Food for thought…

Just noticed an interesting overlap in Christian symbolism.

Hell, and the punishment for sin, is often described as a burning, or a being enveloped in fire.
Fire is a symbol for the Holy Spirit.

I'm not saying there's a correlation, but what if there was?  What if it really means that the Holy Spirit will come most strongly to those of us who are having the hardest time with sin?  What if the "punishment" is seeing the real causes for your actions, and realizing what you did wrong, which is what the Holy Spirit should help us to do anyway?

Like I said, just some food for thought. 🙂

ETA: I hope I don't get flamed for this.  Get it?  Flamed? Ha!

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  1. It might be interesting to do a search for the word fire in the Bible and then analyze the ways fire is used as a metaphor. For instance, in 1 Cor. 3:13-15, fire is a means of testing the value of a person's work. Such an analysis might clarify your thoughts. Blessings.

  2. I don't remember exactly where, because it's been too long, but I know there is a section of the new testament when Jesus is talking to his disciples and telling them that essentially he is spending the most time on the people who need him and his love most. Maybe your idea, isn't far off from what the Bible actually intended to say.

    • RPM
    • December 18th, 2006

    Now this is something to ponder on. Great post. (lol @ flamed)

  3. Very interesting idea…I wonder if there's an online searchable version of the Bible… I'm way too lazy to do it on my own. 😉

  4. Here is a place you could search 🙂

  5. Oh totally. It's just like a mother. She loves all her children, but she's going to spend the most time and energy with the one who struggles the most.

  6. Wow, that's a great site. I was worried about different translations being an issue, but this site seems to have quite a few!Thanks!

  7. The Jews and then the Christians seemed to have elaborated a bit on Hades of Greek mythology–it being the underground abode of dead Greeks.
    Of course one could also get cast into a hell in other cultures as well. Polynesians, living on volcanic islands in the South Pacific, thought that throwing someone’s sorry arse into a flaming volcano might appease some upset god and calm things down a bit.
    More gently, the Hindus placed their deceased on a combustible barge, lit it afire and let their dearly departed float away down the Ganges River.
    And of course there was also the uplifting side of a high rate of molecular activity–the big ball of fire in the sky that came to be recognized during Pharaoh Akhenaton’s brief time as Ra, the monotheistic sun god.

  8. One (of a vast number) of searchable online Bibles: Bibles

  9. The Jews and then the Christians seemed to have elaborated a bit on
    Hades of Greek mythology–it being the underground abode of dead Greeks. Exactly, which makes me wonder if we aren't misinterpreting a concept based on the concepts that came before it.

  10. When I was on a retreat team, we chose the theme "set me on fire."On the bridge by Sather Gate, student groups can put up a little sign. The placard for our student organization–"Newman! Catholics at Cal"–is a gold disk with fire at the bottom. We always joke that it's futile because it makes it look like we're all burning in hell. Hahah.

  11. Heh. But then, if hell really just is the work of the holy spirit being done, then that's okay! 😉

  12. Definitely a great subject to think about. I've thought a lot about the current Evangelical view of hell a lot, not that I've actually gotten anywhere. =) I think it is good to remember the language of God's refining fire if we are going to talk about a place of fiery judgement. Does the Christian God of Love, who would die to redeem Creation, seem more likely to send people to a place of endless burning torture, or does fire make more sense as a metaphor for God's refining of our lives to burn away that which doesn't fit into His Kingdom? Perhaps judgment and fire are ways of preparing His children for the brilliance of Heaven, if they only choose to enter, like C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. It may be a painful transformation, this death to self, but it isn't part of some vindictive God's plan to torture those who didn't listen in life but instead to redeem all Creation. That idea may get uncomfortably close to universalism for some people, but I would argue that it gets no closer than Paul does in Romans. Anyway, I hope even a small portion of that makes any sense. =)

  13. [ciò è buono]

  14. Exactly. You can't claim to love someone completely, and then when they don't return that love for whatever reason, and so hate them for it. It probably wasn't love in the first place.I can't believe in a God that would want people to be tortured without hope of reprieve. That wouldn't be a God of love at all.Also, I think that Christianity is a lot more universal than some of its members want to think.Thanks for adding your input!

  15. Interesting observation.There was an old teaching, likely coming from Dante (as much of the popular ideas about Hell did) that the further you move into Hell, the colder it gets – until you get to Satan where it is frozen.There is no mention of Hell at all in the early Bible. (Just Sheol which is eternal sleep). Satan shows up in Job but isn't an evil presider but an entity carrying out God's will. The Hell in the NT comes from gehenna which is an actual place – a valley on the South Side of Jerusalem which separated the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. It is said that the children of Judah were ritually sacrificed through fire. This same area, in Jesus day, was a garbage dump that was burned 24/7 to keep disease and the smell to a minimum. If you couldn't afford a funeral or nobody cared about you, this is where you went. Executed criminals often dumped here, too. Hell.No where does it say in either the OT or the NT that Hell is a place of torture. What is says is that it is place of torment. And you aren't going to be tormented if your soul is frozen and ice cold like Satan. The only way you can feel tormented is if you are experiencing the separation. So in a sense, I think you could link the Holy Spirit and the fires of Hell together. One makes you keenly aware of the separation and "littleness" as separate from God. The other makes you keenly aware of your unity and power through God. Both are really the same thing and lead to the same place when you dig deeply enough.

  16. As St. Pogo would say, if he were to exist, “We have met the devil and he is us.”

  17. Just looked it up, both Gehenna and Sheol show up as Hell in English translations. But Sheol clearly was more like Hades (no reward or punishment or fire, just sleep) so the fire and brimstone teaching comes out of Gehenna.

  18. Thanks for the incredibly insightful comment!There's no mention of hell in the old testament, but there is mention of fire, and quite a bit of it. Usually in the context of God sending it down to the wicked and the extra-sinful.The fire-symbolism in the NT seems to be much different. Fire seems to be something that cleanses and blesses and ignites with passion. Yes, there is the wailing and gnashing of teeth excerpt, and fire is still a punishment in some areas, but the message seems to be much more complex.Maybe that's one of the reasons Jesus came down to earth. Maybe our thinking was too simple and clean cut. Maybe we didn't understand, and he came to show us that things are much more difficult than we had previously thought. Maybe what Jesus came to save us from wasn't so much sin as it was our way of thinking.

  19. Wow, that is really interesting. Maybe we did completely misinterpret things….

  20. Our way of thinking is often interpreted as sin. Process theology, feminist theology, liberation theology, etc. claim that we have two choices at every moment – to react from our experience (that which has happened in the past), or to trust in something beyond our past (transcendence). Sin was the first instance of reacting based upon our experience of the past. Doing this boxes in our perception of reality and gives us the illusion of control ("we know what is going to happen") rather than trusting in that which lies beyond our individual experience. In this sense, it could be said that Jesus' message was one of clarification. Saving us from our "sin" is saving us from a flawed/limiting was of thinking/perceiving. Rather than react to life based upon the past, Jesus offered a sense of possibility and hope that lies within our experience, but also beyond it.

  21. Man has long struggled with the self inflicted woe that we have come to call evil—evil being a lacking of good as cold is of heat, and darkness is of light. The limits of this lacking are described by Karl Rahner in his commentary on Evil and the Devil: “There is not absolute evil. All evil is finite; it is not a positive reality in itself but a want of good in an entity that remains good in its substance as coming from God and indestructible.”
    The only devils to be encountered in life are the misdeeds that appear as the dark side of any of us. With mankind being a part of and not apart from the universe, the dark side of any of us is but a collecting point for bits of folly and futility that seem momentarily to impede the inherent progress of existence, life and awareness. As Mark 7:15 has Jesus teaching, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
    To paraphrase Mike Bryan from his book, Chapter and Verse, weal and woe would not exist on the planet Mars until God's children had arrived. Or as Shakespeare has Hamlet saying of the world in general and Denmark in particular, "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison."

  22. Very interesting… and the comments have been insightful, too.

  23. For all of you who participated in this discussion, thanks! You guys are quite the intelligent bunch!Here's part of the discussion that spawned this idea for me. There is a really well written essay on Hell over here at the Switchfoot boards.Let me know what you think of it!

  24. God spoke threw the burning bush and all that.. don't worry, there is no god anyway – atheism all the way baby! lol 🙂 Gxx

  25. I love puns, just had to get that out of the way. The word fire in the bible is used in so many different ways that it's difficult to really understand the obsession with it. One theory I have thought about but have read very little on (so I am not sure how valid this will be) is that through out time many cultures have had a 'hell' idea, this is obvious, the thing we have to do is look at the significance of fire in these cultures compared to the ones that do not have ideas of a 'hell'. What I have found is that most cultures that do not burn the dead, have no 'fire & brimstone' idea of hell. Maybe, if we want to make a sort of genetic fallacy, death is such a hopeless thought, that the cultures that burn their dead, attach that hopelessness to death and fire. Because of the hopelessness we now have the idea of 'hell' with fire, and everlasting life with that need for hope and a meaningfull existence. So maybe, because christianity it seems does use many aspects of other religions and almost seems like an 'evoled' form of these religions, this can explain the idea of and connection of fire, death, and hopelessness, which the religions and cultures and christianity may have gotten it's 'influence' burned their dead.

    I don't know, I could be way off base here, hope it helps at least prove something to less valid, even if it's my theory haha.

  26. I definitely think that may have been the case. Certainly we see that with the thing that Laura pointed out above. That Gehenna was a real place that was always burning, and many criminals and poor people were thrown into the fire when they died.
    It might well indeed be a metaphor taken way too seriously.

  27. What a brilliant concept. Just had to say that. I hope I burn for agreeing with you.

  28. Thanks! I really believe there's a whole other way to read the bible that might make a lot more sense…if we have the courage to go ahead with it. 🙂

  29. I'm a closet universalist – of course, orthodoxically , I admit the necessity for the possibility of eternal damnation of Hell in order for free will to have any meaning, but I have my doubts that anyone will be there.Two points, gehenna being the image translated into "hell" is significant – gehenna in the time of Jesus was a dump, where refuse smoldered in ever-burning fires. Before his time, it was the place where infants were sacrificed to Moloch. Prophecy says that this valley will blossom into a garden (which it has). The burning of refuse reminds me of the parable of being tried by fire, having one's works judged by fire – what is valuable and lasting will be refined into gold, while what is "straw" will be burned away. This is the way I see purgatory, which reconciles in my mind the images of the Holy Spirit as fire and "hell" as fire.Second, an insight from my experience of Buddhism (especially Kukai). In most traditions, there are six to ten worlds, each with its inhabitants characteristics and language. The karma of a person who nurtures the sisyphus-like need for stimulation will be reborn into the world of pretas (hungry-ghosts), which have huge bellies and small mouths – they are tortured by unfulfilled hunger. The karma of the refined, cultured person might be reborn into the world of the gods, a world of pleasure and self-absorbtion. The karma of the rageful person in born into hell, the world of devils and demons. Etc., etc. The birth in one world or another isn't so much a reward or punishment, but more a manifestation of what one has become – if one becomes a devil, one is in hell, until the life of the devil dies and one is reborn again.The bible says that hell was created for the devil and that it is a state of being separated from God – as such, I don't see it as a place where people go so much as a world of those who've become devils. Once one is beyond choice, one is no longer human; part of being human (a "permanent existential", as Rahner would say) is the capacity to respond to grace, and our being the imago dei. Therefore, as long as there is choice, there is humanity; as long as there is consciousness, the hope of salvation exists.

  30. Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing them! I wonder if anyone in the history of the world has "become" a devil…and if they have, is it permanent?Interesting thoughts!

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