Friday, September 30, 2005

Aw, Hell

The doctrine of Hell has always been a terrible struggle for me. Not because I think everyone deserves heaven because of their good behavior, but because even in our lack of good behavior, even in our routine failure to love our neighbors, it just doesn't seem like the punishment fits the crime. Especially when we consider that traditional evangelical doctrine believes that everyone who has heard the gospel and rejected it is hellbound. Your mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, children, neighbors, co-workers, the little old lady down the street, your grocer, your kid's schoolteacher--they burn without Jesus. Not for a while, to extract a proportional measure of punishment for their personal contribution to world misery, but forever and always. Torment without end. The most pleasant, servile Buddhist suffers right alongside Mengele.

Anybody who doesn't choke on this, I just don't trust. Of course, I fully understand the underpinnings of the doctrine. The perspective that supposedly makes this sensible is that we all deserve it. Those with Christ are just the incredibly fortunate ones. For the hyper-Calvinists, those with Christ are like the winners of a celestial lottery: picked by God for his own reasons, which have nothing to do with the relative merits of the chosen. They should read Matthew 25 and the parable of the sheep and the goats, by the way.

I despise the sinners-go-to-Hell doctrine for obvious reasons, but I've reached an uneasy truce with it. I know from scripture that it is beyond my authority to assume that I can discriminate between chosen and despised:

24Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'

28" 'An enemy did this,' he replied.
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'

29" 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "

Again, a parable of separation of sheep/wheat from goats/weeds. But note that Jesus tells his servants (that would be us) that if we try to pull weeds, we may pull wheat instead. What this tells me is that we are not capable of discriminating between saved and unsaved in this life. We can speak comfortingly about the departure of a Christian from this life and say they went to heaven, but we will never know while we occupy these bodies what the disposition of any particular person is in eternity. All we can infer from scripture is that few choose Jesus' path but if you want to settle the matter for yourself, follow Jesus and love your neighbor. A wise choice, by the way, no matter what you believe about Hell.

But even believing in Hell (while hoping against hope that I'm wrong, and Jesus will pull out a mindblowing miracle and figure out a way to save everybody), the only way I can operate is to assume that somehow, any particular person I encounter will go to heaven. Since I can't know for sure, can't I be an optimist?

And no, I won't miss an opportunity to share the gospel with them because I've become complacent about their destiny. I have yet to meet a single person that fears Hell more than they desire Jesus. If they don't want Jesus, Hell is meaningless to them. How could you believe in Hell but not Heaven? It just doesn't make sense to me, but that's allright. Christianity has gotten along fine so far without me needing to get every aspect of it.

For my part, I'm putting Hell in the "I'll get it later" category. One day I will know fully even as I am fully known, and my sincere hope is that I will be pleasantly surprised how empty Hell is.


At 4:34 PM, Blogger Kc said...

Matthew seems to be a very unique book in that what is milk and what is meat seem commingled. I’ve heard it called the Kingdom book and as you know there are many lines of thought on the Kingdom. I have a few suspicions on the matter but no convictions as yet. (BTW thanks for the link and I will go now and return the favor.)

At 1:03 AM, Blogger Sable Chicken said...

Good post

At 3:25 PM, Blogger Squamous Amoeba said...

Possibly the most comprehensible and rational thoughts I've ever heard regarding Heaven and Hell.

Cheers for expressing everything I've thought about to do with the afterlife but never been able to put into words.


At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Chemical Erik said...

"...When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you." Isaiah 43:2.

Here's a hypothesis:
-We each are an old man and a new man.
-The old man is dead (Rom. 6:5-11)

My hypothesis is that those who have Christ may have a duality - the old man who will go to hell, and the new man who will go to heaven. This is the only way I could reconcile biblical teaching on hell with most or all people going to heaven.

Let me be clear, I'm not promoting this as true. It's just an idea I've had that I doubt I will confirm or deny before I'm with Jesus.

At 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Truly, I think the wisest and most honest thing any of us can say about anything that is beyond our present space and time is, "I don't know."


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