Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thoughts on Hell Part One

The next few posts will be a series on my thoughts on hell, influenced by Scripture, church scholars, and philosophy. As the main focus is the love and goodness of God, it seems fitting, though unintentional, to be released around Valentine's Day. When posted, part two will be here and part three here
I am about to defend something that even very recently on this blog I espoused as unbiblical and possibly heretical. My heart and mind have been battling a specific injustice for at least eight months, if not much longer. Many with whom I conferred said it is not injustice at all, but rather the epitome of justice. However, like many things over the past few years, I've decided to stop taking status quo as the end all be all. What is it you ask? The belief that billions go to hell eternally simply because they were born outside the physical reach of the church or any missionary who may carry the Gospel. Think about it. There are supposedly around 2.5 billion Christians. That's a number that includes all varieties, including nominal. There are over 7 billion humans currently. While that's 3 non-Christians for every claimed Christian, that is also a much different ratio based on region. Then you take into account that there are some parts of the world that are still “undiscovered” where neither the church nor civilization in general has ever been. Yes, we may reach those areas, eventually. However, until then? What? God is just letting them and their ancestors go to hell to satisfy justice because they were never saved? They never knew from what to be saved! Paul himself said in Romans 10:13-15,

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

So, even as he, an apostle, says, they cannot believe unless they hear. How can we believe in billions being tormented eternally simply because they did not have the opportunity to believe? I deeply love the whole of the Trinity. However, this view that I have been taught alongside the majority of the rest of you is that of a cruel god, not a loving Father.

One of the biggest arguments which I and others have made against universalism (or similar afterlife views) is that it makes a mockery of the work of Christ on the cross. However, after discussing with several scholarly friends who I deeply respect along with searching for answers like a thirsty man in the desert, I recant this view. Instead of mocking and belittling the atoning work, I believe it raises it higher than the view we have been taught. How can it be lower if we are claiming it is so powerful that it allows all men access to the new birth and new earth rather than only be reserved for those who get a chance to believe? The latter seems to limit it's capabilities. Again, as Paul says in Rom 5:18-19, Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” This IS good news. Our forefather caused sin and death to enter, and Christ came and reversed the effects to bring new life. As Luke writes in Acts 3:21, “...Jesus whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” We are to be restored, indeed we are being restored. I am an example of that, especially when you look back almost six years ago to my identity crisis and see where he has brought me over the years.

This is related to thoughts on the soul and salvation. In the context of the first century and before, being saved and salvation were more than just about the afterlife. It was about the current life, of a transformation into the new man here on earth. (This thought taken from a Foundations of Biblical Justice lecture by Dr. Shane Wood. For the record, to my knowledge he is not a universalist.) Over the centuries we have altered it into purely about the afterlife. Changing our view of salvation has done much damage, specifically to discipleship. As Shane teaches, this line of teaching does nothing to produce a new man. Sure, they may become baptized and say they are followers, but without discipleship, they think they've got fire insurance and go on living as they had been. This ignores Jesus' prayer in Matthew 6:10 for “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” If we only teach people that baptism and Jesus is for the benefit of their afterlife, why should they live any different on this side? This causes non-Christians such as Gandhi to make statements such as the famous, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Indeed, Gandhi himself wanted Christians to live unapologetically their faith, as recorded by E Stanley Jones. I plan to expound on their conversation another time. However, the next post will discuss free will and hell. Feel free to discuss until then.


Joshua Smith said...

Any time someone is willing to have a discussion about hell my ears perk up. From my perspective it seems like the most misunderstood and poorly addressed concept within American (all?) Christianity.

I've been saying this (or at least thinking it) for a long time. This idea of point-of-sale conversions that grant people a get-out-of-hell card makes me cringe, but people really do live with that mindset. What is the good news? That there is a path that leads to salvation from sin. Not hell, mind you, but from sin itself.

I wouldn't say that hell doesn't exist, but rather, this is a severely misunderstood concept heavily influenced by medieval theology.

There are anecdotal accounts of a spiritual (but still very real) place full of worms, darkness, loneliness, and indescribable suffering which lead me to believe that there is SOME kind of potential terrible state of existence for the soul. That being said, our salvation is a process of bringing about the kingdom of heaven by allowing the loving spirit of God to work through us. Need more details than that? Look at Jesus and follow him. He is the way.

I'm not sure what I think of this magic-moment theology that as soon as Adam sinned or as soon as Jesus died then something happened. I don't know though. Its worth my looking into.

Good post, sir. You've inspired me to take action.

Karl said...

I do believe you will like my next two posts (one will be released this morning and another Thursday.) They go into more detail on what you mention. (Btw, I don't go into the origin of the hell concept, but apparently it goes back to Augustine as a primary supporter.) In terms of Adam, that's something I'm trying to figure out as well. Especially surrounding the debate between 6 day vs Theistic Evolution.
I hope this reply as well as my following posts are coherent on the matter!