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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Whats the big deal with hell anyway?

I am going to start this blog by qualifying a few things.  So I want to make it clear that I:
  • am not a Universalist in any way shape or form.
  • have not had the time nore desire to do an in depth study of this topic to formulate any sort of dogma.
  • reserve the right to recant or contradict anything that I propose in this blog at a later date at a time when I am more studied.
The purpose of this blog is to propose a few things in dealing with the fire storm started in the evangelical world with Rob Bells new book, and also to start a conversation and welcome insight into formulating and working through the topic with anyone who feels like engaging.  That being said, I should just start and say it: I reject the notion that there is a literal hell with fire and brimstone that is somehow separated from the presence of God a hell that necessarily exists in a separate location from heaven.  To help clarify things, I will state the positive.  I believe that the damned and the elect will be together before the throne of God.  I believe that the elect will bend the knee in love and be raised up by Christ as brothers in order to embrace him and rejoice with him and worship him in gladness and bliss and the damned will be forced to their knees in spite and be forced to confess Christ as Lord and worship him with grinding teeth and choking words.  I believe that Christ will meet the elect with blessings and rewards unimaginable and unfathomable on this earth and that the damned will be met with scourging and punitive wrath at the hands of Christ.  I believe this state will continue through eternity.

I started to come to this opinion first by rejecting the notion of some type of mystical fire and some type of figurative punishment.  The idea held by many that God is absent from hell, and somehow in his absence people are tortured, well.  I don't see it in scripture.  I see that the Christ sustains all things, and I see that the demons beg to be removed from the presence of Christ (from a fear of being tormented "before the time"), so there seems to be a contradiction of ideas that God is not present, since it appears not only would things cease to exist, but that the demons, who are more familiar with the holiness and wrath of God than men, would prefer to be away from the immediate presence of God.  Also it appears to me that a plain reading of the text suggests further that the demons expect to be tortured by Christ himself.  Then there is the text in Paul where he sets forth that every person will submit to and confess Christ as Lord.  This has not happened on this earth to date, and I do not believe it will happen this side of eternity, which leads me to believe that this will be fulfilled in the life to come.  It is also plainly clear that God is able to be in the presence of Satan himself since it was Satan who approached the throne of God in order to plead for Job's life.

Then there's texts of Christ talking about hell.  Gehenna is used to describe where sinners go (if you hate your brother, it is better to lose ones life than be condemned there, if you do not cut out things that cause you to sin, and the pharisees were condemned to hell for their religious hypocrisy).  Then Hades is used as the failed nemesis of the church built by Peter.  There is also the more difficult passage of the sheep and the goats in the final judgment.

In light of these I find draw a few conclusions.  There is going to be very real wrath and torment in for the damned.  It clearly better to cut things out of your own life, even very useful things, as it is better to painfully lose something good (ranging from your eye to your life) as opposed to continue in sin and lose your soul.  This torment will be everlasting as started in the final judgment of the goats, and also in light of a God who demands perfect obedience, you will be in hell until you repay all of your eternal debt.  I recognize that the sheep and the goats could be used to argue that the sheep and the goats are locationally separated for eternity, but I do not believe that it must mean that.  It also can be used to suggest that the goats are not in the presence of Christ.  The first notion I reject simply because the passage closes with talks of being separated into punishment in contrast to life.  There is no evidence to suggest they transpire in separate locations.  I reject the second notion because of the previously mentioned text about the demons expecting that Christ will be their tormentor.  The other main text that seems to parallel the teaching found in the parable of the sheep and the goats is the great white throne judgment.  In both there is a comparison of righteousness (or works) and in both those not set aside to life (the obedient ones found written in the book of life) are condemned to a second death.

I acknowledge that there are other texts to take into consideration, but this is my current opinion.  Much of it is based on speculation, I admit, but certain ideas of fiction in American Evangelicalism I just cannot buy.  I also think that we really need to consider that the doctrine of hell must have certain things, but denying other things does not make one a heretic.  Denying the reality of hell is not compatible with Christian doctrine.  Denying the punishment and wrath of hell is not compatible with Christian doctrine.  Denying the separation the location of hell from heaven, well, in my opinion that can very possibly be true and I see no text to prove otherwise (at this point).  Denying the notion that hell is the absence of God, well I applaud that as I believe it is just as unscriptural as denying the reality of the existence of hell.

I think Rob Bell has stirred up a hornets nest, but I do not believe he claims to be a Universalist.  There is no doubt he opens the door wide for the teaching, and I thought he was going there since I first got introduced to him through the Nooma videos and Velvet Elvis, but the fact remains, his teaser does not claim that he is doing anything other than challenging the doctrines commonly accepted about hell.  I have read a number of reviews of the book and there's a fear he advocates it, but no review has been able to prove he advocates it which leads me to believe, at the very least he has left plausible deniability.  I'm by no stretch of the imagination a Rob Bell advocate and I think he can be very dangerous in many regards.  I would also not be surprised at all if he was a Universalist, but I think we should reserve the judgment of heresy until there is no shadow of a doubt that he is in fact a heretic.  I just do not believe he is there.  But my judgment of Rob Bell might change after I read his book.  Regardless, he sure has stirred up a hornets nest, and for what it's worth, this is what i tentatively believe about hell.

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