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Leslie Weatherhead on ‘Hell’

Leslie D. Weatherhead in “The Christian Agnostic” (Abingdon Press 1965)

(pp: 281-282)

We must at once throw over as unworthy of God any vestigial ideas remaining in our minds that anyone, whatever he believes or does is landed in some kind of endless torture after death.

It is surely probable that Jesus viewing the burning of rubbish in the valley of Hinnom, called Gehenna, used it, as he was so found of using the things men saw every day, to point certain lessons. All that flame could consume in the valley of burning was consumed. But there was always a valuable residue, ashes used for cultivating soil or clinkers for making roads. True the flames never went out, because daily, new material was dumped on to the burning mass by the dustmen of Jerusalem. But, equally true, nothing of value was destroyed. The fact that a fire burns for a long time, does not mean it acts upon the same material. It can only consume what is inflammable. Hell may last as long as sinful humanity last but does not mean that any individual will remain in it all the time. The time of purging can only continue until purification is reached. And a God driven to employ an endless hell would be a God turned fiend himself, defeated in his original purpose

The Gospel writers, like our own grandfathers, distorted the words of Jesus, impelled to do so by that age-long streak of malice in man which makes him desire that those who don’t agree with him and follow his teachings shall suffer. In a footnote (p:276) Weatherhead writes: The word “kolasis” translated “punishment” means “pruning” clearly something done to promote subsequent growth and change. So God has even a purpose in all of this.


No words used in the Gospel’s can legitimately be twisted to mean unending punishment, and indeed, such a expression is self-contradictory. The main motive of punishment surely is often to reform the sufferer; in school to make a better scholar; in the state, to make a better citizen. If the *punishment* (emphasis in original text) goes on forever when does the sufferer benefit by the punishment or use the lessons he has learned so painfully? If hell is endless it would be meaningless.

Yet for myself I do not throw over the imagery of fire. I cannot, for our Lord introduced it, however his followers may have distorted it. And there is a compliment implied in the very use of the word “fire”. Wood hay and stubble are destroyed by fire. Gold is “refined” by it. Since destruction cannot be God’s plan, his use of of a discipline comparable with fire points to mans character being of the nature of gold which benefits by it. Nor does one forget that the refiner of gold carries the purifying process to the point at which he can *see* *his* *own* *face* (emphasis in original text) in the molten metal.


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  1. Of course, what you have to remember about Weatherhead is that he denied just about everything about Christianity including the atonement and the resurrection – so denying the existence of hell was naturally part of the process

    Posted by donhorrocks | February 22, 2011, 9:06 pm