Thursday, September 19, 2013

Checkmate For Hell - Part 16: Hell Fruits

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts, meant to be read in order.  In the first post, I introduced the concept of Universalism, and introduced the concept that I would be defending my position through a series of "chess moves".  I mentioned that I believe I have checkmate in 2 moves, but because a lot of questions would be left, I would use a series of further moves to keep the king in checkmate while I systematically removed the rest of the pieces from the board.  I would highly suggest you read the previous parts of this series before reading this one:

Part 1: Moves 1-3
Part 2: Moves 4-5
Part 3: Moves 6-7
Part 4: Move 8
Part 5: Moves 9-10
Part 6: Move 11
Part 7: Move 12
Part 8: The Six Line Narrative
Part 9: Two False Gospels, and a Man in a Pit
Part 10: Creation/Fall and Spirit/Soul/Body
Part 11: The True Gospel
Part 12: Deconstructing Our Ideas of Heaven
Part 13: Resurrection and "Spiritual" Bodies
Part 14: A New Diagram
Part 15: Creation/Heaven Fruits

Hell Fruits
One of the objections that has been raised over the idea of Universalism goes something like this: “if there’s no eternal hell, than what is the motivation to be good in this life?”  Well, let me ask you this: have you ever had a boss you didn’t like who was demanding and harsh?  And have you ever had a boss you did like, whom you considered a friend?  Whom did you do the best work for?  Whom were you more motivated to work harder for in order to please?

Mohatma Gandhi wrote (in "The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi"):

Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.

I believe that one of the fruits of the belief in Heaven and Hell as places of final destination is that salvation is all about me – it’s a geocentric astronomy, as it were.  It’s about my belief and my salvation.  How can I be saved.  But when we release ourselves from this model, and believe in the kingdom of God, it becomes theocentric – it’s all about God, and his plans.  How can I be part of establishing his good kingdom on earth, as He has always intended?  And when we release ourselves from having to “save” others from their wrong beliefs – no eternal conscious torment for people who believe differently – we become completely free to love others, no matter what we disagree on.  Rob Bell says, in his book “Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith”:

If the gospel isn't good news for everybody, then it isn't good news for anybody. And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the "un" and "non", they work against Jesus' teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody. We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God. Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, “God shows no favoritism.” So we don't either.

It is only within the “kingdom of God” paradigm, and through the elimination of the belief in Hell as a place of eternal conscious torment that we can truly understand what “chosenness” means.  In Galatians 3:8, Paul says:

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

We were called for a purpose – not as a privilege that we get to soak in.  We were called to inaugurate God’s kingdom on this world, and bring His blessing to all people.  As Brian McLaren says in his book, “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith”:

Chosenness... does not give one people privileges over others as God's favorites, but rather responsibilities on behalf of others as God's servants and as channels of blessing.

But as long as we live in the “Heaven/Hell/Rapture” paradigm, chosenness is about escapism.  Chosenness is about me and my personal salvation.  We can’t live the way God wants – as blessings to the world – if we believe God condemns it and wants to destroy it, or even if we just think He will allow such a thing.  Believing in Hell as a place of eternal conscious torment, and Heaven as a place of eternal reward fosters an attitude of elitism and disdain towards those who are not so fortunate to be in our group of oh so specials.

When we release ourselves from the belief in eternal conscious torment, we become free to listen to people who believe differently – perhaps we can even learn something from them!  I’m continually struck by the elitism in certain circles of Christianity that refuses to listen to anything that comes from atheists.  They will never even hear the criticisms – well deserved though they may be – of atheists who have left the church because of the pain it caused them.  Brennan Manning once said:

The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

When we release ourselves from the belief in a wrathful God who eternally punishes, we become free to stop taking simplistic approaches to defining sin.  We realize that God – as a loving Father who wants the best for us – gives us commands not because he’s a controlling dictator who gives commandments based on whims.  He gives us commandments because he wants to keep us from harm, and show us the way to have a full life.  And when we define sin in this way – as anything that keeps us from loving and causes suffering – then this will have a dual effect:

  1. We will have to use logic and reasoning to define an action as sin, showing concretely its harmful effects.
  2. Pointing out sins is no longer a guilt-ridden act of brow beating, but is a loving act of trying to steer people away from harm.

On the negative side - belief in Hell is bad for your mental health.  Check out this article, which talks about a scientific study published in the April edition of Journal of Religion & Health that found that people who believe in an angry, punishing God are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses.  The study also found that belief in a forgiving, loving God is associated with positive psychological traits – almost like an inoculation against mental illness.

And belief in Hell can be associated with other atrocities.  Take a look at this quote from “There is No Fire Burning in Hell”, by Thomas and Gertrude Sartory:

No religion in the world (not a single one in the history of humanity) has on its conscience so many millions of people who thought differently, believed differently.  Christianity is the most murderous religion there has ever been.  Christians today have to live with this; they have to "overcome" this sort of past....  If someone is convinced that God condemns a person to hell for all eternity for no other reason than because he is a heathen, a Jew, or a heretic, he cannot for his own part fail to regard all heathens, Jews and heretics as good for nothing, as unfit to exist and unworthy of life.  Seen from this viewpoint, the almost complete extermination of the North and South American Indians by the "Christian" conquerors is quite consistent.  From the aspect of the dogma of hell "baptism or death" is an understandable motto.

But perhaps the best proof I have of the good fruits of releasing the belief in Hell is my own self.  For many of you, if you are anything like me when I first caught ahold of some of these concepts, your heads are probably spinning.  You might feel a little like a ship in the middle of the ocean with no anchor.  This was how I felt at first.  But it was strange, because at the same time, I did not feel fearful – I felt excited.  And after a while, for the first time in my life I felt truly at peace.  And for the first time in my life, I truly felt love for God.  I had grown up in a Christian home, and for most of my life had believed in the Christian God.  But I always struggled to make prayer and study of scripture a regular part of my life.  I often struggled with the fact that my faith was so much of a smaller part of my life than many other things I was interested in and cared about.  But when these ideas were introduced to me, for the first time in my life I literally became obsessed with my faith.  I was constantly thinking about the concept of the kingdom of God – I would literally wake up in the middle of the night to pee and the first thoughts that popped into my head would be about the kingdom of God and what it might be like when it’s fully realized.  For the first time in my life, I actually hungered for daily scripture reading.  I had never really been interested in reading theology books, though I kind of wanted to get into the habit out of guilt.  But for the first time in my life I really wanted to read theology, and it didn’t take very long for me to create a wishlist of 300 theology related books I wanted to eventually read.  And for the very first time in my life, prayer became a natural part of my life. And it was no longer the selfish prayers for stuff, or the guilt-ridden prayers of confession.  For the first time in my life I was praying “Lord, how can I advance your kingdom?  How can I serve you?  Do you have a greater purpose for me than what I have been about thus far?  I want to serve you, Lord – how can I be part of the work of inaugurating your kingdom?”

Now it is time for another break. 
When we continue, I will explore what I believe to be a proper understanding of Hell.

Next: What Is Hell?/The Narrow Gate

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