‘false god’ of idolatry who demands sacrificing our very humanity for the sake of Mammon. Satanic religiosity is inhuman, anti-human, and in this stance, attacks, and indeed sacrifices, the childlike in everyone. The child is too vulnerable and bendable, too bold and stroppy, too much a mixture of wheat and tares= Satanic religion wants this paradoxical mixture of our basic humanity ‘sorted out’, decided ‘one way or the other way’, and uses the threat of eternal banishment and eternal torture to enforce in this life a premature and harsh division of lambs and goats. The Satanic religion solves the ambivalence and conflict of our two hearts, by deciding in advance of God making any judgement, who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’
It is Satan the Accuser who wills Hell to be the ‘end of the road’ for humanity. In his warped view, humanity is the experiment that did not go right, but went wrong. Therefore, Hell is regarded by him as the spiritual dustbin where the rejects are thrown away, and the more full to the brim Hell is with human trash, the better he likes it.
God does not punish. But, God certainly does destroy. Evil is destroyed, if not blatantly [historically-politically], then more inwardly [psychologically-spiritually], because the evil we do puts our own heart ‘in Hell.’ Whether this purges us, or we flee its pangs of compunction, is the question. But, since the Fire of God ‘is’ Truth, to be in the Lie, both inside the heart and in the deeds done by the heart exteriorly in the world, is to experience the Fire as a burning which ‘consumes’ our untruth and, if that is all we have become, therefore destroys us totally.
The point is, sooner or later, the evil fire we fanned and built into raging flames in our heart’s passion and doing will ‘burn up’ in the Fire of Truth. We cannot imagine that untruth, inside us and in what we do outwardly in the world, can simply be ‘tolerated’ forever. The fire of untruth cannot ‘eternally abide’ in the Fire of Truth. Thus whether the burning of Truth that consumes untruth happens in this life, or happens after we die, either way, it is an inevitable fate. The heavenly experience of this Fire of Spirit is warmth and intensity of passion; the hellish experience of the same Fire of Spirit is torment of passion. ‘No rest for the wicked’= the torment never allows us peace.
The torment arises and then goes ‘on and on’ when we are lying to ourself and to humanity and to God, holding on to our untruth, resisting its exposure, and repudiating the necessity to let it go, to let it, like the trash it is, be burned up and given over to the worms to feed on.
In the experience that is Hellish, untruth of heart and its passion can be burned out of us. Such burning could only be eternal if we resist this process in which our trash – the things in us ‘not fit for purpose’ and thus to be cast away – is consumed and reduced to ashes.
The chance for purgation starts in our life on earth, and maybe continues into an afterlife.. Let’s hope we take the opportunity for purgation, after death, if we have evaded it in life.
But why care about any distinction between the burning of God’s Fire that is heavenly or hellish, depending on our embrace or repudiation of it? Why not say, so what? What is the big deal? Let’s drop the fuss.. Let’s chill out..
The Hell into which untruth in the heart and its deeds brings us can only be ignored, or lightly dismissed, if actions do not matter.
If actions do not matter, then the heart does not matter.
If the heart does not matter, then the ‘organ of fire’ through which God wants to come into the world he has made is lost.
That would be catastrophic. Punishment for wrongs is Satanic. Yet, it does matter that the evil in the heart, and in the deeds it does in the world, has dire consequences, for the doer and for everyone else.
Most of all, it matters for God, if the human heart is indeed to become the throne-chariot of God’s coming to the world.
Hence, untruth getting burned up in the Fire of Truth is a necessity for the completion of humanity’s calling to be the doorway through which God enters the world.
Hence, untruth getting burned up in the Fire of Truth is a huge blessing, not a curse.
Hades/Sheol also needs to be understood existentially, not metaphysically, as a place where the heart gets stuck. Thus, in terms of the heart’s duty to this world, Hades/Sheol signifies decay, degeneration, loss of vigour and zest for life, a ‘forgetfulness’ because of disconnection from the vital challenges of existence. The Pit closes you in. The sins of omission= what you did not do, and thus allowed to degenerate. The garden you did not tend which became fruitless and declined into wholesale despoliation. Shame= you do not want to be seen, you cannot speak, your inaction intensifies, dragging you down. By contrast, Gehenna/Hell is not bogged down, but far more boiling away.. ‘My sin is ever before me.’ Sins of commission= what you positively did that betrayed and damaged everyone and everything it impacted. Guilt= your conscience stabs you.
But whether it is more a case of funking doing good, or acting for the evil, our heart is sore afflicted in realising its passion did not fight the good fight, did not run the race until the end. The heart is honest enough, in all of us, no matter how far gone into deadening or wickedness, to acknowledge that we ‘blew it.’
This can result in extreme despair.
To be in despair, yet still cry to God= such brokenness God will not disdain.
It is important, given the existential understanding of Hell, to note the way in which Jesus refers to Gehenna 11 times in the New Testament.
One of the motifs he repeats again and again is that it is better to be injured, or incomplete, if this prevents going into Hell, rather than being whole and using this health, talent, strength, to pursue wickedness. “It is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into Gehenna” [Mathew, 5, 29; also= Mathew, 5, 30; 10, 28; 18, 9; 23, 15; 23, 33; Mark, 9, 43; 45; 47; Luke, 12, 5].
This points in a new direction– to the Cross.
Through our injury, through our incompletion, we may be stopped from ‘potent’ adherence to evil. If we can be broken enough to reach the heartbreak in us and in everyone, deep down in the heart, we can then embrace the Cross.
In the heartbreak, we are ‘in a better position’ to embrace the Cross.
The Cross undercuts Hell in the deeps of all humanity. Thus, the Cross ends the Dualism of ‘Heaven and Hell.’
This is not widely known in Christianity, because few Christians have walked the Way of the Cross. Arguably the first to try it out was the Good Thief, who died on the Cross next to Christ. This man was not righteous, but admitted to being unrighteous. On any strict Dualist Judgement of his ‘worthless’ life, he must be headed after death not for paradise, but for Gehenna. Yet the Cross has a reversal whereby the thief, the unrighteous, could come in to the kingdom of the redeemed first, before the righteous. The righteous ‘don’t need the Cross’ – but that is their loss. If they do not embrace it, they miss out on what puts an End to ‘Heaven versus Hell’ by undercutting Hell from within its own root in the human heart in the fathomless abyss.
Jesus had to enter Jerusalem, and go through his Passion, to know the Cross would end Hell.. Heaven versus Hell is a relative truth, like Karma, because it takes seriously the truth or lie in our actions, and thus in the heart from which all action comes; in the Cross, it is reversed, and does not become the eternal truth. A different truth, won from suffering and reversal, emerges from the bottomless abysses where Hell is ‘hidden’ yet all the more devastatingly potent for that.
The Jews understood Hell as the converse of ‘the kingdom come.’ Yes= in Hell, we realise we betrayed redemption in this world, and thus our remorse and self-reproach bites into our heart terribly.
But the Cross ends this Hell of the heart that convicts itself, because its Way Through is a Way of Failure, and Heart-brokenness.
This is why in Hell is God’s ‘hidden wisdom.’
Because God took a risk with humanity, and is betting against the devil that humanity can stand the test, it is not just humanity, it is also God, on trial in this existence.
The Satanic Accusation is directed at God’s heart which has come, is coming, will come, in the human heart.
If the experiment God has taken with humanity ends in Hell, then God will go to Hell with humanity.
But God has tricked the devil, who prides himself on trickery.
For in the falling down, and abject failure, of humanity ending in Hell is hidden the secret which changes everything.
The secret is not the pearl of great price buried in the earth. That is the heaven wedded to the earth.
The secret is not in the Temple.
The secret is in Hell.
Hell is in the world.
The secret is in the Hell in the world.
The secret is accessed only through Golgotha, the cave mouth leading down into Hell.
God placed the secret in the Hell underneath the world, before time began, so that it could be found and energised before time ran out on the human venture.
The secret wisdom and the secret power is hidden in Hell= but only the Passion Deed of the Messiah unlocks it, making Hell the gate many will pass through.
We are only joined to Christ’s Cross in the world= by being crucified in the world as he is. We go where he went, we do what he did, in the world, to embrace Hell as he did, in order that we will, with him, pass through Hell, and with him, be resurrected to the new life of passion.
Everything Christ does is theandric, divine and human. The passion of Christ is supremely theandric= the divine heart in the human heart, divine passion working in human passion.
Passion, Christ’s and humanity’s, the former redeeming the latter to make it a redeemer= this is the Drama of Holy Week, of Passion Week.
In the future, Christ will be found in Hell. It is Hell which is make or break for the Messiah who redeems all of humanity.
Saving= the lost.
Redeeming= the broken.
This is the Mystery of the Cross that was hidden from before all the ages= Hell as the place of the turnaround, where the deepest evil is undone by the deepest love. To do this, love must suffer. This is Passion. Passion is Holy. Passion is Holy not just in God, but also in humanity. The Holy Passion cannot just be from God, it must also be human.
Anyone who has a heart can be redeemed= in Hell, and through Hell.
Hell becomes, by the Cross, the process of ‘coming through.’
The moment of worst crisis in the burning is often the moment of the most dramatic
turnaround. In some people’s depths, you can hear the change-over like a summer tornado suddenly in your back yard. In other people’s depths, it happens imperceptibly, like the gentlest spring rain.