I’ve decided to bring some of my theological musings to the podcast’s website because I think this is a suitable place to bring more focussed thinking… and I’m eager to hear from you, the Something Beautiful community.
The follow post contains some thoughts I’ve had after reading Rob Bell’s latest book… “love wins”. The first part is available (here) and I would recommend you read that first, if you haven’t already. It sets the scene, so to speak, and speaks of this series of posts on the book being in two parts. I’ve decided to expand it further… into at least three parts.
If you want to comment then please do… we (JD, Travis, Stewart, Johnny & myself) will try to respond… but be nice & constructive. If your comment is anonymous and/or destructive, it will be deleted. My life is too short to pander to trolls.
“First, heaven. Now, hell.”
This is how Rob Bell starts his chapter on hell.
Hell is a deeply contentious issue for me. I am like my iPad and want to change “hell” for “he’ll”… because I want there to be more to it than “turn or burn”… I hope He would intervene.
In my personal experience I have met some wonderful people who are good, peaceful, inclusive, loving, caring, kind, compassionate and generous… who weren’t interested in Jesus; and I have had the misfortune to stumble across people who proclaimed the name of Jesus and yet were divisive, exclusive, malicious, deceptive, angry, and hate-filled.
I have always considered it deeply unfair that, due to a moment in time, these Christians have the arrogance to think they are not only going to Heaven but that they also could prescribe and predict those who weren’t.
Into this mindset, I welcomed “Love Wins”… where Bell talks about the literal hells of now and the hell of later:
“There are individual hells, and communal, society-wide hells, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously. There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.” (p79)
We are in hell when we reject all that is good and true in the here and now.
We are in hell when we choose that which is wrong for us… and become trapped in addiction… becoming obsessed with things that bring us death rather than life.
We are in hell when we are oppressed. We are in hell when we are the oppressor.
Hell, as Bell points out, is literal… especially to those caught up in the conflict in Rwanda… or in the former Yugoslavia… or in Manhattan on that terrible day in September, 2001;
Bell then goes on to talk about hell in the context of judgement and punishment… and this is where I struggle… as I mentioned above.
I believe in justice… or, should I say, I believe in the concept where someone who commits a crime is punished with a punishment that is appropriate for that crime.
But I also believe in second chances.
True justice is when wrongdoing is punished then the wrongdoer is restored. Idealistic? Yes… but then I look at what has happened in South Africa under the watchful eye of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and know it can happen.
This is the point Bell makes about hell… and backs it up with the words of the Prophets:
“People are not cast off by the Lord forever, though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love.” (p86 – taken from Lamentations 3)
As a parent I have had to punish my children for their wrongdoing… which usually included being “sent to their bed” for a period of time with privileges removed… but this punishment is followed, after a given period, by restoration to the family and of their privileges.
I don’t want to punish my children… I just want to love them and ensure they have the very best… but sometimes I need to correct them… I need to ensure they are brought back into line.
But for how long? They are not punished for the rest of their lives for the wrongdoing they have committed… but for an appropriate period of time.
Which brings up my initial heartbreak… I have always considered it deeply unfair that, due to a moment in time, “bad” believers can arrogantly look to Heaven and “good” non-believers are condemned for ever and ever and ever and… well, you get my point.
Bell considers the words used for this ever and ever and ever.
Now, I am not a student of Hebrew or Greek, but i do know that meaning can and does get “lost in translation”.
But to think the phrase “aion of kolazo” can be translated as either “a period of pruning” or “eternal punishment” is scary.
It’s scary because you have, in one hand, a limited period of repair and, in the other, an unlimited period of repair. Both are periods of correction but one is seasonal and limited… whereas the other is unending. If you are a gardener you will know that you only prune when necessary and for a brief spell… if you keep cutting back then you will end up with nothing left… and, as discussed above, restoration can only happen if there is something left to restore!
Bell then discusses the term “olam” which means “to the vanishing point” or “in the far distance”. It comes close to “forever” when it is used to consider the nature of God (psalm 90 for example) but when it is used to describe the period of time Jonah is in the belly of the fish it’s different… 3 days may feel like forever… but it isn’t.
So when we read “eternal” are we putting our spin on the phrase… reading into it things that aren’t there? Maybe Jesus’ eternal isn’t the same as what we’ve come to think of it being?
Which brings me to a very pertinent question posed by Bell… “does God get what He wants?”
I think there are those within the Christian church who are more concerned with getting what they want… than what God wants. We have been divided for so long that sectarian rhetoric has become the norm… the phraseology of exclusion… where if you do not believe exactly as they do then you are “out”.
Exclusion has become the norm. In or out. Us or them. With us or against us. Friend or foe. Saved or lost.
Into this we place the idea of a hell… where those who are “in” are saved and those who are “out” are lost… and there are those folks out there that are really quite comfortable with this.
Let me just repeat that… some people are quite happy and content with the thought that their enemies are condemned to hell.
But wait, aren’t we meant to love our enemies? How is this loving?
The simple answer is… it’s not!
“External punishment” works if we want our enemies to suffer… whereas if we love our enemies and live lives of love then we should seek justice, restoration and “a period of pruning”.
As such, are our subjective prejudices clouding how we interpret scripture..? This is why we must consider what God actually wants!
More on that later.