So far life after college is quite hectic. I am sorry I haven't been able to get to blogging more often since graduation. I officially accepted the job offer (see this post), I had to apply for grad school—I'm going to do the Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) program at the Haggard School of Theology from their San Diego campus—I have been steadily unpacking all of my stuff into my parents’ house where I will be TEMPORARILY rooming, and I just started reading Torture and Eucharist by William Cavanaugh ( I hope to get a few books read before I take off for Israel in June). Overall, it’s good to be home but I am anxious to get out of my parents house and find somewhere I can afford to live.
Among all the things I’ve been doing lately, last night I got to hang out with some friends who live in
Every time I want to go all the way with a thought, I think of some aspect of the conversation that I might be ignoring or not taking seriously. For example; I would like to take hell to be something reserved not for individual people but for the systems of the world—the oppressive and idolatrous governmental and economic powers and principalities with all the spiritual and symbolic realities. This seems to be the thought behind Revelation —
“But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”
In this passage it is the beast, that symbol of the
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
In this passage, is not the thought towards actual people, actual bodies? Not only is this burning fire, whatever that is, reserved for the Beast but for all those people that were drawn in and participating in the oppression and idolatry of the state. So hell, assuming we’re to think of the lake of fire as hell, is something experienced by people, by flesh and blood. But how are we to think of hell? As separation from God? If that’s so, then it would make sense to ascribe to annihilationism because everything that has breath is consumed by the presence of God (for breath itself is the life-giving Holy Spirit of God) so to be removed from that presence would be to cease to exist in any conscious form (and fire imagery takes us that direction too… fire consumes and destroys—whatever it burns doesn’t stick around forever). So annihilationism is an option. But where is the redemption in that?
However we think of hell, it is necessary to think of it as redemptive in its trajectory. God is not a torturer; he does not punish people arbitrarily because they broke the rules, he doesn’t make examples out of people to strike fear into the hearts of people so that they will follow his orders uncritically. And God does not believe in collateral damage, he doesn’t settle for the complacency of saying “well, some just have to die, and that’s just gonna have to be accepted” (maybe you see why I have a problem with substitutionary atonement.). God’s wrath and God’s actions are always toward a trajectory of redemption. Separation from God, without annihilation, doesn’t seem to have a redemptive trajectory at all, but one of indifference. For us to imagine people being eternally separated from God but still existent we’d have to imagine a God who’d just get over it—a God who’d eventually be fine with the idea that some of his people are alienated. This doesn’t sound like that God of Jesus who refused to alienate anyone. At least with annihilation we could imagine God mourning their deaths and going toward redemption (like we do in “real life”).
I would suggest another option… perhaps the burning sulfur is not the absence of the presence of God but a profound manifestation of it. According to Peter Chopelas, “It is interesting to examine the Greek word for ‘divine’, it is from the Greek ‘theion’, which could also mean ‘divine being’, but also means ‘sulfur.'” And so “the fiery lake of burning sulfur” could also mean “divine fire”—the presence of God. Perhaps heaven and hell are the same “place.” Perhaps heaven will be hell for some. As Rob Bell so eloquently put it, “perhaps the flames of heaven are hotter than the flames of hell.” Imagine a banquet table filled with all sorts of people including all those “others” you never wanted to let in. Imagine dipping bread and touching. Imagine Hitler dipping bread with the same people who were incinerated at his command… would that be more of a heaven or more of a hell? Remember, as an example, the story of Shadrak, Mishak, and Abednego. Joined by the presence of God they danced in the same flames that burned the guards of the furnace. Maybe heaven and hell are the same flames in which some will burn and some will dance, either way all are in the presence of God… some of these thoughts come from this article: Heaven & Hell in the Afterlife, According to the Bible read if you’re interested. I’ll let you know if I ever make up my mind about hell.. I kinda hope I don’t