04 The Lost Heritage

After completing the full loop around Draper Lake today, I stopped off at Daniel’s Hill. Removing my helmet and facing into the wind, I prayed aloud.

“Lord, I’m grateful for the way You have carried me through all the long journey to discover the vast riches of Your shalom. But it shouldn’t have to be that hard. How did we get like this? How was it that the churches surrendered so quickly and easily after the First Century? Is there some way we can make this thing more painfully obvious and provide a better hedge? And Lord, can we please include more people in this rich heritage of Your blessings in this life?”

Two things stick out in my mind: The Laws of Noah and heart-led living. I was teaching Noah years ago, and before that I was teaching how convictions in your heart are written by God and should reign over your reason. Convictions look just like the Law Covenants (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

There is nothing legalistic in the Law Covenants. Legalism is something you have to bring to the Law, usually because of the influence of Hellenism. Both Moses and Noah are inherently mystical in tone. Anyone living at the time they were published would have presumed them a parabolic image of something far deeper. Both of them presume you are living from your heart. So if you walk in Christ, it’s going to look like Noah. And Moses is a particular instance of Noah, so the promised blessings are the same for both.

Thus, if you are living in communion with Creation through God’s Spirit, nobody really has to explain why you might, for example refuse to eat meat that hasn’t been properly drained of its blood. It’s a matter of reverence for the life in Creation. Draining the blood before eating meat is a symbol of that communion we all have with Creation. Blood is life and we offer it back to God who gave it as covering for our fallen nature. People in tune with Creation and Christ don’t consume blood as food, not intentionally.

But it’s not a nit-picky rule or law; it’s a symbol, a parable of truth.

If we are to build a genuine parallel society, we have to manifest a common departure from Western moral mythology. For at least the past two years I’ve been steadily trying to contrast Noah from Western assumptions. That most of Western Christianity adheres to the false, heathen moral assumptions of the West only complicates our message. So we have to distinguish ourselves from mainstream Christians, too.

Hellenism is the root of Western intellectual traditions. Aristotle was a key element in Hellenism, and he assumed that humanity has always been like this. Indeed, he figured that gods would be just as morally weak as humans. There is no room in Hellenism for the notion of the Fall, because Scripture posits a world aside from this world. The Bible teaches that it wasn’t like this in Eden, that we weren’t made for this. Jehovah, unlike the pagan deities of Greece and others, is morally perfect, the definition of moral truth. We know that we shall never experience that moral purity directly in this life, but we will become aware of it in rich living detail through our hearts.

But Aristotle’s assumption about human nature rears its head in some smaller Christian denominations (Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Fall, for example). Most Westerners are convinced the only hope is asserting the power of reason over our whole being. Thus, regardless of what they may say, they all act as if the human reason isn’t fallen. Therefore, becoming less worldly to them means becoming merely more cerebral. All you need is a better content in your head and your own power to live by your reason. So legalism is entirely natural for them, because it constitutes a call to better knowledge and better performance. It doesn’t work too well.

Western Christians don’t have a lot of genuine shalom. We need to show them what it is and where it comes from. I’m hoping that we can present a fairly consistent witness that restores the heritage of faith to those Christ calls to spiritual life. We should naturally join with nature in crying out for someone to please ditch the false assumptions about faith and reality and join us in this eternal celebration of God’s glory.

03 Come and See

Your true will longs for something better than what society offers. The effect of moving your conscious awareness into the Spirit Realm means pulling your head along behind into a different space of moral discernment. You realize that the moral implications are the only thing that matters.

You realize that changing the facts of your situation is not a matter of human capabilities, but weaving yourself into the moral fabric within Creation. Change yourself and Creation plays along. There is a whole different universe waiting to be born into your life. Your flesh won’t appreciate the time lag, but your heart will know that time is measured in terms of ripeness, not scheduling. All good things from God come in His time, and our patience is strengthened. Your heart retrains your mind to believe in things your senses cannot perceive. You have to sense from your heart and train your brain to process it as truth.

God is not reticent with us. He has poured out revelation that could overwhelm the ability of all the world to receive. One of our regulars here has said that most people are caught off guard and don’t recognize a vision from God when it comes. It’s an image of a different reality that creeps into your awareness, confirmed by your convictions as the truth of God. It’s not a question of showing you something others may or may not see; it shows you things God wants you to see. But it still requires the brain getting the right message from it in order to act on it, and your mind will make some mistakes for awhile. However, when that vision gets stored as a persistent representation of what your heart knows is true, you gain the confirmation that you are on the right track.

We live in a world that is far, far away from giving credence to such things. This is why it is so very hard for many of you to make it work. For example, the term in Scripture translated as “a vision” need not register as visual, but can be any number of different impressions that mimic the five senses — any or all. It can be strong enough to seem utterly real in all respects, but it varies from person to person, and context to context. It’s intent is always to strengthen your moral resolve to obey the Spirit of God.

The obedience aims to manifest His glory in your conduct before a watching world. It’s not just that you do the right things, but that the sum total of your choices also brings a selection of blessings. Part of it is learning what is and isn’t a blessing. These things are poorly assessed by the flesh, but you have to see the interplay between what your heart knows and what human minds can pick out. They may not see a blessing for what it is, but looks for “good” that isn’t actually a blessing. Meanwhile, it takes a long time to get your own fleshly mind used to this way of doing things. So your failures are part of the bigger picture of His glory.

The one thing that no one can dismiss or dispute is your compassion and joy. Indeed, they cannot take that away from you unless you surrender it willingly. Not even Satan has that power.

This is why I make so much of turning on your sensory heart to nature. If you can just make that connection, then on a regular basis you can go into a quiet moment away from this world and hear that glorious celebration that is constantly roaring in nature. Catching a dose of that tends to put things back into their proper perspective and makes suffering seem light. God always makes a way for us to come out of the cacophony of fallen human distractions so that we can experience just a fragment of nature, and move outside of our fallen self for just a little while.

I know that for me, it’s more than reason enough for my persistent efforts at fitness. If my workouts serve no other purpose, that’s more than enough reason for the struggle. Getting out away from human noise, including my own inner noise, and tasting the ever fresh newness of praise in Creation is a joy unspeakable.

We live in a universe that this world cannot perceive.

Perception Reborn

What would we need to say about building a Christian culture?

First and foremost, our only reason for living on this earth is to bring glory to God, specifically to the name of Jesus Christ. To put a finer point on it, our purpose in living is to let His glory shine through us. He will glorify Himself one way or another, but we are invited to participate in the process.

A primary means of making His glory visible is our laying claim to the divine heritage of shalom — to live a life that harvests His promised blessings. When we stand in the place where His mercy rains down on us, people are going to notice. They may not understand what they are seeing, but the Holy Spirit will draw their attention to our blessed lives.

Those blessings were promised as a condition for living according to revelation. That brings us to our second point: the otherworldly orientation. We know that revelation comes from Heaven into a fallen world. It’s not that Creation is fallen, but we are. We are born under a veil of moral darkness and cannot see reality, only what our fallen human capabilities tell us is real. Revelation teaches us not to trust what our human perceptions tell us, but to place our faith in what God says is real.

Through revelation we discover that Creation is alive, sentient and serving its designed purpose. We learn to displace our human perception with faith and commune with Creation directly because we commune directly with the Creator. He breathes His Holy Spirit into our dead spirits and we come to Life. We awaken to a far higher awareness that calls us to a Home we’ve never seen. We know we have a mission here to point the way out of the darkness, and when that mission is done, we go to be with Him directly. We find ourselves no longer a part of the shadowy existence into which people are born.

So the third point is that we are overwhelmed with gratitude. The overwhelming sense that we are unworthy, yet declared worthy on grounds we could never comprehend, leads us to humility. At the same time, we have the unshakable confidence of His divine favor. But instead of thinking so highly of our favorable position, we live with a deep sadness that so few in this world seek His favor. They know nothing of our joyful Life. It makes us sober about giddy the same time — sober about human frailty and blindness, but giddy about what we have found in Christ.

It would be easy to get lost in our paradoxes, but we have a vast heritage of what this paradoxical existence should look like in seeking His glory. We are told to examine the record of God’s testimony in Scripture and let His Spirit guide us in breathing life into that ancient record. Granted, it’s no small task to discard everything our world values in its arrogant rejection of God’s truth, but we have the assurance that such effort is rewarded.

I testify to you today that it can be done. We can examine the record of God’s people and see with spiritual eyes what it demands of us today.

We can build a Christian Culture.

The Fear of Fools

Think about it for a moment. Contemplate and clear out the old garbage.

God’s Word tells us about Creation. Right there in blunt terms in Genesis 1:31 tells us that God saw all that He had made and it was very good. It still is. Notice the way the Curse of the Fall is explained: the ground is cursed by our fallen nature (Genesis 3:17-19). Paul goes on to explain how Creation was not directly cursed, but subjected to futility because of the curse on our fallen nature (Romans 8:20-21). Creation did not choose that path; God did. God is the one who subjected His Creation to the management of humans back in the Garden. Under the Curse, it was no longer manageable in the same way, but He planned to redeem us so that we could regain that lost communion with our best ally.

Creation itself is our ally, and we are supposed to be managers. Satan didn’t steal control from us in the Garden; he does not own Creation and has not usurped our management role. All he has is some limited authority to seduce us the way he did in the Garden. If we return to God and His ways — if we pass through the Flaming Sword of Truth — then we can return to something we lost in Eden. Stop eating the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and go back to eat the Tree of Life. We who are redeemed are not threatened by Creation.

Granted, there are things in nature that will still hurt us. When we begin to cultivate the heart-mind as the anchor for our decision-making in this world, we are led to study that nature is a blessing and how it is a blessing. Some things we find in nature aren’t for us directly, but are there as a part of the larger whole. So we don’t hang out where biting insects will swarm us; we don’t go into places with too many thorns and contact toxins; we don’t typically approach animals who think of us as food. We leave them to play their part and go where nature welcomes us.

Yes, there are times when God will show His glory by having us do things we wouldn’t normally do. So Elijah called fire down from heaven and didn’t have to actually die, but rode Home in a chariot with angels. Jonah was eaten but no digested. Daniel was not eaten by the lions, and his pals were not burned by the fiery furnace. And Jesus walked on the water and healed thousands. The heart knows when those moments come; it’s all about God’s glory.

From what I’ve seen, there aren’t many places in the universe we can go safely outside Earth. This planet was designed to protect and provide. We have gone to the moon and some are planning to visit Mars, but it’s terribly expensive in resources and there’s been precious little direct payoff from it. But that’s not a reason in itself to stop trying; it’s just something we have to keep in mind as we evaluate our priorities. And one of the biggest issues we face is the massive torrent of deadly radiation out there. Recent efforts to sample what’s out there farther indicates the radiation levels climb radically. Space faring requires we bring with us just about every element of what nature provides here on Earth, and we are still learning what that includes every time we bring people back from a trip.

There is some hope we can find ways to move across large distances in space without directly traveling through it. Yep, folks are poking around at ways to cut through the space-time limitations that are part of the Curse. Let’s presume for a moment that God allows people to keep poking until they discover a way to move something by stepping into, say, another dimension of existence, and then coming back out somewhere else. There is only one way to escape time-space constraints: You have to enter the Spirit Realm. There is no other “dimension” of existence. And if you aren’t welcome in the Spirit Realm as a citizen, then it will be Hell for you. You cannot enter God’s house without His invitation and expect things to go well. It’s a case of going somewhere you don’t belong, only it’s a lot worse than being hurt or eaten alive. It will destroy your soul, yet leave you in full awareness of it for eternity.

We deduce this from a large collection of hints in the Bible. You can dispute the specifics, and I’m not going to list a ton of references. The Bible wasn’t written like that, so you can’t read it like that. Only when something is directly addressed can we try to make sense of some topic. The Scriptures provide a bunch of historic contextual incidents, and in most cases something in the text indicates the proper moral discernment of what matters. You are supposed to absorb the broader awareness of God as a Person and how He does things. Not with your head, but you learn to understand with your heart. And it’s pretty clear that there are no shortcuts in redemption and no shortcuts against the Curse of the Fall. If you read the Bible with your heart in the lead, I am confident we won’t dispute much.

But one thing becomes obvious to all of us: Virtually the whole genre of horror fiction conjures nightmares based on suppositions contrary to revelation. It presumes on a fundamental level that nature is full of unknown threats. It’s rather schizophrenic: You are warned against poking around in some things, then taught to fear not poking around because you might miss some moment of personal glory. You gotta be special to get away with it; you gotta have special talents and/or pay your dues, etc. The entire approach to understanding reality is twisted and perverted. Nature is not like that, and there aren’t any special domains where Satan rules. The horrific evil is inside each of us already, so we need redemption to escape the false understanding and false desires that take us places where we’ll get hurt.

If God calls you to poke around, do so with the knowledge it could end your life. But the only way anything can destroy your soul is if you fail to get into redemption where you can know His calling. You can’t answer His call if don’t make Him Lord. Horror fiction reflects the world of people who reject redemption. It reflects man asserting his mastery against the instinctive assurance that he is not master. Mankind rejects the humility of repentance arising from revelation, but cannot gain any peace and assurance without it. The only reason horror fiction sells is because it reflects and freaking insanity that mankind carries in the soul. It’s a morbid fascination that knows instinctively we are fallen, but refuses to accept the one path back to Eden — we must embrace the Sword cutting into our own souls.

Don’t fear nature; understand God’s will and share in His glory through proper communion with nature.

Variable Reality

Our good brother Jay DiNitto mentioned something in a recent post about Quantum Mechanics and how our conception of time is probably all wrong.

Well, duh.

We weren’t designed for this world. This world is not the original plan. To be honest, we really don’t have the words and concepts for describing it, never mind those esoteric scientific theories. This is why we warn you that ultimate truth is not transmitted by words. You can’t describe it. Our best hope is indicating something about it using parables (or parabolic language). So when I say that our world is not what God planned for us, that’s a parabolic expression. God was ready to handle the Fall; that’s His moral character. But what we now have is not what He wanted for us, and certainly nothing like Eden.

A primary element in the Curse of the Fall is the time-space constraints on our human existence. The story linked at Cosmic Scientist leans on a previous post about electrons and how they act like both waves and particles. The whole thing disembowels the concrete logic inherent in Western Civilization. The articles struggle to explain that, if these quantum particle observations mean anything at all, it means your choice in the here and now can affect the past, while at the same time, your choices don’t bind the future.

We who are heart-led are not in the least bit troubled by any of this. Science is restricted to the intellect, but our sense of self and awareness is not limited to intellect. There is a component of awareness that can choose to move the focus into the heart-mind and it changes everything. By leaving behind the limitations of what the intellect can handle, we begin to see that all of Creation itself is alive and sentient on some level. The particles are not inanimate matter, but are creatures in their own right. And so it is with the larger things we encounter every day — trees, birds, grass, rocks, dirt, and yes, houses.05vacanthouse-a

One of those houses I shot with my camera today spoke to my heart. There’s not much I could write to tell you about the content, but it essentially asked me to take a picture so you could hear it, too. Just look at the two-story house with the empty glass windows and white board fence; if your awareness is in your heart, you’ll likely hear it.

Just as surely as we can commune directly with the material world around us, so also a part of us is designed to reach beyond that time-space barrier that defines what science is all about. They’ll keep poking and poking, but scientists will never discover the final answers because the answers aren’t available to the mind, but for the heart-mind. I can’t tell you what you’ll encounter on the other side, but I can tell you there is something there, and that we can reach across the boundary and touch that other realm.

Pray that your awareness can expand into your heart. Pray that God will allow you to believe what your heart knows, and that you can get used to the idea of ultimate reality beyond the Curse. When the end for each of us comes, we will leave behind the flesh and it’s intellect, but some other part of our awareness lives on to face God. He promised in His Law and in His Son (the Living Law) that we could ameliorate the Curse of the Fall while we yet live under that curse. He promised that we could taste the existence of the afterlife (see Hebrews 6) and that means warping our awareness past the limits of time-space boundaries.

Once you taste that, you suddenly recognize what quantum particle research encounters with time as variable forward and backward. We are able to say we know about that on some instinctive level of awareness. We realize that human history is not fixed, nor can it be. The whole thing is variable and iffy, and efforts to study it will yield inconsistent results because Creation itself cannot be nailed down like that.

Psalm 112

What would you expect to see if someone was a sincere fan of a famous figure? Not the obsessive wacko, but someone genuinely taken by the obvious greatness they saw? True fans would attempt to emulate the character of the one whom they idolize. This is what we expect when someone becomes truly smitten by the Creator. This is an adult son who proudly and consciously emulates his father, as if that father were the ultimate model of humanity.

So this psalm celebrates the quintessential Child of the Covenant. No one has to tell such a devoted follower how to act. His heart commandeers his instincts, and moral wisdom overwhelms everything he thinks, says and does. Utterly missing is the slavish rote obedience; this is genuine love and devotion to the One whose very character shines brightly through the darkness of this world. Such a man has hitched his awareness to the moral sphere, a parallel universe invisible to those whose convictions do not rule their decisions.

Hallelujah! O, how blessed is the one who genuinely reveres Jehovah. So starts this psalm. We know how to translate the word “commandments,” but we hardly grasp the concept from within our Western culture. It refers to the broad investment of interest in some domain, and the full range of efforts to express a divine compassion and urgent care for everyone involved. A better term might be self-disclosure, in the sense of moral character. What kind of fool spurns such guidance?

The terms of this celebration are parabolic. Yes, you stand to gain materially, but that’s hardly the point. If that were all you cared for, you would not be revering Jehovah, but some other deity. So we see the image of his progeny representing the whole product of his conduct in life. What a reverent man produces is worthy of pride, just like a family that becomes famous through the achievements of their children. Such a household never wanders in moral darkness, but like the sun shining, their world is bright and clear.

The Hebrew word for “lending” comes from the image of intertwining two lives together. It is a demonstration of commitment to someone else’s welfare as if it were your own. It’s not a loss, but a wise investment that reaps rewards. Creation itself favors those who are generous with what they have to share.

Such a person becomes an integral part of Creation, taking their rightful place and restoring some measure of the original task of mankind: managing God’s Creation by His divine will. It’s not as if they depend on Creation, but that Creation takes a cue from their moral wisdom. Thus, nothing in this world can shake them. Fear is just a tingly feeling, not a genuine experience. Someone who walks by moral convictions instinctively knows they can face anything.

So it is when people who are less wise come to him for relief, he is able to share more than just a few bites of bread, but the full meaning of shalom comes with every morsel he gives. His very presence in the community is a calming and strengthening influence that restores cosmic moral balance. Those who have yet to sense God through their own hearts can look to this Child of the Covenant as a clue how to find Him.

Best of all, the wicked whose hearts are darkened will find him truly stressful. They don’t want to face people like that.

Toward Eden

If you go outside today and speak to the grass, flowers, trees and birds, you’ll discover that they aren’t too worried about Brexit. The rocks and dirt may seem untroubled by the 500 trillion dollars of notional derivative debts held by banks around the world. And I’m willing to bet nature won’t offer much discussion over the likelihood of major global warfare breaking out between the major military powers.

They will tell you of our Creator’s love and the blessings they offer to people who live from their hearts. And they’ll reassure you that they intend to stick around and keep offering those blessings until God is ready for the Final Redemption. Meanwhile, they beg us to manifest the moral character of God so that they can enjoy just a little preview of that ultimate revelation.

It’s not that those fallen human threats have no meaning, but that we cannot face them properly until we learn to listen to the unfallen rest of Creation. Mankind wastes an awful lot of effort and resources on things that don’t matter much. Should there be some awful cataclysm and massive death event, Creation will still be here as long as God wants. Granted, His Word says that humans won’t be exterminated before The End of all things, but nothing in His Word prevents things continuing for a lot longer than many Bible readers imagine.

Instead, His Word hints that what triggers Christ’s Return will be something too subtle for the world at large to notice. You can’t perceive it with fleshly senses or understand it with reason. Some significant portion of humans will rise up to seize the heritage of redemption in the here and now, and it has nothing to do with politics and material wealth. It’s the heritage of peace with Creation as a part of Creation. Peace with Creation hinges entirely on peace with God and vice versa. It’s all one thing.

Recall the teaching of the sensory heart. It’s a sensory organ in its own right, with a separate “brain” capable of processing what encounters that sensory field. Open your awareness to the heart; recenter your sense of soul there. In the Bible, the heart was not about emotions, but the seat of the will, the one part of us able to connect directly to God. It’s an entirely different faculty of awareness that we call “faith” and enables you to see the invisible moral truth woven into Creation. That’s the character and Presence of our God.

Sure, bad stuff is coming. Fallen people with no heart-sense at all have piled up death and destruction, blindly seeking what cannot satisfy. God has already unleashed His wrath on this generation of fools. The saints of God will tribulate, but we have the advantage of seeing things through the eyes of our hearts. We are held tightly by the promise of God that whatever happens will not hinder our mission and calling.

Use that sensory heart; get out and talk to Creation as often as you can spare the time for it. Make time for it. Chances are there will be precious few humans around you who share that gift, but even they will suffer as you do with a long way to go to make it work as God intended. Let’s pass through that Flaming Sword of revelation and repentance, the self-death of redemption by joining Jesus on the Cross, and let’s head back toward Eden. That’s what we are designed for in the first place.

Psalm 104

This is another of those soaring lyrical songs that is impossible to summarize. What may not be obvious is that we have ample examples from other cultures across the whole region and in different millennia of the Ancient Near East (ANE) with similar songs of praise to various named deities. Any of them would have recognized this instantly; it’s very typical of what defines the ANE as a whole.

More, those other cultures would have recognized most of the symbolism, the imagery meant to portray things beyond human expression. There are details we recognize in factual terms, but noting them would miss the point most of the time. From the broadest categories down to the smallest elements of life, our Creator pays close attention to everything, and sets it all in order to please Himself. We could not possibly grasp the full range of what this means. Humanity striving to know all facts this many centuries later still can’t begin to scratch the surface of what God has designed and implemented.

Much of it is also reminiscent of the Genesis creation narrative. The recurring theme of the waters above and the waters below is easy to spot. It is God who decides the boundaries of the seas. For Him, it must be easier than stretching a line with His finger. The heavens are a mere curtain He hangs, the waters as a garment.

And it all works together in an incomprehensible grand symphony. Some of that water is left to stand precisely so animals can drink, and to grow them food. What is also very easy to miss is the utter importance of how mankind could fit into this harmonious pattern if he listens to God and takes His divinely appointed place. The same forests supply homes for birds and humans alike, despite how each uses those trees differently. It’s all there for our use, so we must honor our Provider. Everything has a place in God’s plan, regardless whether it pleases you to have those things around. We cannot fathom the wealth of God’s provision.

Notice that in ANE thinking there are three basic domains: earth, sea and sky. And we note in passing that the word translated Leviathan generally means anything in the water big enough to eat you. God manages to feed the most massive sea creatures and still grant us opportunity to avoid them. Yes, the Creator breathes life and takes it away as He sees fit, and has plans to manage the whole universe without the least struggle.

So when we see ourselves so utterly insignificant against all of these things, how can we not shout and sing in awe at His greatness? Don’t be a fool and ignore His gifts.

Natural Cathedral

IMG_20160528_160305Notice the new header image. Let it speak to your heart. Granted, it doesn’t do the original scene justice; it’s a vertical scene and I have to crop it to fit a wide display parameter. Still, it oozes with an experience of worship. Thanks to Iain for the image.

Random side note: “justification by faith.” Think about what we’ve said about faith over the past few weeks. Faith is a commitment to walk in the guidance of the heart over the intellect. You aren’t justified by “having” faith. You gain receive justification by living it. Walking in the heart-mind is faith and it is justification. It projects divine justice back into Creation and feeds back to include you in His acceptance.

What the Hell?

Some of you get it, but it seems there is enough confusion that I need to restate things for clarity.

I use the English word “Hell.” If you have been paying attention, you’ll notice I use it in the vernacular sense, having a very flexible meaning, and have never bothered with defining it as a religious term.

The image of serving as slaves of Satan applies to this life. It’s the biblical image of ANE feudalism, God’s dominion over Creation. A part of what we need to know about Satan and his activities is derived from this parabolic image of Satan as God’s personal Potiphar, if you will. This has nothing to do with Western Medieval images of torment and Hell; that should have been obvious by my steady denunciation of Western Christianity. People who do not walk by a heart of commitment to God’s revelation are, to varying degrees, slaves of Satan here and now. Their share of the blessings God intended to grant them under covenant are consumed by Satan, and Satan gets none of his own.

But in this image, I include multiple references that Satan is somehow confined to this world, along with all his demons. There is a sense in which that image of slavery is “Hell,” but I don’t recall thinking or writing that Satan was also in charge of Hell as a place beyond death. “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Whatever that verse means about “judgment” is the more precise meaning of “Hell.” I have never pretended to offer any firm knowledge of Hell because the Bible avoids a literal description. It’s always been lyrical references to torment of some kind, but that could just as easily mean standing in the Presence of God with full awareness on that higher level that you are not in His favor. That can’t be comfortable, but you can’t possibly presume to describe it in literal terms.

And on top of all that, I believe Hell is not eternal; neither is whatever is signified by the word “Heaven.” Note that Jesus on the Cross referred to it by the Persian word for Paradise (Luke 23:43). Indeed, our current “place of the dead” for everyone, in God’s favor or not, is a temporary state. It’s all prior to the final Resurrection of the Dead, prior to the Final Judgment. I tend to believe that “new Heaven and new Earth” is somewhat literal. Some parts of Revelation 21 do have literal connotations, but how literal can you be about something the intellect cannot grasp?

So while American vernacular English does permit a flexible use of the words “Heaven” and “Hell” — to include symbolism and parable — if you want to shift to a more precise discussion of matters of faith and Scripture, both are apparently outside of this realm of existence, but attached to it in some way that indicates they will be replaced along with the rest of Creation at some point out there in our world’s future.

Do we really need a comprehensive word study of Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, etc.? I’ve already covered the Old Testament teaching on afterlife to show that Jesus wasn’t so much adding new revelation about the afterlife as He was speaking to an audience that had drifted far from their ancient Hebrew roots. You need a heart-led discernment to recognize that some of it was just using the common rabbinical manner of speaking (because folks were familiar with it) even as He corrected false impressions about things. Often He was pushing them back away from Hellenism toward the ancient Hebrew way of thinking. Hebrew language uses words as signposts, not as containers of truth. The whole point was to persuade you to seek God’s truth from God Himself, with the underlying assumption you must have an active heart-mind in order to hear from God in the first place.

I don’t think chasing down precise word meanings in Greek and Hebrew will help you very much because that was never the point. A proper heart-mind operation means that words are indicative, not descriptive. If you could read Greek, you’d know that Paul’s Hebrew mind constantly searched for ways to express those thoughts in Greek so that he was always coining his own Greek words. If you were born speaking Greek in that time, you would tend to resist that Hebraic thought pattern. You would read things back into his writing and struggle to keep up with Paul’s teaching. This is why the Apostles spent so very much time with each of their church plants, because it was downright tough to make a Greek mind shift over to Hebrew patterns of thought.

And now we have English with a whole batch of fresh barriers keeping us from Hebrew thought. A part of me wonders if I’ll ever get that across to enough people before I die. The language you speak is the language you think, and the language can seriously hold you back from thinking the way God designed us to think. All I can do is ask that you learn a cynical suspicion of the person in the mirror, because I’ve had to cultivate that, too. It doesn’t require paranoia, because God is surely at work in you, helping you to move steadily closer to Him. Always be willing to question whether you have actually caught on, and turn inside to your heart and connect with the Holy Spirit for patience and guidance. You don’t have to accept my answers, but maybe you can learn something useful toward your own answers by noticing how I get mine.