I read your post on "Gods and Monsters" and enjoyed it very much. However (You knew there had to be a "however"!), it got me thinking about the relationship between God and man and, frankly, it seems to me that we are the monsters. I would love to be able to chime in with Flip Wilson and say, "The devil made me do it!" Unfortunately, that simply isn't the case.
I have been thinking about this a lot recently. I've had good men tell me of their struggles with various and sundry temptations and I know my own struggles with my personal weaknesses (Snap judgments on the evil motives of drivers with New York and Quebec license tags, the angry suspicion that all electronic devices are out to get me and will only work upon seeing me reduced to a seething, swearing, violent wreck, etc.). These may seem small, and they are but a sampling of my many failings, but they, in fact, hamper and limit my relationship with God and His creation all too often.
Jesus said, in Matthew 5:22, "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."
I looked up the Aramaic definition of "Hell" the other day. At the time, I wanted to know what Jesus meant when He said that "...it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell."
Hell is the English translation of "Gehenna," a place in the Valley of Hinnom, east of Jerusalem, where human sacrifices were made to ancient Canaanite gods and a place that, at the time of Jesus, was a garbage dump.
I don't think Jesus was telling us in either passage how to avoid an eternity in the local dump. No, I think He used the image of Gehenna to indicate to his audience of Jews the uncleanliness, the depravity of a place outside of God's blessings. It would be like us warning someone that, if they persist in their evil ways, they will spend eternity at a Michael Bolton concert!
True story: I was having dinner in Ft. Lauderdale about fifteen years ago. Our buddy, Jay, was playing drums with the house band at a long-gone place called "Mario's." His wife, Honey, was with us when in walks Michael Bolton with an entourage. Mr. Bolton got a table for his party out on the street-side veranda. Honey freaked because she thought he was a good singer. I told her that he was a hack, but she wanted to meet him anyway. She goes out to tell Mr. Bolton how much she thinks of his singing and he airily blows her off. Yet another reason to despise the man's irritating oversinging (along with having Ray Charles play piano for him as he sang "Georgia!" Were I God, that would warrant an immediate trip to Waste Management, but God, as they say, is merciful.).
Anyway, I have no idea whether there is an actual place known as Hell that has neverending fire and torment, there simply isn't enough information given in the Bible to be sure. But I do know that being outside of the presence of God, a situation that no one currently in this world has EVER experienced, is a horrible, horrible thing and a fate that I wouldn't wish on any human being.
At the end of the day, what I take from Jesus' words of warning is this: We are the monsters. We seek after our own way and, in doing so, whether wittingly or not, declare ourselves to be sovereign. In this act of impudence, we bring sorrow to ourselves and to our surroundings. Yes, the devil delights in tempting us to such rash thoughts and deeds, but we are the ones who ultimately choose our way. We really do have a choice, if only we take the time to consider it, and can choose the ways of God or the ways of man. The devil doesn't encourage us to choose the ways of the devil--he doesn't have to! It is enough if he can get us to choose our own path, for the moment that we do, we distance ourselves from God and His righteousness, holiness and grace.
Thomas A. Hall