The Gates of Hell
Shane Claiborne wants to tear down the walls that separate us.

In part one of his post, Shane Claiborne challenged our assumptions about hell. Is it merely something people experience after death, or is hell a living reality for many on earth? Claiborne continues by proposing an offensive rather than defensive posture for the church toward hell.

C.S. Lewis understood hell, not as a place where God locks people out of heaven, but as a dungeon that we lock ourselves into and that we as a Church hold the keys. I think that gives us new insight when we look at the parable of Lazarus or hear the brilliant words with which Jesus reassures Peter: "The gates of Hell will not prevail against you." As an adolescent, I understood that to mean that the demons and fiery darts of the devil will not hit us. But lately I've done a little more thinking and praying, and I have a bit more insight on the idea of "gates." Gates are not offensive weapons. Gates are defensive - walls and fences we build to keep people out. God is not saying the gates of hell will not prevail as they come at us. God is saying that we are in the business of storming the gates of hell, and the gates will not prevail as we crash through them with grace.

People sometimes ask if we are scared of the inner city. I say that I am more scared of the suburbs. Our Jesus warns that we can fear those things which can hurt our bodies or we can fear those things which can destroy our souls, and we should be far more fearful of the latter. Those are the subtle demons of suburbia.

As my mother once told me, "Perhaps there is no more dangerous place for a Christian to be than in safety and comfort, detached from the suffering of others." I'm scared of apathy and complacency, of detaching myself from the suffering. It's hard to see until our 20/20 hindsight hits us - but every time we lock someone out, we lock ourselves further in.

Just as we are building walls to keep people out of our comfortable, insulated existence, we are trapping ourselves in a hell of isolation, loneliness and fear. We have "gated communities" where rich folks live. We put up picket fences around our suburban homes. We place barbed wire and razer-wire around our buildings and churches. We put bars on our windows in the ghettos of fear. We build up walls to keep immigrants from entering our country. We guard our borders with those walls - Berlin, Jerusalem, Jericho. And the more walls and gates and fences we have, the closer we are to hell. We, like the rich man, find ourselves locked into our gated homes and far from the tears of Lazarus outside, far from the tears of God.

January 18, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 33 comments


January 26, 2007  8:11pm

hmm. why can't it be that hell is a reality in the afterlife as well as a reality now? i don't get all the hub bub.

Report Abuse


January 24, 2007  2:20pm

sidebar: JohnH, it's TOTALLY a parable! But let us not think for a moment that we cannot find the timeless truth from the parable (I will assume that this is what you were driving at in the first place. . .). TOTALLY a parable.

Report Abuse


January 24, 2007  1:59pm

Embracing Christ can never be disconnected from the context of why we need Christ and why it is such a marvelous thing to be saved. To expunge or discount the notion of hell from our conversation about God is to totally miss the mystery of the deity and humanity of Christ. Hell is fundamental to any eternal discussion because it represents justice and that is part of who God is. He is a just and awesome God... perfect and Holy in every way. Emergent thinking has rightly called out that we should not think of Jesus as simply saving us from hell, but as an embracing of a new life. However, this thinking often devolves into questioning how the idea of hell can coexist with a loving God. This juxtaposition reaks of mainline theology and pits two aspects of God's character that are truly complementary. Hell is beautiful in a terrible way because it represents an ultimate judgment whereby the unjust are finally brought to justice. It signifies that God will not ultimately tolerate the suffering that humankind wreaks on the planet. He will cut it off and say 'Enough!' It is not beautiful because some people will go there. Our response can never be to make judgment and assume that we know who is going to have mercy or no mercy. We must not discriminate in our kindness and forgiveness. But that is the beauty... God is God and I am not. I am to love and forgive and God is the judge. He knows best. It comforts me to know that God 'RIGHT NOW' extends mercy and friendship. It also comforts me to know that God 'IN THE FUTURE' will say enough is enough and end the suffering and bring everything to an ultimate judgment.

Report Abuse

Jack De Wolfe

January 24, 2007  10:52am

How appropriate. The article on the gates of hell has an advertisement for heating comfort along side of it. We talk about the damning nature of hell itself in the context of our seeking our own comfort! Now that's prophetic! Hell is a self-chosen place away from the God that the damned did not want to spend time with. It is also warranted so that God's people do not have to spend eternity with those who often made their lives here, hell on earth. Hell is the alternative for those who do not choose to go to heaven by faith. If they didn't want to spend life with God here, what makes anyone think they would want to be close to him in eternity? I thank God for the doctrine of hell for it means God is serious about the provision for his saints, "I go to prepare a place for you." Thankfully, it won't have the same sin-driven tensions as believers live a faith-based life here, today. The older I get the more important the doctrines of heaven and hell become to me. I rejoice in an eventual judgment where evil that has escaped accountability here on earth will be made right in eternity. I also pray that awareness of hell motivates me to be receptive to any opportunity to discuss eternal life throughout my daily walk. I pray that the knowledge of the horrific nature of hell empower the desire for evangelism.

Report Abuse


January 24, 2007  2:22am

Josh states that if you get outside of the traditional view you are wrong. That is great I am glad that you have the mind of God and know exactly what was right or wrong. When the monks started doing things differently around 500 or so the established tradition got scared, 300 or so years later when Francis of Asissi challenged the institution and those who claimed to follow the traditional thinking and probably thouth they were "right" got scared. They didnt want the "right" thinking to be changed. Do you have the courage or humility to admit that what you call wrong might be more about you than anything else

Report Abuse

Gary Smitham

January 23, 2007  11:39pm

Fascinating honest discussion of what we feel...and I will add that I hate the idea of hell...and I hate the confusion it brings to me as I wrestle with Arminian / Calvinistic concepts of salvation / sovereingty / responsibility, which in turn bear on the reasonableness or otherwise of a literal hell from a human perspective. But at the end of the day...I dare not shrink from the reality of what is given to us in the New Testament. Hell is real or we might as well give up on the bible. The proper call for passionate, all consuming discipleship, even the description of mercy as "pure & undefiled religion" must manage to co-exist with this dreadful reality that somehow perfectly accords with the character of the God of perfect justice, mercy and love.

Report Abuse


January 23, 2007  9:42pm

Remember the phrase "straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel"? Remember that in spite of all the best efforts of the Pharisees to "get it right" that they totally missed the point? Jesus doesn't want modern Pharisees, content and complacent in their exegesis, He wants us to be like Him, do what Mother Teresa did and Shane is doing and concentrate on what really matters. Shame on us for missing the point.

Report Abuse


January 23, 2007  8:12pm

The pictures of hell (such as punishment, banishment, and destruction) flow naturally from biblical portraits of sin. Each picture of hell seems to be the logical result of the particular portrait of sin. Hell as punishment recognizes sin as guilt, crime, trespass, or transgression. Hell as destruction/death sees sin as opposition or spiritual death (e.g., Eph. 2; Rom. 5:12-21). Hell as banishment/separation views sin as alienation from God. Various pictures of hell even seem to show an "inaugurated eschatology" of sin/death. God's wrath is upon sinners, and hell is the culmination and release of that wrath (Rom. 1:8-2:8; 5:6-11). Sinners are condemned already, but await the ultimate condemnation in hell (John 3:16-36; 5:24-28). Sinners are now dead spiritually, but await the second death. Unbelievers are alienated from God now, but will be finally excluded from his presence. Sinners' hearts are dark now, but will eternally be in the "outer darkness" and "blackest darkness" of hell. The evidence is compelling: in some sense the descriptions of hell can be properly viewed as culminations, extensions, intensifications, and/or logical continuations of the unbeliever's current state of sin. For more on this see Hell Under Fire (Zondervan).

Report Abuse


January 23, 2007  8:03pm

"however, i don't believe God's grace and mercy end at death. how could they? are we saying these characteristics of God are then nonexistent in Him forevermore? because that's what you're saying - where else would grace and mercy be needed than in hell?" Mike, you haven't read the story of Lazarus (sidebar: it's not a parable). In that story the rich man continues to reject God's mercy. He hasn't learned anything. He is still asking Lazarus to serve him.

Report Abuse

Frank Ritchie

January 23, 2007  5:04pm

Why has nobody touched on the actual word 'hell' and where it comes from? Most translations put the word 'hell' in place of three very different concepts. Jesus, when talking of judgement in relation to Jewish people, talks of Gehenna, this get's translated often as 'hell'. In Matthew 16 he refers to Hades (also used in many other places in the NT) and this gets translated often as 'hell'. Peter refers to a place called Tartaros once and this also gets translated as 'hell'. These are 3 very different places, the latter two finding their origins in Greek mythology, and Hades in Greek mythology is not a fiery place of judgement... in fact, it contains a paradise - the Elysian Fields)... yet we lump them all in as the same fiery place of judgement. Are we doing a disservice to the intent of the text by not looking further into these and noting their differences and in so doing trying to work out what the writers were trying to convey? When we talk of 'hell', which of these 3 concepts are we referring to?

Report Abuse