6. While Jesus threatened the wicked with “everlasting fire,” he also threatened them with being thrown into “Gehenna;” but what was “Gehenna?” A place in the outskirts of Jerusalem, into which all the filth and rubbish of the city was habitually thrown. If we take the statement of “everlasting fire” as being a literal truth, why should we not also take the statement about being thrown “into Gehenna” as equally literal? No one has ever supposed the latter statement to be anything else than one of the energetic figures employed by Jesus to strike the imagination of the populace; why should we give a different interpretation to the “fire” with which he threatens the guilty? If he had intended to represent their subjection to that “fire” as eternal, he would have been in contradiction with himself in exalting the goodness and the mercy of God; for mercy and inexorability are contraries that mutually annul each other. The whole teaching of Jesus is a proclamation of the goodness and mercy of the Creator; and it is therefore evident that it is only through an entire misinterpretation of his utterances that the latter can be held to sanction the dogma of eternal punishment.
In The Lord’s Prayer, he tells us to say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;” but, if the trespasser against the Divine law had no forgiveness to hope for, it would be useless for him or her to ask for it. But is the forgiveness thus alluded to by Jesus as a certainty, unconditional? Is it an act of grace on the part of God, a pure and simple remission of the penalty incurred by the transgressor? No; for the obtaining of this forgiveness by us is made conditional on our having forgiven; in other words, if we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven. Since God makes our forgiveness of trespasses against ourselves the absolute condition of God’s forgiveness of our trespasses against God, God could not demand of weak humankind to do that which God, with God’s almighty power, refused to do; and the teaching of The Lord’s Prayer is therefore a standing protest against the doctrine which attributes eternal and implacable vengeance to God.