Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Looking at Hell... From the Future

Following Gandhi's famous quote, "be the change you want to see in the world," and understanding it in the light of the gospel--perhaps reading it as, "be the change which Christ will implement in the world"--with the full expectation of that which has been revealed in Christ, namely; the vindication and salvation of a crucified world, I can only look upon this world with my feet grounded in the future. Faith, preceded by hope (Hebrews 11:1), expects more of the world than what is apparent. We all wish for something more and we may scrape for the element of expectation but more often than not we give in to cynicism. Even those of us who proclaim that we have faith are often without it, we just cannot keep up with what we say, we struggle to expect anything more than the hand we've been dealt or our expectations simply fall short of the total and unadulterated salvation promised to the world in Christ--through incarnation, death, and resurrection. And that's got to be ok... I mean, if we could apprehend our faith, it just wouldn't be big enough.

Christianity makes some particular claims about the future, while never presuming to have specific and determined clarity on the subject. In remembrance of the work of Christ, the future which we anticipate is impossible to exaggerate. We're talking total redemption, total healing, complete salvation, radical renewal, utter salvation from all that does not reflect the love of God. From this vantage point, we can survey the world and see what does not belong and with confidence say, "this too shall be made right." Suffering, violence, hunger, disease, oppression, depression, loneliness, cruelty, and dehumanization... all this will be made right... Is that not the project of the gospel?

From this vantage point we can speak clearly and sharply against that which does not belong. We can call people to repentance. We can invite reality to embrace its future in the here and now...

So now here's the big question... "what the hell?"

Or in other words...

Where does Hell, as postmortem and eternal retribution, fit into the equation?

It is one thing to talk about hell in light of the world as we know it. It's impossible to expect that all people will come to embrace Christ (and I want to be clear here... I have never meant to imply that anyone other than Christ is doing the saving), right? And so it makes sense for us to assume, from where we are standing, that retribution is required and that some simply do not belong in a healed world. But looking from the future, assuming that God loves all individuals with the same degree or relentlessness, how can we say that all things have been made new when objects of God's love are still burning?

I am sure that some simply don't believe that God's love is all that relentless. They don't buy the suggestion that God never quits on God's creation. They are fine with the idea that God loves some people and doesn't love others or that God will eventually stop loving some so that God can be satisfied with their eternal damnation... for the greater good. However, Jesus had some things to say to such as these. Jesus told parables of lost sheep and good Samaritans.It does not seem that we should limit God's love so much as to say that it has an end... even for the ones who walk away from it.

So if God's love never ends and God's love never fails, then should our expectations not include God's satisfaction? If God loves the way the Bible seems to say God loves, then would God really be satisfied if Hell were an eternal reality for those God loves? Couldn't our expectations include the redemption of Hell itself?  Whatever the case, I don't like the other options...

I don't like the idea that there are some God doesn't love...
With Paul, I must assume that I am the "chief of sinners" since I can make no greater judgement upon another. So I would have to be first in line for damnation. God has no better reason to love me than for anyone else.

I don't like the idea that God is ok with the eternal damnation of someone God loves....
How could God say, "it is finished" or "I have made all things new" if there are still some who have not been saved? A world still fraught with division and suffering is quite an underwhelming expectation and, in light of Christ, it's hardly something we should expect.

And I don't like the idea that God does not eventually restore all things...
I don't like the concept of a God who is eternally dissatisfied, a God whose love fails to sway the hearts of some.

Now, I am fully aware of the Bible passages that I am apparently ignoring here... That's why I'm certainly not certain about any of this. But whatever the case, whatever some individual passages might say, I have a lot of trouble harmonizing Hell with the hope I've found in the Biblical narrative.

2 comments:

Kevin Boer said...

Intriguing thoughts Wes. You have me in a new realm of thinking. In your view what do you do with Satan and the fallen angels? Does God's relentless love apply to them?

Wesley Ellis said...

Relentless love, by definition, applies to enemies (as Jesus taught). Since Satan means "adversary" then I guess there's hope for reconciliation there too. Is not the "enmity" between man and the serpent part of the curse of Genesis 3... the same curse Jesus came to reverse? Crazy stuff! Thanks for bringing it up.