Intro to Worms and Fire

I recently received a request to explore a subject that I have devoted a whole web site to but is still largely unfinished. This request came in a comment on a recent post from a good friend of mine that has a real heart to know God much better. That kind of spirit really warms my heart and challenges me to respond by taking a much closer look at the passages that he refers to in his comment.

Following is part of his comment and then the letter that I have just sent in partial response to his questions. I invite anyone interested in this quest to join us in exploring vital themes that will challenge many assumptions that we have had about God that have darkened views of Him for centuries.

Will you please explain your understanding of the verses that say things like "their fire never goes out and their worm never dies.", etc. These are the verses that are usually understood to talk of eternal suffering, etc. It would be good to examine them directly and in context.
The Spirit of God, of Jesus and of the Father, is faithful to reveal His heart to us as we may be able to understand Him. Only let Him continue to reveal Himself and lovingly draw us to a heart-knowledge of Him which fits with all we know of Him in His revealed Word. And I long for understanding of Him that I can witness to clearly, with understanding.

Thank-you so much for requesting me to look into these verses. I can see that this could be a very exciting project for me and one that will open my own eyes a great deal more and allow me to see much more clearly wonderful truths about God like I have never seen them before.

Your request to look at these verses in context is so important. But it also will cause me to spend a great deal of time meditating on the context, which with just a cursory overview is going to be awesome indeed. When I just now looked up these phrases and found the following verses, I took a few minutes to both look around at the context from where I found them and also to check out some of the original words in the Hebrew from which the original quotation used by Jesus was lifted. I can quickly begin to see that the context, both in Isaiah and in Mark, have enormous implications that I have never considered yet. I am now seeing that this whole chapter in Mark is likely related to what Jesus is saying here at the end and His words really need to be couched in that context if we want to get a better grasp of what He is trying to convey to us here.

Following is just a small amount of the context for both of these passages. I certainly have not taken anywhere near enough time to unpack them very far, but what I am seeing already is very exciting to me. But one thing has to be kept clearly in view if we are to come to a proper understanding of Scriptures; we have to keep everything in perspective with the truths about God that are found clearly elsewhere concerning a particular subject or theme. We need to be very careful not to allow traditional interpretations or assumptions about words and phrases to color our opinions about what these passages may mean. That is very difficult to do unless we have spent some time challenging our own assumptions in the first place and seeking to know what key words mean from the Bible's perspective instead of how religion has distorted them over the centuries.

Here are the verses under immediate consideration:

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:43-50)

"For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me," declares the LORD, "So your offspring and your name will endure. And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me," says the LORD. "Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind." (Isaiah 66:22-24)

A few things I want to try to explain about where I am coming from just so you might be aware. I have spent years challenging my own doctrines and beliefs to see if they stand up to what God has been showing me directly from Scriptures. I also want every other person to do the same thing and not necessarily take my word for things. However, I have found it helpful at times to learn things that I have never thought about before from other people who have likewise explored Scriptures for themselves and have received compelling insights. I don't mind sharing what I am learning with those who are hungry to grow and mature and advance in their own understanding of truth and especially those who have a deepening passion to know God and the real truth about Him at a very personal level.

I have sensed for a long time that you are such a man. I have felt it a great privilege to have you probing me at times to look deeper into things and to have you share your thoughts and concerns with me. I don't consider myself so much as an authority on topics as I want to be a person who is willing to come alongside others who are on a similar journey to mine and to mutually share things we may be observing or insights that are awakening deep in our souls.

The subject you bring up here is one that God personally pressed me to investigate for around two years some time back. The conclusions that I felt compelled to arrive at were in stark contrast with that which have been taught to me all of my life by my parents and my church. In a way it was a struggle to let go of what I had traditionally believed, but God would not let me have peace until I was willing to allow the Bible to be the supreme authority and let His Spirit interpret it as it's original Author. As I kept my eyes and heart open for over two years as I read all through the Bible, I began to see passage after passage that more clearly emphasized the growing truth about God as I had never seen it before. Verses seemed to leap out at me that I had never noticed before and fit perfectly with other passages to open up a new picture of truth about the fire of God and about hell that strongly challenged everything I had thought previously.

But as this new vision of God began to emerge from the fog so to speak, the true glory of God and the incredible beauty and attractiveness of His character has begun to take hold of my heart and I have felt a spontaneous response of love like I have never even started to feel all of my growing up years. I had mainly been taught a head religion and had been carefully steered away from any religion that involved passion or emotions and affections in a personal relationship with God. I am not saying that those who taught me deliberately tried to keep me from knowing God personally; it was just that they too had been brought up in an external-based form of religion and were just passing along what they had received.

I am starting to see a movement led by the Spirit of God in these last days to draw on the hearts and minds of many people all over the world to challenge what they have been taught and to gravitate into a new way of relating to God. Of course, there is also a counterfeit movement toward a shallow, emotion-based religion that does not value solid doctrine and truth or a deep, personal searching of the Scriptures to know the real truth for one's self. That is a dangerous diversion, but not necessarily more dangerous than the knee-jerk reaction by conservatives to try to prevent people from entering into new arenas of thinking and belief that are not traditionally embraced by established religion.

We must each one allow ourselves to be held accountable by God and to search individually the Word of God for ourselves like the Bereans that Paul complimented for such activity. While they were willing to listen to Paul's preaching and consider his new ideas and think outside the box, they were careful to go back and examine for themselves what the Scriptures had to say about these new things and to make the Scriptures their final authority for their beliefs about God. They did not just trust in great sermons from a preacher that had compelling new ideas.

I appreciate you challenging me to look into this more directly for myself. My only fear is that, given my penchant to burrow down very deep into the text it could take me months to unpack this very far. I already am seeing many, many links and connections within the context of these two passages that are terribly fascinating to me and that I want to jump in and follow right away. I know from experience that when I follow even one of these threads into the text that there will be many more emerging along the way. But I also want to keep the big picture in mind so that I don't lose sight of how everything fits together properly.

Bear with me if you will, as I ponder and listen for the Spirit's guiding in this study. Also be aware that I have already come to see many of the words in Scripture from a different perspective than what many people in religion assume, so I often feel compelled to take time to explain that as I go along. I have come to realize that religion as developed by men has basically hijacked the language of the Bible and has formed a parallel system of religion and teachings that sound logical but is not necessarily what the Bible presents. Just because people can string texts together does not mean that the conclusions they are trying to prove fits with the rest of Scripture. It has much to do with the motivation and the willingness of a person to keep an open mind and repeatedly lay aside preconceived opinions as much as it has to do with allowing the Word of God to interpret its own meaning of terms and phrases.

You asked me to give you my perspective of these verses along with a few others you mentioned. That will necessarily involved sharing from the perspective that I have at the present time which is very likely to be at least somewhat different than where many others might be coming from with their perspective. I am happy to do this, especially if there is someone willing to listen and to maybe even dovetail their efforts with me in exploring what the Bible really has to say about important subjects like this.

This will take some time, but the rewards for anyone willing to launch into a study of this nature are immense and quite unpredictable. Interestingly, speaking of rewards, that seems to be one of the primary threads in the context here in the chapter from Mark that was just quoted. Jesus is trying to get across to His disciples the real nature of reality and what kinds of rewards heaven offers instead of the reward notions commonly valued by selfish humans trying to get themselves into heaven. But that will have to be part of a future session.

Please feel free to participate in this study if you are willing. I value input and questions and observations from honest-hearted people hungry to know the Word better and seeking to experience the real truth about God at the heart level. And again, thanks for the challenge – it looks to be a very stimulating experience in the Word.

P.S. I think I might post these explorations on my Spiritual Ponderings blog so that others might avail themselves of what we are learning as I dig into these passages. I trust that God might use what we are learning in the lives of others if I make it available in public for whenever He wants to bring someone along just when they are ready to learn something.


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