As it happens, following up the previous post, I am preaching on the question of hell next Sunday evening (as part of a series of topical questions at a nearby church), and the question has arisen directly from the questioner reading Rob Bell's Love Wins. So now I have a loan copy of Love Wins and less than a week to read, mark, inwardly digest it, and work out whether I will be raving about Rob or belting Bell when I preach.
So far, one chapter in, my antennae are strongly switched on to the possibility that a straw man argument is being set up.
Rob Bell is in the UK at the Greenbelt festival apparently at the moment. A friend of mine has just heard him speak - I can't remember what the subject was (not hell) but she thought he was excellent. She said he seemed very relaxed, inspired and full of joy in spite of the tweets from Piper and lambasting he received after the publication of said book.
Julian of Norwich was a universalist, you know, there have always been such:) If it is a fault, it maybe arises from too great a desire to see others embraced by God's love, as opposed to too great a desire to see them struck by his wrath.
At the end of the day, who goes to where is none of our business. As in the Vineyard parable, it is for God to set his terms and conditions - let us mutter as we will!
I agree with Suem in what she says about the need to proclaim the possibility of heaven, rather than dwell on the torments of Hell.
If the gospel means 'Good News', then perhaps Christ meant it to be good news for everyone, not just 'the elect'. I'm more in favour of the 'carrot' method, than the 'stick'. St.Francis is my model.
After all, the Gospel pronounces the reality that, in essence: 'God is Love', desiring that the sinner turn from his wickedness and live!
The Church is a hospital for Sinners, not a mausoleum for the 'Holy Ones'. God alone is Holy!
As a priest, I have never found the time nor the inclination to preach the doctrine of Hell. My task has always been to encourage people into holiness, not frighten them to death. Perfect Love casts our fear.
The forthcoming sermon is in response to a question asked by one of the young adults at the church concerned. Otherwise I would not be preaching on hell ...
Perhaps this indicates the ethos of conservative fundamentalism that prevails in your church - needing reinforcement from the preaching.
I am not quite sure, Ron, why an opportunity being given to youth in a church to ask questions which might be addressed in a series of sermons has any necessary connection with 'conservative fundamentalism'. Are there no young people at St Michael's who ask questions about hell?
The answer to your question, Peter, is NO! Hell is not on their agenda. They are encouraged to love their neighbours - not scare them.
How lucky are you Peter to be preaching to a question?
I think you are missing the point, frankly.
Young people have enquiring minds. They think of questions such as a question about hell without anyone scaring them.
In this particular instance I think the question has arisen from reading Rob Bell's book. That is the question is not 'someone has scared me about hell, does it exist?' but' I have read this book, is it true?'
I shall let readers know whether it is a lucky opportunity or not after I have preached!
The Lord Jesus said quite alot about Hell. Should we edit His message? Should we presume to correct His statements because we know better?
God is Love, but that is not the whole of the Story. He is also Just, and Holy. Love is a soft characteristic which gives much and demands nothing. That's why men love to focus on it. Yet the Scripture does not say "Loving, Loving, Loving is the Lord of Hosts." but rather "Holy, Holy, Holy." Neither does God swear by His Love but rather by His Holiness. It is the Holiness of God that marks the severity of the offense of sin, and the Justice of God that demands the punishment of Hell for that sin. To not comprehend Hell is to not comprehend what man is saved from. It is to not comprehend the magnitude of the Sacrifice on the Cross. It leads to a truncated and incomplete Gospel. "Christ died for sinners" does not mean in the absence of the reality of Hell.
"Hell is not to comprehend what man is saved from" - carl -
That, in istelf, sounds a bit 'soft' to me Carl. I had rather grown up to understand that Hell is to experience the absence of God, having known God.
This was what Jesus experienced on the Cross when he took the sin of the world upon himself. This led him to cry out to God: "Why have You forsaken me".
Even Jesus, in that moment, experienced the absence of God which was the price of our sins. This was the moment of our delverance from the pains of Hell - when Jesus took upon Himself our sins. It was only after this offering up of Himself for all humanity that Jesus was able to say - out of the darkness: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!.
Father Ron Smith said...
I had rather grown up to understand that Hell is to experience the absence of God, having known God.
Hell is not the absence of God but the ever-present reality of the wrath of God. There is no place that God is not present. And those who will suffer eternal punishment do not know God in the first place. Of them it is written “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.”
On Good Friday, the Father did not flee to the other side of the Universe and cover his ears. The Father inflicted upon the Son the full weight of God's wrath against sin. God and not His Messenger. God and not His Angel. God and not His Servant. The Father took up the Rod Himself and brought it down upon His own Son. This is what it means to say that Christ died for sinners. He bore in Himself the full penalty of sin - the eternity of wrath that each man fully deserves. This is the necessary context of "God so loved the world"
and "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly." It is the very heart of the Gospel.
I am not really one for a focus on the son's need to propitiate the Father's wrath! After all, the father and the son are also one. When Jesus suffered, the Father surely suffered too? The cross is God ABSORBING ANGER WITHIN THE GODHEAD as an (excruciating) alternative to inflicting it upon humankind.
I don't agree that Love is a "soft characteristic". To really love and to give and not count the cost is a tall order, a really tough mission. It means dying to self. Maybe we do love to focus on love, we are not very good at it though, or at least only the easier parts of it! Receiving love may not demand much, but giving love (and the first two commandments are to love God and our neighbour) demands everything (although we rarely give everything- I am sure I don't!)
I do agree with Carl though that not to comprehend Hell (and the weight, horror and ugliness of sin) is not to comprehend what man is saved from and that it is to not comprehend the magnitude of the Sacrifice and suffering on the Cross.
I don't think we can deny, or that we should minimise, the concept and existence of a state called "hell". That is not to say that God cannot still deliver all of mankind ultimately from that fate- I just don't know!
Can "hell" exist independently of man? I think it does and can.
The very phrase - 'The Wrath of God' gives certain fundamentalists an excuse to attribute to God the natural disasters that presently affect our world.
Already, in the US, conservative politicians are using this to blame the current East Coast storms on the inattentiveness of the American people to the message of the Gospel. What a travesty of the Gospel this is.
This accent upon the negative side of human behaviour is one reason why so many people have an entirely unbalanced understanding of God's purpose in Creation.
We know (and certainly God knows) that we are a fallen race. however, God has set in train - through the Incarnate Christ - our redemption. We need to make God's holiness an attraction - not an instrument to bully his human children into an obedience that would rob them of the gift of free-will.
Gospel is 'Good News'. We need to concentrate on the good that God offers; not the evil that is the logical alternative.
Love draws people, whereas craven fear - such as is evidenced by the US hell-fire preachers - just serves to alienate and turn people away from the core message, which is that, in the end, we who bear the image and likeness of God need to be encouraged to develop into the reality that this promises in the Gospel. Love casts out Fear!
I am not really one for a focus on the son's need to propitiate the Father's wrath!
Then you miss the entire point of the work of Christ on the Cross. Propitiation is the center of everything Christ did. He suffered the punishment of Hell for the specific sins of specific people. The Cross is not "God absorbing the anger against sin." It is God visiting the punishment of sin upon the person of Christ. Thus is the justice of God satisfied, and the wrath of God turned aside. In the absence of that propitiation, the wrath of God is still present and His justice still demands the fit penalty of sin.
There is One Way and only One Way to satisfy the wrath of God. Those for whom the wrath of God has been turned aside will never be condemned. Those who have neglected so great a salvation can never be free of the punishment they deserve because the wrath of God yet burns against them, and there is no other way to turn it aside. Hell is a very real place, and men will spend eternity in that place. It is futile to suppose that there really is some other way when the Scripture clearly says there is not.
Father Ron Smith
This is not about inspiring "craven fear." It's about proper Christian anthropology and the sinfulness of man. The Good News is only good because the Bad News is so bad. We are not preaching a Gospel of "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." We are preaching the Good News that God has redeemed sinners from Death and Hell. The beginning of redemption is the realization that:
1. Yes, God is very angry about your sin.
2. Yes, He will hold every man accountable for that sin.
3. Yes, you are guilty beyond your comprehension before God, and there is nothing good in you.
4. No, you can't do anything of yourself to address your guilt.
5. Because you are guilty, you will be condemned to Hell for an eternity of punishment, and the Angels of God will Glorify Him for His justice because of your suffering.
That is the moral reality for every man who has ever lived. We are every mother's son of us murderers and idolaters and rebels against the Living God. By nature we hate God, and love our sin. We deserve eternal punishment. We have richly earned our reward. That is the Bad News. Without that 'Bad News' there is no 'Good News.' The 'Good News' is only good to the broken naked sinner who clings to the foot of the Cross. A man must understand that brokenness before he can cling to the foot of the Cross.
The Good News is not that God will hug us, and pet us, and squeeze us and love us forever. The Good News is that Christ died for sinners. The sinner must know he is a naked destitute sinner before he can come naked and destitute to the cross. It is Hell that illustrates the naked destitute moral nature of man that requires redemption in the first place.
Carl. I think I understand where you're coming from with your Wrath of God theory. But all of that is not the point of the Gospel. We have already been freed from the debt of sin - by Christ on the Cross. We now have to receive the forgiveness that has been released through the Cross.
However, if we continue in sin, without realising our constant need of forgiveness; we may never be in a position to partake of it.
The threat of Hell-fire & Damnation is only meant for those who, having known God's forgiveness, now reject God utterly, in the belief that they have no need of forgiveness. This, in turn, by their own action, renders them unwilling to partake of the redemption that Christ has secured for them. This may be the 'sin against the Holy Ghost' that is spoken of in the scriptures - having known God, to then reject God's redemption.
Sometimes the Church itself, by its proscriptions, can turn people against any notion of a Loving God. In that case, God may not blame the sinner who has not been taught about God's capacity and desire to forgive. Does such a sinner then merit Hell? Or is the Church partly to blame for excessive zeal, using the threat of Hell-fire in order to secure a conversion?
Jesus threatened the Pharisees that even prostitutes and tax-collectors would get to heaven before them - because of their intransigence in putting burdens onto other people, that they themselves were not willing to submit to.
Father Ron Smith
It's not my "Wrath of God Theory." It's called (among other things) the Book of Romans.
I presume you are thinking here of the 'Letter to the Romans' a message written to a specific community in the early Church. One needs to look at the context of the message.
I really don't agree with your theology, or at least not with your emphasis on the need to placate an angry God. Christ tells us that God requires mercy, not sacrifice. This is not to say that the idea of sacrifice is not present in the cross of Christ (it is), but it is a new type of sacrifice to that mistakenly held by more pagan ideas about the need to appease a powerful, angry and capricious deity. A lot of the cross of Christ - and the whole incarnation- is about God relinquishing power, not wielding it aggressively.
You say that if I feel you focus too much on propitiation,
"Then you miss the entire point of the work of Christ on the Cross. Propitiation is the center of everything Christ did."
The point of Christ's work on the cross is salvation, not propitiation. It is also forgiveness, the free forgiveness of sins, offered to all. I do not agree that propitiation is at the center of everything Christ did - although it is true that the idea of sacrifice is central. Early christian thinkers do ponder the meaning of the cross, they certainly examine the idea of propitiation, but as I said before, Christ's sacrifice is a slightly different type of "offering" or "giving" than the blood offerings of the Old Testament. This new sacrifice/ blood offering has so much more to teach and offer us (and demand of us.)
The theology of the cross and resurrection is a subtle one. Our understanding can work on many levels and is multifaceted. It can also work on the simplest of levels (Jesus died/ God sent his son because his love was that great.)
"God so loved the World, that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that those who believe in Him should not perish, but have life eternal"
- St. John's Gospel -
God simply asks of us to believe in the Incarnate Christ, whose death on the Cross has already achieved the seemingly impossible - redemption for all believers.
This much we already know from the Gospel. What else God may have in mind for those who do not believe in Jesus as Redeemer of ALL, we do not know. Perhaps we could deign to leave that in the hands of our Loving Creator and Redeemer, God.
Our task is to encourage those about us to believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Redeemer of the World - not just our part of it.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18
Er...yes... I have read that Carl.
And your point is?
Indeed Carl! Perhaps you need to not only read but assimilate what you have just pointed out to us: the fact that "God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged" - the rest is understood!
Carl, if we look at John 3:16-18, it does indeed say that unbelievers are "already judged". But, when we meet an unbeliever, we do not just give up on telling the gospel. We don't say "they don't believe -that's it then!" St Paul himself was an unbeliver, yet was later saved. So, the text does not mean "the minute someone doesn't believe, they are destined for hell."
It is more the case that those who reject Christ "rule themselves out", therefore they are already "judged" - but they may still come to believe. If we, as Christians, do not give up on unbelievers, how much more might this be true of God?
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