Friday, September 20, 2013

Checkmate For Hell - Part 17: What Is Hell?/The Narrow Gate

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
Part 16: Hell Fruits

What is Hell? 

In the beginning of this series, I mentioned that I was not “throwing out” Hell.  So then you might ask me what my definition of Hell has become.  I wouldn’t say that I believe there is no such thing as Hell.  Actually, Hell is a very good word to use, but I wouldn’t define Hell as eternal conscious torment for those who don’t recite the correct incantation in this life.  And I think the definition I use for Hell helps to understand the confusion we face in the multiple definitions of what saves us that I presented in an earlier section of this series.  So what is Hell?

War is Hell.
Poverty is Hell.
Loneliness is Hell.
Broken relationships are Hell.
Prejudice is Hell.
Self-loathing is Hell.
Constantly striving for an ideal that can never be attained is Hell.
Addiction is Hell.

And God hates Hell. He wants to throw it into a lake of fire – destroy it forever.

But just hiding under the surface, there is something else that Hell can be – something you’d never expect.  The Kingdom of Heaven can be Hell for those who have become stuck in hate, anger, prejudice, and fear.  In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus says:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

When we become stuck in this judgmental view of the world, setting ourselves up as a god-like authority of what is good and what is evil, devoid of compassion and the knowledge that everything God has made is good, we become trapped in Hell.  And the profound mystery of it all is that this Hell can actually be a beautiful place for those around us who are not steeped in fear, anger and hate.  Our Hell might just be someone else’s Heaven.

So what is to be done?

The only thing that can stop Hell is the love that Jesus taught us.

I believe that the emphasis in the Bible on avoiding fear and turning towards love (see Chess Move #9) gives us insight into the nature of hell and how to defeat it.  Hell is born of the fear we produce when we tell false stories about our neighbors, and refuse to accept even the possibility of their even partially good intentions.  Hell is born out of the Us vs. Them paradigm where we set ourselves in opposition to a group of "outsiders".  And when we do this, we all too often refuse to hear their stories - we make a judgement without giving a fair trial that hears both sides and assumes innocence before guilt.  We decide in our minds that if anyone is from "that side", they couldn't possibly be right about anything, and must be out to lead us astray towards destruction.  "They" are only lying to us, on purpose, about anything and everything just so that they can destroy "my side".  This fearful attitude is what causes the pain and suffering in our world, and there is no way that we could solve it except by stepping completely outside of this way of living, and loving unconditionally.

This definition of Hell helps to understand why there are so many Biblical ways one can be saved – it’s not a question of the one single way to be saved from eternal conscious torment, it’s a question of what we are saved from: a broken and meaningless life.

When we redefine Hell as the suffering in this world that we have produced through our fear and judgement, we can come to a better understanding of salvation.  In “New Seeds of Contemplation”, Thomas Merton writes:

It is a pity that the beautiful Christian metaphor “salvation” has come to be so hackneyed and therefore so despised. It has been turned into a vapid synonym for “piety” - not even a truly ethical concept. “Salvation” is something far beyond ethical propriety. The word connotes a deep respect for the fundamental metaphysical reality of man. It reflects God's own infinite concern for man, God's love and care for man's inmost being, God's love for all that is His own in man, His son.

The Narrow Gate
I believe that this proper understanding of Hell brings to light the meaning behind some other Biblical ideas that would have previously eluded us without it.  In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

This passage highlights the difficulty of “salvation” – but it would make no sense to anyone who believed that “salvation” is found through the magical incantation of the “sinner’s prayer”.  Saying an incantation with the right words is a very easy thing to do.  And many men have done it and then gone about their depraved lives.  When Jesus told us to abide in Him and He would abide in us (John 15:4), I believe that what he meant was not to simply have a superstitious magical understanding that after saying the incantation his spirit would magically float into our soul.  Rather, I believe that what Jesus was trying to communicate is that the way to salvation is to follow his example – to love everyone with no favoritism, including our enemies.  And this helps us understand why it is so hard to enter through the narrow gate.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, in “The Cost of Discipleship”:

To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify to the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenseless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray.

Now it is time for another break.  When we continue, I will explore what I believe to be a proper understanding of sin and evil, and how to deal with them. 

Next: Sin and Evil

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