Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thoughts on Erasing Hell

I realize this blog has become a book blog and a very occasional one at that. For those of you who are not fond of books, I apologize. It seems that they are the main intellectual stimuli I have been receiving lately. Someday I may get back to writing about other topics. In the meantime, let me tell you about the most recent book that provoked my thinking:

Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle was a difficult book to read. I would like to think that God gives an infinite number of chances to turn to Him, but the Bible is clear that opportunity ends when we die, after which we will face judgment. For many, judgment leads to hell. Erasing Hell reminded me of this bitter truth. Its teaching was not new to me – I’d learned it all along as I grew up – but it reminded me that I am not God and my human mind will never fully comprehend Him.

Reading about hell brought many questions to my mind. For instance, how can there be no mourning in heaven (Revelation 21:4) when people we love are being tortured in hell? And why does effective evangelism seem to be the opposite of what it should be? The reality of hell creates an urgency that would inspire a type of evangelism that is more suited to alarming announcements to crowds on street corners (“Get out of that burning building now!”) than to quiet chats in homes, but the “turn or burn” style of evangelism is usually much less effective than the slower, personal method of one-on-one friendship evangelism. Why does God change hearts so slowly?

I will never completely understand God, but I know Him well enough that I know I can trust Him and take Him at His word. As Chan & Sprinkle say in Erasing Hell, “The One who invented justice . . . knows perfectly what the unbeliever deserves.” And “. . . the New Testament writers don’t have the same allergic reaction to hell that I do. Perhaps they had a view of God that is much bigger than mine. A view of God that takes Him at His word and doesn’t try to make Him fit our own moral standards and human sentimentality.”

I am glad I am not God. I don’t want that kind of responsibility. But I also cannot bear to think too deeply about many of the people I love spending eternity in hell. All I can do is pray for them and follow God’s direction as faithfully as I can.

1 comment:

  1. For some reason, my friend Chip's comment didn't come through for approval, so I'm copying & pasting it here:

    Thanks for your reflections. Many Lutherans have come to the conclusion that while the doctrine of Purgatory cannot and should not be a dogma of the Church to which one must assent, it offers a way to address some questions regarding hell and judgment which do not simply come to 'either-or.'


    I also like Elder Zossima's reflections in Dosteoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov in the section 'Talks and Homilies: On hell and hell fire - mystical discourse.' Among the thoughts are these:


    'For though the righteous would forgive (the damned) from paradise, seeing their (spiritual) torments, and call them to themselves, loving them boundlessly, they would thereby only increase their torments, for they would arouse in them an even stronger flame of thrust for reciprocal, active, and grateful love, which is no longer possible. Nevertheless, in the timidity of my heart I think that the very awareness of this impossibility would serve in the end to relieve them, for, having accepted the love of the righteous together with the impossibility of requiting it, in this obedience and act of humility they would attain at last to a certain image, as it were, of the active love they scorned on earth, and an action somewhat similar to it...'


    '...woe to the suicides! I think there can be no one unhappier than they. We are told that it is a sin to pray to God for them, and outwardly the Church rejects them, as it were, but in the secret of my soul I think that one may pray for them as well. Christ will not be angered by love. Within myself, all my life, I have prayed for them. I confess it to you, fathers and teachers, and still pray every day.'

    He also made me his first guest blogger at http://chipreadsbooks.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/chip-reads-shannons-blog-erasing-hell/ . . . check it out!

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