I have written about it, I have read more about it and I have read and responded to your comments here and there is no doubt about it, it just doesn’t make any sense to me.
I have just finished reading What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills, which I found to be interesting in many ways. First I have to say that it has been one of the few times where someone has discussed the Bible (particularly the New Testament) and when they were done I didn’t wonder what the heck Bible they had read, because it sure didn’t sound like the one that I read while I was growing up.
I agree with very much of what Wills said in his book, especially the notion that Jesus was much more radical than most people give Him credit for. In fact, my first step away from the church was sort of a positive one, in that if I really believed in the Jesus of the Gospel — the sell everything you own and give it to the poor Jesus; the “take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus; that I was no where near doing any of that nor was I likely too. Therefore, to avoid hypocrisy I had to stop calling myself a Christian. Perhaps I will deal with that more fully in another post. Because I did want to get back to Hell. 🙂
In the book Wills titles one of the chapters “Descended in to Hell” but did not mention the supernatural place of eternal punishment even once in that chapter. Wills basically described the Passion and Crucifixion as the “descent in to hell.” One of the nice observations that Wills made in that chapter is basically, no matter how bad things get for you, Jesus has been there. Literally and physically. I can very much relate to this description of Hell. (Wills also gives a very different meaning to the sacrifice on the Cross than the “usual” interpretation, and I will get to that in another post as well.)
Wills never directly mentions the supernatural place of punishment in the book, but alludes to it a bit, so I am not entirely sure where his thinking might exactly lie. But at one point he describes quite clearly and quite succinctly the notion of Jesus as the God of the outcasts. Wills is absolutely correct that Jesus definitely hangs out “on the wrong side of town” with some rather unsavory characters — prostitutes, tax collectors, Roman soldiers and so on. And he also chronicles a number of the insults that were directed at Jesus by others in the Gospels for not only hanging around with such an “unclean” crowd, but also His rather lax attitude for many religious observances.
Wills comes to the conclusion (correct in my estimation) that Jesus comes so that there is no “clean” and “unclean” in either religious observance or in people themselves. He even goes so far (correct again in my thinking) as to say that God has a great affinity for the outcast, the screw-up, the thief and the unclean.
But still Wills seems to intimate that there is a Hell, a supernatural place of eternal punishment. I may be putting words in his mouth, but I did have this impression at the end of the book.
But for me, this is just too schizophrenic. How can God be the God of the “unclean” and still send people to Hell? Some commenters to my previous posts seem to feel that if you don’t act just right, believe just right, or learn the secret handshake, off you go. That doesn’t make sense to me at all. Wills goes on quite a bit about Judas, and how maybe Judas was Jesus’s favorite disciple and theorizes that Judas could well be in Heaven.
However, later in the book, Wills sides a bit with Martin Luther and says that no one can know for sure which way they are going after death. Certainly not a great comfort, but perhaps religion is not about comfort. But again, a bit schzoid. If after directly betraying Jesus, Judas might still be saved, surely the rest of us must be as well.
When I considered myself a Christian, I personally held the belief that Jesus did in fact die for all of our sins, including not believing in Him, rejecting Him and not acting as He did. That Hell was, in fact, closed. To me, this is only view that makes any logical sense for a loving God. But almost no other Christians see it this way, which is OK.
In my later development, I decided to just drop the idea of a supernatural place completely. It is certainly true that we humans are plenty capable of creating our own hells, we don’t need eternal flames and funny looking guys with pitchforks. And this is where I still stand.