I had been planning to post about this for a few weeks and then heard that Two Friars and a Fool were finally unleashing their #95tweets project I figured that I would wait, post about that and then follow it up with this.
A while ago at a home group I was a part of we watched a video featuring Fransis Chan and whilst talking about it afterwards several of us agreed that he seemed to use Hell as a motivation for how we act. From what little I know about Chan* he does and says some good things and I have no wish to to take that away from him. But I do disagree with him on this. I think that Hell is completely the wrong motivation for Christians for how we live on Earth. If Hell is the reason that we do or do not do certain things then that is ultimately selfish and done out of love for the self, to save the self and not through love of God or love of our neighbour. But through exploring and reconsidering the doctrine of Hell we can reconsider our faith and our motivation. We can learn to be motivated by the beauty of God’s Kingdom, of the passion to see the world restored. We can be motivated by being part of God’s kingdom now “the Kingdom of God is within you” and bringing restoration to people’s lives and the awesomeness of that, not because we don’t want to go to Hell.
When I have told people that I like Mathew 25:31-end (the parable of the sheep and goats) the reply has been that they don’t. I think, perhaps, that the reason that they don’t like it is that it makes them question their own salvation. The reason that I do like it is that it makes me question my own salvation. I don’t want to be motivated to do these things to be sure of my salvation, but to do so because of love and beauty and the potential I see to help restore the world to how it should be.
A parent doesn’t want their child’s love out of fear, because of what may happen to them if they don’t profess love for the parent. Do we imagine that God wants us to love him out of fear? Is that even true love? Which motivation would you prefer from the people that love you? How much more must our heavenly father prefer for love to be given out of beauty rather than fear.
*Basically having watched this video a while ago and read a couple of quotes on line so I really don’t claim to understand where he is coming from or what he is like I am just using this to illustrate my point.
Two Friars and a Fool is a blog aimed at stimulating the kind of theological discussion you may have with friend over a pint in the pub. A while ago they announced their #95tweets project which, over the weekend, was finally released on the Twitter public. Mirroring Luther’s 95 theses the friars aimed at stimulating discussion whilst demonstrating why they don’t think that belief in Hell is valid or fits with the Christian world view. They tweeted 95 Biblical, Theological or Ethical reasons to reject the belief in Eternal Conscious Torment, and I think they did a good job. Below are the tweets that I “favourited” over the weekend. Click here to see the whole list on the Two Friars and a Fool website, why not get involved in the discussion on their blog, using the #95tweets hash tag or @TwoFriars. I would also love to know people’s thoughts on this.
My 16 favourite tweets (with an explanation of the tweeting format from @TwoFriars):
These arguments are in 3 categories: Ethical (E), Theological (T) and Biblical (B) plus a number
So, for example, the first tweet will be Tweet E1, or tweet 1 in the Ethical category
#95Tweets#T3: Eternal Hell does nothing whatsoever to glorify God, unless the powerful torturing the weak is glorious
#95Tweets#T5: Eternal Hell renders God’s love meaningless – no definition of love could include allowing infinite torture
#95Tweets#B1: The overwhelming majority of Bible verses support some form of annihilation; more support universalism than eternal Hell
#95Tweets#B2: Gen 3:19: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, not dust to eternal conscious torment. Death, not eternity, is our default end
#95Tweets#B7: Hades, translated as “Hell”, is imported from Greek mythology, and is simply the realm of the dead, or the god of death
#95Tweets#B8: Hades, while still not Hell, is thrown into the lake of fire and destroyed at the climax of the book of Revelations
#95Tweets#E11: Fear of (eternal) punishment is the most brutal, crass and callous way to seek to encourage good
95Tweets#E12: Fear of punishment is not effective in encouraging good, it only prevents overt misdeeds while being watched
#95Tweets#T9: Eternal Hell renders God’s power meaningless, since God’s plan to restore all creation can be foiled by human sin
#95Tweets#E15: It is morally untenable to expect any person of conscience to enjoy Heaven knowing that others are in Hell
#95Tweets#T17: Eternal Hell is far beyond even the most evil we could visit upon our children – and are we not God’s children?
#95Tweets#T20: Eternal Hell ascribes infinitude, eternity and finality to pain, horror, despair and terror
#95Tweets#B26: Romans 6:23 Paul says the wages of sin is “death”, not “eternal conscious torment” – an important distinction
#95Tweets#B28: Galatians 6:7-8 – Paul is pretty clear that there is destruction or eternal life, not eternal conscious torment
#95Tweets#B29: Phil. 2:9-11 says every knee will bend and tongue confess, not that most knees and tongues will be tortured forever
#95Tweets#B30: Col 1:18-20 – God reconciles with all creation through Christ…or fails miserably to do so if eternal Hell exists
So what do you think?
Related post: Hell is a Selfish Motivator
*Ok first things first, this isn’t my theology of Hell, ask me if you are interested in what my thoughts on Hell actually are but eternal tourment for those who haven’t become Christians isn’t it. But it’s an eye catching title and serves as a handy way to look at it for this post.
So how can risking Hell (or perhaps, rather, risk not entering the Kingdom/Heaven) be the most Christian thing that we can do? Surely the point is to behave, do good things and be a good Christian who can be assured of their salvation. Preservation of the self. We’re saved and that feels good. We can exist in the safe, good, pure areas of life. But here’s the thing. Jesus doesn’t call us to self preservation, but to denial of the self. Christianity isn’t supposed to be about “me” and what I get out of it. It’s about service of the other, including denying the interests of the self in order to do this.
Let’s look at Jesus; God could have preserved Godself, where it is pure, holy and safe. But instead God gave up that right to enter to world in the person of Jesus, where it is dirty, dangerous and sin exists. He didn’t spare himself; from the 40 days of temptation to death on the cross. He didn’t preserve himself, he denied himself and was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for others. It wasn’t about what was in it for him but what he could give for humanity.
And so as Christians we aren’t called to the safe, clean, nice areas of life but to the dirty areas on the edges, not places that someone with self interest would tend to be. To places where we have to take risks – risks that are about serving others rather than ourselves.
So if we see that attaining, and being sure of, our own salvation is about self preservation and acknowledge that we are called to deny the self then the Christian expression is one that leads us, not to be sure of our own salvation but, to act in the interest of others. The first part of this Pete Rollins video shows an example of this.
Another example of this would be someone held to gun point, asked to deny Jesus otherwise they will be killed. Now people would perhaps recall Matthew 10:32-33 and think well, the only thing I can do is to acknowledge Jesus, I may die but Jesus will acknowledge me before the Father and I’ll be in heaven. But let’s add another dimension; what if this person is a mother of a young child? So the choice is between self preservation (well sort-of) in doing the thing that they are sure will help them get to heaven, or risking that in order to live and be there for their child, for service to their child. Now in either situation there is a certain amount of selfishness and a certain amount of giving of the self so I realise that I am looking at this in a simplistic way. But the traditional Christian way of looking at this would be to say that the right thing to do would be to acknowledge Jesus and not be ashamed of the faith; an act seen as securing them a place in heaven as opposed to risking that. Paradoxically the Christian thing may be to deny the self of a secure place in heaven in order to serve and help someone else. I know that this is entirely hypothetical and I think that it is important that we do not criticise anyone for the decision made either way – remembering that Peter was forgiven for denying Jesus 3 times and in realisation that it is an incredibly tough situation to be put in, one that I can only imagine God giving grace in no matter what the decision made is. But it does explore and highlight the paradoxical nature of trying to secure our own place in Heaven rather than serving others.