Q & R: Hades, hell, etc.
Here's the Q:
I've read quite a few of your books... I'd like to espouse your cause
but have honest questions. Jesus in Luke 16:19-31 speaks of "hades"
or hell. He speaks of Abraham as saying (verses 29 & 31) that people
have Moses and the prophets relating to this. So how can you say that
the concept of hell in Christendom is a result of it being high jacked
by the Greco/Roman philosophy?
Here's the R:
I've written about this in most detail in my book The Last Word and the Word After That.
One brief comment. Whatever that passage teaches, it does not teach that the only way to go to heaven is by believing in a Christian atonement theory. It does not teach that the only way to avoid hell is through adherence to a certain religion or creed. It does not teach that the sinner's prayer will lead to heaven. If it teaches anything (in a literalistic sense), it is that rich people go to hell and poor people go to heaven, or that people who are lacking in compassion for the poor go to hell and the poor they are careless toward go to heaven. So ... if people want to take the passage literally, they should teach what it plainly teaches.
I don't believe Jesus is teaching us about the geography or ontology of hades/hell in this passage, any more than I believe he is teaching about being able to communicate across the "chasm" between heaven and hell. I believe he is teaching us that the living God is deeply concerned about the way we treat the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Any way of interpreting the text that takes us away from that central moral summons is, I think, a colossal adventure in missing the point.
Caring for the poor is what Moses and the prophets emphasized - as, for example, Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 58 make clear.
I know that differs from what many have been taught, but I think it's pretty hard to reach any other conclusion when you approach the texts reverently and without preconceived conclusions in mind.