Monday, March 21, 2011

Blogging heaven and hell: 7

Although it seems that this topic will tear us apart, will cause one half of us to excommunicate the other half, it is not so. There is also a drawing together, a communal recognition of what it means to be human.

As humans, we do not know what happens after death, and as humans we have pity for those whose life on earth is utterly devoid of comfort. We are constrained on the one hand by our own ignorance, and and on the other hand by pity for those in misery, for victims of the tsunami, victims of poverty and disease.

Dave Ker writes,

Making confident assertions about the afterlife is the ignorant declaiming on the unknowable. We might hope things are a certain way, or fear they’re another but at the end of the day we stand on the wrong side of the wall trying to describe the scenery on the other side based on what we can see around us.

That’s why we need to think seldom, and speak even less, on the subject of hell. Or Sheol. Or Gehenna. Or Abraham’s bosom. Or Paradise. Or Makarios.

Later he paints this picture, evoking both our compassion and ignorance,

A woman sits on a filthy grass mat in a dark and smoky hut. She is wailing because her child has died. Ants swarm beneath the mat and she keeps brushing them off the rag that she has wrapped around her. The husband is gone. He comes back only often enough to take any money she might have earned and beat her. He infects her with AIDS during the visit. Soon she will die too. Her body will probably be wrapped in that same tattered and filthy mat and carried to the burial grounds. From the time she was a child to her death in misery she has carried wood, carried water, squatted by a stinking fire, been sexually assaulted as a child, never touched a pillow, or a bar of scented soap. She’s haunted by fears of the night. Or witchdoctors. Of evil spirits. Of curses and wild animals. My question is this: could hell be worse? When she died and found herself in a place of torment would it be that much different from her short life of misery? She has not called on the name of the Lord. She has not said the sinner’s prayer. She has not believed on the one whom she has not heard. She’s doomed. And she is not alone. This planet groans with billions like her.

Bob writes,
I do think there is everlasting fire. The hope is a marvel. But the fire is one as God is one. There is not a fire of wrath in hot red darkness and a second fire of love too bright to look upon, but a single consuming fire and non-consuming fire that is one love. How that love works out in our lives is a complex and inexplicable thing that perhaps can only be known, like the white stone, by the one to whom it is given. This is a gift of a name worth having.

So we should preach heaven and hell but not in a trivial linear
fashion. There is a place where they meet - in the death of Jesus. The fire is a consuming fire and also a fire of recreation too bright to see at once but inviting a face to face engagement. A human's mind should be better than 'its own place that makes a hell of heaven and a heaven of hell'. A single self presented as a living offering will find it becomes proven, informed, inflamed,
by the prayer of the Spirit who gives life to a mortal body. This is prayer worth being known in.

Kurk and Rod blog about the famous sermon by Jonathon Edwards, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" --

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

People like Lottie Moon, Gladys Alwayrd, Amy Carmicheal risked their lives for many women on many mats in many smokey huts. Men, too.

Anonymous said...

You know, many people misuse certain biblical concepts such as hell, the Trinity and even 'under the blood'.

Should we throw them all out because they are misused by some abuser?

Jay said...

Very interesting series Suzanne. I must be a most depressed person. Why is it that I can imagine hell easier than heaven? Perhaps is it because I see so much hell around me. Something in my character is going to have to drastically change if others who encounter me in a place called heaven will still think it heaven considering me. I remember feeling confused at why my homiletic professor in Bible college was all excited about Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" A few months ago when my son was given this sermon as one reading assignment for his American Literature class, I was reading it with him and was feeling this time was that this is just one of the most hateful perverse pieces I have ever seen. It is interesting that all the major religions of the world have some kind of hell. I remember as a child asking myself questions about heaven and hell. Why could not Satan repent and go back to heaven? Why do we think that once we go to heaven that we will stay there eternally, and not have a will to go against the rules and get put out? Now as an adult I try not to think about it too much because I think it will make be go crazy. Heaven and hell, just what is Just?

Bob MacDonald said...

Jay asks: why couldn't Satan repent?

I suspect the accuser does repent. That's why perhaps, in the Job epic parable, there is no accuser at the end of the book.

I think we humans are the ones best at accusing each other - so every one of us that thinks again will undermine the power of accusation in our world.

The judicial and forensic metaphors still stand - we have a fine advocate against all these accusations - true or mitigated - from the prosecution.

believer333 said...

I believe that God is Just in the best sense of the word, and that He arranges opportunity for every human to have a chance to come to Him. When I came to know the Lord it was not because some person told me about Him. God Himself put the thoughts in my mind that I responded to. We conversed a lot before I gave my life to Him. God is able to do this.

It is true though that for many people they are already living hellish lives. I don't know what God will do for them, but I do believe that God is Just.

Muff Potter said...

Over at Burk's blog, the discussion has devolved from a slugfest into a full on holy war.

One would think they were Sunni and Shiite Muslims shooting & blowing each other up in Baghdad.

I suspect that some of them would have no qualms at all about burning Bell alive for heresy if they could.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that some of them would have no qualms at all about burning Bell alive for heresy if they could.

This itself is a judgmental, derogatory, hateful statement. Self-righteousness is NOT a fruit of the Spirit.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that some of them would have no qualms at all about burning Bell alive for heresy if they could.

This itself is a judgmental, derogatory, hateful statement. Self-righteousness is NOT a fruit of the Spirit.

6:29 AM

I agree

Muff Potter said...

Not at all Anonymous, I don’t see it as judgmental any more than observing that lightning strikes tend to produce forest fires. John Adams, one of the original founders of the American experiment observed pretty much the same thing when he commented on Jefferson’s 1817 boast that the Republic had averted a Protestant Popedom:

“…Oh Lord! Do you think that a Protestant Popedom is annihilated in America? Do you recollect, or have you ever attended to the ecclesiastical Strifes in Maryland Pensilvania, New York, and every part of New England? What mercy it is that these People cannot whip and crop, and pillory and roast, as yet in the U.S.! If they could they would…”

There is one commentator over at Burk’s who has called for moderation and toleration consistent with the Christian religion, but she is drowned out by fervent dogmatists who insist that only their views should have airing. The hatred and bigotry toward her is palpable.

Anonymous said...

The difference, Muff, is that you are making up imaginary faults in people simply because you don't like the behavior you can actually see. This is not anything like the laws of nature but is pure personal attack on your part. I can't make you see it, but it's there. Bias is always someone else's fault, I guess.

Charis said...

At minute 2:32-2:55 in this non-Basher MSNBC interview, Rob Bell explains that the Greek word “heretic” means “able to choose”.

Verified: Here is the Strong’s entry:

<139>- heresy- choosing, that which is chosen, a body of men following their own tenets, dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims

Some time ago, while doing a word study on “works of the flesh”, I saw this:

1Co 11:19 For there must be also heresies <139> among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

WOW! There must be heresies among you!
“Heresies”= disagreements, differences of opinion.
WHY?
“that they which are approved may be made manifest among you”
What does it mean to be “approved”?
That takes me back to Galations 5:

14For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
15But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.


The fact that there is disagreement and conflict over doctrinal issues is to be expected, in fact it “must be“.

The question is, do I handle such disagreement in a way which reflects Christlikness, Gal 5 spiritual fruit, and 1 Cor 13 Christian love?

Charis said...

At minute 2:32-2:55 in this non-Basher MSNBC interview, Rob Bell explains that the Greek word “heretic” means “able to choose”.

Verified: Here is the Strong’s entry:

<139>- heresy- choosing, that which is chosen, a body of men following their own tenets, dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims

Some time ago, while doing a word study on “works of the flesh”, I saw this:

1Co 11:19 For there must be also heresies <139> among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

WOW! There must be heresies among you!
“Heresies”= disagreements, differences of opinion.
WHY?
“that they which are approved may be made manifest among you”
What does it mean to be “approved”?
That takes me back to Galations 5:

14For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
15But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.


The fact that there is disagreement and conflict over doctrinal issues is to be expected, in fact it “must be“.

The question is, do I handle such disagreement in a way which reflects Christlikness, Gal 5 spiritual fruit, and 1 Cor 13 Christian love?

Bob MacDonald said...

Maybe have a look here at Richard Beck on Hell - good understanding of God's character. He doesn't mention scorn or ridicule which is I think what the current debate is about but the character of love as I noted in my post is well described.

Charis said...

Suzanne,

Can you check your spam folder? I posted a comment with a link and it's disappeared twice.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Muff, which post on Dennys blog are you referring to. There are many about Bell and the few I read the coment streams in did not sound like what you have described at all.

Can you give a link to the post you are referring to?

Muff Potter said...

Here's the link Anonymous,

http://www.dennyburk.com/rob-bell-on-morning-joe/#comments-section

and I still do not believe I have made any personal attack on anyone either here or there. The faults are not imaginary Anonymous, they are in all of us. What also makes us human is the ability to restrain them with what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.

It would serve no constructive purpose at all to name names in the comment thread above, but one would really have to be biased to not see the venom directed at Christiane over at Burk's.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that some of them would have no qualms at all about burning Bell alive for heresy if they could

So you know for a fact, though you admit you only "suspect" it, that "some of them" would literally burn Bell alive? That's not a personal attack or inventing faults??

Wow.

As for Paul's "there must be heresies", he was being sarcastic, not giving an order for the church.

Again, wow.

Charis said...

I disagree that Paul was being sarcastic. I think he was stating a reality of life on the planet.

"There MUST BE disagreements <139> among you"

and the reason for this lack of uniformity of opinion? Appears to be a kind of test:

"that those who are approved may be made manifest"

God's goals for us are much higher than "agreement". When Jesus prayed in John 17 for His followers to "be one", it wasn't a prayer for "agreement" (or we'd all be Catholic).

Can we disagree and maintain "unity of the spirit and the bond of peace"? (or will we engage in crusades, inquisitions, witch-hunts, flame-throwing etc.)

Charis said...

Anonymous,

I looked that passage up again and you might be right about Paul being sarcastic there?

There are undoubtedly much stronger passages to prove the point that people who call themselves "Christian" should be able to disagree agreeably.

One of my other enlightening moments from that word study of "works of the flesh"(besides "heresy" meaning diversity of opinion) is that zelos-zeal is among the works of the flesh. Sometimes christians can get so zealous defending our views that that we "bite and devour one another". Gal 5:15