Maybe. I’m currently in the middle of some heavy paper writing. I decided to clean up an old draft from a FB conversation…
…on the topic of Hell.
1) I think less about Hell than I do about evolution. So, I had to revisit the Bible about it.
2) My only issue with Hell is in regards to eternity. I heard a theologian say that Hell is a choice, but what makes it eternal is that those who reject God in this life, are likely to reject him forever. For example, there were those who fell away from heaven, and, with all that they know, they have stayed that way. A philosopher I know, once gave the example that even if Jesus floated down from the sky tomorrow, people would rather believe he was an alien, than the savior.
3) So, here’re some verses in regards to “eternal punishment in hell”
Only #4 makes a case for a clear binary split, and even then, its debatable. Eternal fire and eternal punishment does not imply that we can’t be released from it. There is no verse that says, “and if your name is not in the book of Life, God stops loving you” or “you will never again have the opportunity to experience the love of God for all of eternity.”
Eternity is serious business, so in that sense, it is better to err on the more conservative side of things– just in case, the latter is true.
4) Finally, here’s the “finished works of the cross” interpretation of Jesus. Receiving Jesus means we’ve acknowledge that God has forgiven us. Forgiveness sets us free from accusation and guilt. Tim Keller (famous author/pastor) explained it like this: imagine someone drives a car into your living room– instead of forgiving them, after they pay for repairs to your house, you forgive them, and you pay their debt directly from your life-savings. Jesus was God’s way of saying, “you’ve hurt me, but I won’t punish you for it, I will subsume the damages.” We, then, are the ones who choose to be separated from God, needlessly punishing ourselves, rejecting forgiveness.
The grace-centered interpretation is that God forgave us from the beginning, but we are unable to accept forgiveness for the damage done to that relationship. Judaic laws, or “the rules,” were put in place to cater to this broken relationship. Jesus came to restore our image of ourselves.
Jesus said many times that we were never meant to live by the Law, but the Law existed to give an idea of what a restored relationship looks like from the outside. God desires authentic love, not a business contract. The sort of Love that is possible is so great that we could never manage to fake it– the only way to have that sort of Love is to be able to receive it.
That’s why Sam Harris is off. He talks about the God in terms of business contract, not Love.
5) So is there an eternal fire? According to the Bible, I would say without a doubt. Eternal fire means, in the most literal interpretation, a fire that burns forever. Say I had a magical piano that plays for eternity… I could always leave after I’ve had enough music. It doesn’t mean the piano doesn’t play forever. It doesn’t meant I can’t listen to it forever, if I wanted to.
The most liberal interpretation, that I would still consider Christian, is that those who don’t receive forgiveness, separate themselves from God. As a result, they pay for their own sins. Then, something else happens after it’s all paid. Seems potentially fair to me.
Once upon a time, my friend borrows my car and got a nasty parking ticket. I told them that I would pay for it, and I did. They did not believe me, and paid for it anyhow. Now, its possible that they couldn’t afford it, and got stuck with interest payments that would accrue forever. Then one day, they remembered that I said I’d pay for it. They believed me and decided to stop paying a debt that didn’t even exist anymore. THE END.
I love parables:
Once upon a time, I called Sam Harris on the phone to tell him a story. It went like this, “there was a boy and a girl who fell in love, then they got really confused and committed suicide.” Sam Harris believes this is a terrible story and makes 500 youtube videos about why this story sucks and should never be told again. It turns out that I didn’t quite understand what Shakespeare was getting at.
In regards to sin…
It would be like a man saying, I truly love my wife, but I can’t stop beating her. Well, no, you probably aren’t capable of truly loving someone, in that case.
Our repentance allows us to receive forgiveness; therefore, restoring relationship. Sin is often mistakenly seen as the catalyst rather than a symptom of broken relationship (with God). The misconception is that avoiding sin is some sort of performance. The Bible says that as God’s love transforms you, sin is expelled from the inside out.
Sin is the thermometer, Jesus is the thermostat.
To interpret the story of Cain and Abel from this point of view. God never said he was removing his presence from Cain. Cain assumes that out of his own guilt and out of his own misunderstanding of God’s love. Cain punishes himself beyond what was spoken from God.
10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
All of which, a less liberal Christian stranger revises:
“The man was so furious and argumentative that he owed the court 50 million dollars that he wouldn’t budge when his father kept offering him the money to pay his fine. In his pride he didn’t agree that his crime deserved the payment it was asking. He didn’t believe he owed anything and he didn’t believe that judgment would come from it. In his unbelief, he didn’t see his father willing or able to pay his fine anyway. Although his Father explained to him the situation, he either wasn’t listening or didn’t believe it.”
I like it. It (better) captures the complexity of what I experience from my (very-educated) friends. Man, I really like parables.
The “great chasm” is another one that evidences the black/white separation from God. The problem with believing that punishment is temporary is that it takes Christians off the hook. Why try to transform a world through the love, when an unquenchable fire will come and purify it? If we understand this as a permanent circumstance, we have more of a responsibility and urgency in how we use our lives.
I liked my Sam Harris Romeo and Juliet metaphor the best.. haha.