Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hell is Losing

There is a bit of debate around these days about hell and whether it exists, sparked most recently by Rob Bell's book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. I haven't read the book so the following is not a direct comment on Bell's argument - incidentally I have been told that his book is so controversial here in NZ that in some Christian book shops the book is not displayed but is kept 'under the counter' :).

I follow a lot of sport, and some sports very closely. I am learning a lot as I go. Last week's hockey tournament in Invercargill (see post below) was a good learning about the vagaries of tournaments. In particular, every game counts, and certain 'knock out' games count absolutely: lose and there is no coming back. With those games, for players and fans, every minute counts, and time can slow down to an agonising torment. For me, with the Rugby World Cup looming, it was a sobering lesson that tournament sports competitions yield champions of tournaments and not champions of whole seasons. Our NZ rugby team All Blacks are nearly always champions of whole seasons of matches and, so far, hardly ever champions of world cup tournaments.

Last night the All Blacks lost to Australia, 20-25 - their second loss in two matches. Of course one can rejoice that this World Cup the All Blacks will not be complacent about their run to the finals. Only a fool, however, would not harbour doubts as to whether we can now win! Robbie Deans (Australian coach) was not the winning coach of the Crusaders (Christchurch-based local team) for nothing. Is he timing his team's run to glory to perfection?

The flip side of the agony of losing is the possibility of winning. Or, one might say, more accurately, the possibility of winning being a meaningful experience. Imagine if, just after all the teams have arrived in NZ in a week or so's time, an announcement was made by the International Rugby Board that this year's competition was going to be completely different: no results would be recorded, and at the end of the competition the name of every participating team would be engraved on the cup as equally sharing in the winning of the cup. So NZ would have its name on the cup again, and it would mean absolutely nothing to us.

So to the gospel and to the question of heaven and hell. Would heaven be meaningful if there were no hell? Would the question 'do you believe in Jesus Christ?' have any meaning if the answer had no bearing on our future with God?


Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,
I'm wondering if a closer parallel might be as follows:
Certain teams (probably a majority) don't recognise the IRB as the legitimate body that administers World Rugby, and don't believe that the World Cup they are organising is real. They didn't prepare for it or play any qualifying matches, didn't apply formally or sign the necessary contracts, ran alternative competitions, and derided and persecuted those who did want to participate. Then, when the opening of the World Cup arrived, they realised the error of their ways and wanted to be accepted anyway. Wouldn't the integrity of the IRB be fundamentally compromised if they admitted such teams to the World Cup?
With apologies to readers from non-rugby playing nations who can't follow any of this at all!

Matthew Bartlett said...

If the end of history is a restored heavens-and-earth, and those on God's side get to participate in that and others don't, is that insufficiently dramatic?

Peter Carrell said...

Good analogy, Andrew!

Matthew: anything which separates us from God is more than sufficiently dramatic.

Suem said...

I am not an expert on Rugby, but Andrew's analogy seemed to give the opposite message to the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16) In this parable the workers are accepted right until the end. Nothing wrong with that - but then they are paid EXACTLY the same wage, which in human terms is outrageous!

You could argue that the integrity of the Vineyard owner would be fundamentally compromised if he admitted last minute "workers" at all, let alone on the same basis as the others? Now, in this parable there is an "eleventh hour"- which might suggest a cut off point, but the focus is not on the cut off point as there is nothing about being "too late", the focus is on God's outrageous generosity. It is generosity to the point of "unfairness" in human terms.

I am not saying there is no hell- I actually believe there is. But if God did have some plan to restore all of fallen mankind, which would be the ultimate victory over Satan, I hope I would rejoice rather than gnash my teeth with righteous indignation.

liturgy said...


It is very important in this discussion to remember that the words "Rugby World Cup" are not meant to be taken literally!

There is not one cup - there are two (that we know of)!

And "World" in the phrase does not refer to the world literally. Only about 10% of the world's nations are taking part - the majority of the planet doesn't even know it is happening. And certainly don't know the rules.

I hope that helps ;-)

ps. I have read Bell - he is saying nothing new. Must be a lot of Christian books under that counter!
pps. Zondervan Bell's usual publisher refused to publish it! But then that's owned by Murdoch - as is the NIV (yet another reason not to use the NIV!)



Andrew W said...

I'll just note that the parable of the vineyard doesn't say that the owner went 'round after dusk and gave those who'd been working for other people a day's pay anyway.

Bryden Black said...

In November a colleague and friend Hugh Bowron will be delivering some lectures/addresses on various topics. Among them will be one on Hans Urs von Balthasar, where Hugh will “assess the controversies surrounding the Theology of Holy Saturday, and conclude by considering whether Balthasar believed in universal salvation”, or apokatastasis.

I shall indicate date and place later when available.

Father Ron Smith said...

One interpretation of Hell, is that is consists of an eternal experience of the absence of God. Perhaps it becomes its own reward.

Hell has never been the subject of my sermons. Nor would I want it to be. I prefer something more encouraging.

Experience of the 'dark night of the soul' might be as close as any Christian might want to approach the subject. The awful thing about that, is that is comes near to the experience of Jesus, when he took upon himself the sin of the world. His cry of: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" describes what it must be like to 'feel the absence of God' - Hell, indeed!

Suem said...

No, but presumably some late workers could have been working for other people all day? Also, in the parable of the man who threw a feast,he DOES go round searching the by-ways and highways for the disreputable, undesirable and uninvited, doesn't he? The focus of both parables is on the numbers God wants to include (even at the cost of seeming to lack integrity) not on the numbers he wants to exclude.
Generosity seems more important than "integrity"( as the world understands it.) That's all I am saying.

Bosco, I don't know anything about the world cup. But your point seems to make it more relevant- what will happen to people who "didn't know"?

Suem said...

What about the idea that IF God did restore all of fallen humankind then that would be the ultimate victory over Satan?

I'm not saying he WILL restore all of mankind, but IF he did, why would we have a problem with God winning an complete victory over Satan?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem
The ultimate victory over Satan is both the restoration of fallen humanity and the destruction of Satan in the lake of fire.

The question then - perhaps - is whether God's best and most complete effort at restoration is taking place before our eyes (i.e. in current space-time through the history of the world) or includes some future effort beyond the grave (e.g. some have theorised that God will provide an infinite set of opportunities to repent and believe)?

On the whole, God's revelation in Scripture points us towards the former and not towards the latter.

Father Ron Smith said...

In the light of your comment, Peter, on the theory that God offers infinite opportunities for sinners to repent. That figures for me. One instance of that, in the Bible, comes from Our Lord's descent into Hell (the place of departed spirits) to show himself as God's Only-Begotten Son, Redeemer of all who look to him for forgiveness and redemption.