Sunday, January 30, 2011

That He May Have Mercy On Them All

I am always surprised (and not) to find that chief among my theological offences with Evangelicals is my Universalism - that not one soul will spend an eternity in a place called Hell. It is understandable, to give up Hell is to become powerless; at least in a coercive sense.

Having stepped out of Evangelicalism, it is easy to see the proclamation of an eternal Hell as simply a power grab. One's religion has a lot of command if no one comes to God except through you. Now that I am out of that subset of Christianity, I hear those statements as one amidst a myriad of other sects stating the same thing.

Each of them has the monopoly.

So many correct/only ways... so little time. :)

The thought of a generous and patient God would deprive them of control. It would also burst their hope for vindication. For within the heart of many religious people is a longing for the day when they will finally be proved RIGHT!

The writers of the scriptures recognized these characteristics ... and warned us against them many times.

Jonah was told to go preach to Nineveh. When God showed mercy to it's people, Jonah was not pleased.

"But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

But the LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

In Matthew, we hear from Jesus the story of the workers. Some are hired at the beginning of the day, some just before quitting time.

"The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’


In Luke, Jesus tells the famous story of the prodigal son. When the Father is overjoyed at the return of the prodigal, the brother becomes sulky.

"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!"

I think in our first moments, when we are all gathered before Him, there are going to be a lot of brothers, workers, and prophets who are bitter and angry. Angry because God gives generously to all without finding fault. That God kept no record of wrongs. That He always trusted, always hoped, always persevered, and did not fail.

These folks will sulk for a bit... but they'll get over it. :)

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Luke 13:28..."There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, for you will see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you will be thrown out.

Luke 16:22-24...“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

1. The suffering of hell is beyond any experience of misery found in this world.
2. Hell is clearly included in the teaching of Jesus.
3. If the biblical descriptions of hell are symbols, then the reality will be worse than the symbols.
4. Hell is the presence of God in His wrath and judgment.
5. There is no cruelty in hell. Hell will be a place of perfect justice.
6. Hell is eternal. There is no escape through either repentance or annihilation.

Biblical passages for reflection: Matthew 8:11-12, Mark 9:42-48, Luke 16:19-31, Jude 1:3-13, Revelation 20:11-15.

Bruce said...

Ah yes threaten a universalist with he'll that always works.

Redlefty said...

Oh boy here we go, and predictably from "Anonymous".

Mr./Mrs. Anonymous, please respect the possibility that we have studied each of those passages, in multiple langagues including the original, and have wrestled mightily with each of them before arriving at our current understanding of God's grace.

And we'll respect the possibility that you are nobly looking out for our souls, and have good reason for witholding your name.

Andrew said...

Anon - You have to do more than cut and paste scriptures... It is not like I have not read those before, in fact, I have many of them memorized. I would wager I know them better than you.

I think the bible is a big Rorschach test... we see what we want to see. I think scripture validates this - the good man brings good things from the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things from the evil stored up in him.

So what do we get from scripture? Blessings or cursing? Grace or judgement? Love or hate?

The scriptures we quote, meditate on, and cling to reflect our heart for all the world to see.

Andrew said...

Whoops... ya slipped in ahead of me Red... and were more gracious than me too... Dang! ;)

Bruce - Every two weeks or so, someone threatens me with Hell. Somehow they don't understand that that is the equivalent of my threatening them with the Fates cutting their life thread.... ah well. :)

societyvs said...

Hell is an interestting topic, since it does appear in scripture in a variety of forms (hades being the most popular).

In the Luke passages we see the use of hell as a place for people that do not follow a 'righteous' path...a sort of deterrent. However, this doesn't seem like an idea steeped in Jewish theology - and seems to be borrowed from the time period with the Greeks and Romans...namely the Greeks who used hades as an 'underworld' (which we see clearly in both Luke pieces).

Hell is also described in a variety of ways.

Matt 8 - 'outer darkness'
Mark 9 - 'worm does not die and fire not quenched' - worm mean underground?
Luke 16 - called 'Hades' (a greek underworld) and 'fire scenario'
Luke 13 - likely Hades again - 'weeping and gnashing of teeth' - like Luke 16 - can see heaven.
Jude 1 - 'eternal fire and black darkness'
Rev 20 - 'lake of fire' (new take on Hades)

Question is, what is Hades and what does it look like according to Greek Mythical thought. Are there striking similarities? Taken from Wikipedia on the subject 'Hades'.

(1) "In older Greek myths, the realm of Hades is the misty and gloomy abode of the dead...where all mortals go. Later Greek philosophy introduced the idea that all mortals are judged after death and are either rewarded or cursed. Very few mortals could leave his realm once they entered"

(2) "Tartarus It is a deep, gloomy place, a pit, or an abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides beneath the underworld. In the Gorgias, Plato (c. 400 BC) wrote that souls were judged after death and those who received punishment were sent to Tartarus."

(3) "The Styx forms the boundary between the upper and lower worlds"

(4) "Hades (the "unseen"), the god of the underworld...Hades, god of the dead, was a fearsome figure to those still living"

First problem with the biblical idea of hell is it is deeply rooted in Grecian Mythological thought...which most Christians will easily swear is 'not factual' (ie: Zeus or Hercules). But for some reason Hades survived. Fear of death maybe?

Similarities:
- Hades is a place of judgment - first as an underworld then as a punishment for the wicked (ie: Tartarus)
- Tartarus is one of the greek words used directly in the bible in 2 Peter 2:4 - which comes from Platonic thought of the afterworld
- Styx was a chasm between the living and the dead - and no one could cross back (except for Hercules and Theseus)...and now include Jesus according to some interpretations of 'going to the underworld and coming back'. In the parable we see a 'seperation' or 'chasm'.
- Hades, which included hell (tartarus), was run by Hades - a god of the underworld. Isn't this basically the Christian devil for many centuries?

It's fairly easily to recognize that Christian theology on hell/hades was actually Grecian thought on Hades...in fact most popular term for hell in the NT - hades. The similarities speak for themselves as well.

But if Christians are willing to drop every other Greco-Roman concept on mythological gods - why hang on to Hades/Pluto? Paul not once in his travels included a single other god into the faith of Christianity...and Hades is a god.

Logan said...

I won't be so charitable, because I'm in a somewhat snarky mood. :) Anonymous:

1) Grow a pair and sign your name. No more messages from "Cowards for Christ" please...

2) Read your Bible a little more closely-you'll notice Jesus throws Hell in the face of the Pharisees for...oh yeah, because they "shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces" (Matthew 23:13). Perhaps this doesn't bode so well for some folks today.

Steve H. said...

Not that this is going to change your mind but your argument is directed at the offense you feel from evangelicals use of "hell".

If evangelicals had not misused "hell" for personal reasons, would there be the same zealousness?

I hear what you're saying and believe that the mercy and grace of God is much greater than the average evangelicals...but your continued war against the evil evangelicals dilutes the impact of your theology.

I don't see from the scriptures an air tight argument for your position. Would you say it is airtight?

Andrew said...

“If evangelicals had not misused "hell" for personal reasons, would there be the same zealousness?”

I am pretty zealous on this topic, because I think in many ways it is the lynch-pin dogmatic stance that keeps most religious people tribal. The concept of “enemy-love” is pretty much gone in our popular forms of Christianity, because we really don’t think God does it. Like the children in my classroom – the apple does not fall far from the tree. If we can imagine our god torturing his enemies… then we are not too far away from that potential behavior ourselves. The only way we can move toward loving our enemies, doing good to those who persecute us, turning the other cheek, etc. is if we truly believe God is that way.

If I seem to pick on Evangelicals in this regard, it is because they are one of the few groups I interact with who make regular proclamations about how all of their neighbors are going to burn in Hell. When I simply offer the contrary view - that I do not think one soul will spend an eternity in Hell - 8 out of 10 evangelicals mess themselves. They do not simply disagree with me, they let me know about my coming Hell time, or how I am paving the way for others to go there. Don’t I know that by disagreeing with their view, I am disagreeing with Jesus (as was stated to me by one of the Pastors at my church on Facebook).

I don’t think I am at war with Evangelicals. They are just very vocal, and I disagree with them. I also think they bristle more than most at contrary opinions. Every defriending I have had on Facebook has been by Evangelicals and primarily by those in paid ministry.

“I don't see from the scriptures an air tight argument for your position. Would you say it is airtight?”

This is hard to answer because I do not feel that scripture is airtight. I don’t think one can make airtight arguments from scripture. I read about Wesley’s quadrilateral recently and I liked it. He said you know God through scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. I think that is pretty spot-on.

Jared is Leader said...

I'm going to start my own religion. We are going to worship a magical unicorn that gives good people candies and rainbows and impales bad people with its horn. His name will be Friday and he will be the best unicorn ever.

Mystical Seeker said...

You have really hit the nail on the head. The need for vindication, to be proved right in the end--even if it means waiting until we all die to get that vindicatin--does seem to play a role in the need to believe in hell. I remember when I was growing up in a fundamentalist church thinking things like that about non-believers--that in the religious debates I had with them, I would ultimately be proved the victor in that debate once we all faced the judgment day--and THEN what would those doubters have to say for themselves?

I also like the Jonah reference--that is dead on. The book of Jonah is a great story, and the character of Jonah is a great character, a comic character really. It is one of my favorite books in the Bible, maybe even my most favorite. Not only is it an entertaining work of fiction, but the deeper message that you allude to is an important one for us all.

And for what it's worth, I think it was my inability to accept the idea of hell that played the most important role in my rejection at age 16 of the fundamentalist religion of my upbringing.

Chad said...

I was listening to "my bible answer man" last night and he was talking about the often misquoted and mistranslation of hades from the greek. I thought you might be interested and I'm attaching the link. You may have to go through a few callers before you get to the part I'm refering through. It's seems that more people are thinking like you from reading the scriptures and not listening to a pastor's rendition of someones rendition of someone else's translation.
http://tnp.theeggbeater.net/
check out the show from 02/02/2011

Andrew said...

Thanks Chad. It was interesting listening to the callers in general, most just want answers. There wasnt a lot of discussion.

It is interesting to me how many people have a set idea about how Hell and eternity work, yet really haven't researched it out at all or stopped to think about the implications of their ideas. Then when they actually start looking at the Book... things change.

Bob said...

Reminds me of a joke, so I'll try to lighten the mood. And I'll omit the denominational names so I won't offend.

A guy goes to heaven and St. Peter is showing him around. He sees a crowd having a big party and asks who they are.

"They're the _______s. They didn't have any fun on earth so they're having a blast here."

He sees another crowd, subdued, long faces, doing nothing but hanging their heads, and asks about them.

St. Peter replies: "They're the ______s. They had all kinds of fun, parties, wild times, etc. on earth, so they're not doing anything here."

Then he sees this other group, in a very contained environment, having fun but talking only to each other. The guy tries to say something to one of them and he is totally ignored.

"So what's with them?," he asks.

"Oh, that's the ________s. They think they're the only ones here."

Don said...

Anon has one source and only one source. I thank the Ground of all Being that I, through curiosity, found that there were other sources to search and other people to ask than the ones I was with for 59 years. Fear is a powerful emotion. It prevents folks from finding other sources for answers to their questions.

Andrew said...

Mystical - Yeah, Jonah has become a favorite of mine too. Interesting that growing up, the focus of the story was the fish thing, and not that powerful ending. BTW, HBO had a series called Testament that did a great job with a number of the OT stories. I linked the ending of the Jonah one in the article.

Logan - I am going to have to look at that verse again... shutting heaven up... interesting...

Bob - love that one

Leader - I am sure your church will split over candy flavors ;)

Don - Yep, yep. And once you step out of your subgroup... you see the commonality of fear that keeps the various groups separate.

Jon said...

Thanks for this Andrew and everyone. Interestingly, most of the people I know who became Christians in their youth (including myself) did so because they were shown love and care and made welcome by Christians. I don't know a single person who became a Christian because they were scared of going to hell. The Church works when it models Jesus' grace and love, not when it models the Pharisees' exclusivism.

Andrew said...

Great point Jon!

I noticed Anon never came back. They rarely do. They just drop their scripture grenade and run like hell.

Cody Stauffer said...

Looks like everyone is having one hell of a time!

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