Friday, February 03, 2006

Hell No!

I have really been committing to get back into reading. I just got done with Brian Mclaren's "The Last Word". I am presently reading "Blue Like Jazz" and upon recommendation, shall be taking up "the Sparrow" next.

I highly recommend "The Last Word". If nothing else, it give you a peek into some alternative thoughtlines that exist in the Christian world.

Brian McLaren really challenges the typical evangelical thoughts on and purposes in preaching Hell. I found a letter that I sent out to a bunch of friends about 6 years ago when I first started wrestling with Hell. Here is that letter, and my thoughts at the time:

Hello all,
I have been hit by a new theological trauma that has been giving me the runabout for the past few days, so I thought I would toss it out to you and see what you think.

It all came about the other day when I was listening to talk radio. There was an atheist on there begrudging the whole "see you at the pole" event. He was a usual ranter and party-liner, but one of the callers said something that really threw me.

“It is not so much that I don’t believe in God,” he said. “But I have a hard time believing that a being such as has been described would use violence of the ultimate sort as punishment for non-compliance."

How had I missed that question all these years? We all know the arguments for why “a loving God sends people to Hell,” but in the moment following that question, all of those arguments fell apart for me.

Many of you have read C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. Though the issue of pain is a stumbling block for some, and though it is a struggle to deal with at the time, it can always be brought to near triviality in the scope of eternity. As Paul said in countless different ways in the epistles “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”. I wish Lewis had written a book called the Problem of Hell.

Here are the questions that have been rolling in my head the past couple days, which I am having difficulty finding solutions for.

First, there is the finality of it all. If suffering can be used as a tool to develop empathy, correct us, refocus us, cause us to go deeper, then there is an ultimate good to it. In my present paradigm, God can do nothing else. What man (or Satan for that matter) intends for evil, he can always turn it to a good. God can wrench glory from even the direst circumstances.

What then, does Hell provide? There is no ultimate good that can come out of it, because there is no opportunity for redemption. I realize the usual argument would be to say that they had an opportunity to accept salvation, but rejected it. This doesn’t seem to wash with me anymore for three reasons:

Can it truly be said the people who have rejected Christ have a clear understanding of what they are rejecting and what they are accepting in his place? I don’t think so. I don’t think that most Christians have even begun to get a handle on this, let alone someone who has no familiarity with the ways and teachings of God.

IF such a person existed, could they be truly sane?

IF they were sane, is hell a reasonable result?

    I think the reasonableness of hell is really hard for me to grasp. However rebellious or hideous a man may be; is hell a good solution? Eternal torture beyond measure?…forever?…. for the choices of eighty mortal years? When I sit down and consider that eternal destiny, I start to wonder.

    Also, what would the reason be for such an extreme punishment? (And this is the ultimate extreme). I have trouble reconciling it with the character of God, as I understand it. Is this vindictiveness? Getting even? What possible motive could God have? Holiness alone does not seem to be enough. Holiness says sin cannot be in God’s presence. Hell is an eternity beyond a mere removal from God’s proximity.

    Another curious point- what would motivate God to think up such a place in any case? He teaches me the proper way to think in Philippians. Hell could not come into that thought line. How does one, in line with goodness, contemplate the torture of his creatures?

    I have started a casual study of scripture at this point, and have gotten few answers. The Bible has a lot to say about sending people there, but little reason why… other than they are sinners. This always leads me back to my list of questions.

    Anyway, these have been my thoughts the past couple of days. Romans 11 says to ‘consider therefore, the kindness and sternness of God.” I am troubled considering that sternness.
    Feel free to respond, or not, at your leisure.


    Brook said...

    looking forward to what you think of The Sparrow... We've wrestled with how God treats some of us in the afterlife, but what about how he treats some of his followers in this life? I think the bottom line problem is how we think of God, and/or what kind of thoughts we project into God's mind that He may not be thinking. most of the time when we say how God thinks or feels or acts, what we really mean is "If I were God, this is how I would think/feel/act". I think a lot of our ideas of what "God is Love" means is more just wishful thinking. We can't imagine hell, or why God would send anyone there (i.e., if WE were God, we wouldn't send anyone there... WE wouldn't be so horrible as all that), but that may not have much to do with the reality of God and who He is, or how He sees fit to act.

    not to be repeating what I've already emailed you, but I think this little clip from an interview with Mary Doria Russell in some way deals with the issue:

    Q: What's the moral of this story?

    A: Maybe it's "Even if you do the best you can, you still get screwed." We seem to believe that if we act in accordance with our understanding of God's will, we ought to be rewarded. But in doing so we're making a deal that God didn't sign onto. Emilio has kept his end of a bargain that he made with God, and he feels betrayed. He believes he has been seduced and raped by God, that he's been used against his will for God's own purpose. And I guess that's partly what I'm doing with this book. I wanted to look at that aspect of theology. In our world, if people believe at all, they believe that God is love, God is hearts and flowers, and that God will send you theological candy all the time. But if you read Torah, you realize that God has a lot to answer for. God is a complex personality. I wanted to explore that complexity and that moral ambiguity. God gives us rules but those are rules for us, not for God.

    Andrew said...

    I think a lot of people may really blanch at the word "rape" that Russell uses. However, when you look at Pharoah in Egypt, there were multiple times he wanted to let the Israelites go, but that did not work for God, so he hardened his heart.
    This obviously disturbed the Christians of Saint Paul's day, so he addresses it in Romans 9... but not in the way most would have thought -
    "Someone will say, 'then why does God still blame us? For who can resist His will?' But who are you O'man to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it,'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared for destruction. What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy whom he prepared in advance for glory?"

    This passage has always made me nervous. People always quote verses about how much God loves us as children. Somehow, I always seem to miss the Sunday morning sermons where God views us as lumps of clay to be used and manipulated as needed.

    I need to find it, but there is a scripture in the old testament where God states, "You error when you assume I think as you do".

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