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Update 4/25/14 -- added another blogger at the bottom...
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This post of part of May's Synchroblog. Please see the listing of other bloggers at the bottom of this post, and take the time to read the variety of responses with as much openness as your heart and mind will allow.
I encourage you to follow J.R.R. Tolkien's advise and "suspend disbelief" long enough to enter into the narrative and let the Spirit speak--either to confirm what you have come to suspect (but thought you were the only one) or to challenge your own belief in what you have been taught.
If there were ever a time to be Berean, it would be for such a time at this!
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As with just about everything else, my ideas about wrath and hell have changed significantly over the past five years. It has been a slow and confusing process of looking at things that I hadn't really thought about--just taken them for granted as they had been taught.
When one's foundational ideas shift, the whole house shifts....
So I need to start with wrath as an aspect of love. I started thinking about this after reading The Shack and meeting Wayne Jacobsen. There was plenty to ponder about in these conversations...and ponder I did.
But there was something that just wasn't setting right...and it wouldn't be until I finally took the time to read and listen to C. Baxter Kruger that things began to fall into place in a way that really helped my ideas about wrath and hell shift. I started sharing that shift in the April Synchroblog. A shift that I have begun to talk about as Perichoretic cHesed.
Perichoretic cHesed is all about the very nature of God as Father, Son and Spirit. But that nature has been clouded by an infiltration of pagan Greek philosophy by some of the most influential church fathers--like St. Augustine and Martin Luther.
Baxter Kruger has done a tremendous job of documenting this subtle infiltration--and I'm so very grateful to him! In a nutshell it comes down to this:
- A Deistic GOD which is basically solitary, distant, impersonal, disappointed and angry--among other things--is mostly a reflection of Greek ideas about god. Those ideas made a lot of sense to people steeped in the Greco-Roman culture of Western Civilization. But those ideas appeal to the fallen mind...and that is problematic. A solitary God does not love by nature.
- A Trinitarian God which exists in the loving relationship of the Father and the Son in the Spirit, that I have come to describe as Perichoretic cHesed, is consistent with the realities of the Hebraic culture of covenant that God developed as part of what Baxter calls "the womb of the Incarnation." This Triune God loves by nature.
When God does not love by nature and is cast in the most of humanity's fallen mind, we're going to get an angry judge, offended and looking to punish sinners. Jonathan Edwards did an unfortunately great job describing that God.... It is this God of wrath who condemns sinners to a Hell of eternal punishment and torment, as Dante's Inferno popularized.
But what if that God is not what God is really like?
What if God, dwelling eternally as Father, Son and Spirit, are a community of self-giving and other-centered love that always looks out for the best interest of the other? What if they planned, from before they even created, to include their creation in their relationship of Perichoretic cHesed? What if that is what Jesus took on human flesh to accomplish--our adoption? What if the task of the Spirit, for all these centuries, has been one of educating the human race concerning their inclusive adoption into the very Family of God? And what is part of that education is the pruning away of ideas and habits that hurt and destroy us and keep us from living in the truth of who we are in Jesus? What if the things we have build in this world have been made from wood or straw or stubble rather than gold and silver and precious stones...and when the fires of trials in this world burn up that which is flammable?
What if the fires of hell are not ones of eternal torment and punishment but rather are ones of purification and restoration? (HT: Wm. Paul Young and C. Baxter Kruger)
What if hell is what we experience when we separate ourselves from the love of God...and the fires around us are a way of herding us back to the Shepherd?
Hour #33, starting in minute 43:35, in Baxter's "Big Picture" series of lectures gets to this definition of hell: "...it is the form of human existence that takes shape in wrong-headed believing...it takes shape in the "I am not". It is false religion. It's the misery of your own soul because of what you believed under the lie and harassment of the Evil One. And that can be extended indefinitely. But even though we suffer eternal hell and misery, it doesn't change the fact of who we are. Who we are is beloved children of the Father. The Spirit's been sent to us to help us know the truth. Whether we believe it or not doesn't change the Real World. It just means we are living in an illusion. And, to me, as the New Testament testifies, we can live in that illusion for eternity. That's the scary part."
That means that heaven is living in the reality of the Good News that Jesus has laid hold of us and brought us to live with with him and his Father and the Spirit. We hear and receive by faith what Jesus has done, and if we believe it and repent (change our minds), we experience heaven. If we don't believe it--because "I am not" ... you fill in the blank--then we experience hell, because of what Baxter calls "our stinking thinking."
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I think there is a lot of room for more thinking about this, especially because we just do not have that much really clear teaching about hell and a lot of murky teaching has resulted ... and I am looking forward to the rest of the folks writing about this.
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Here's the collection of links from the May participants in this Synchroblog:
Jeremy Myers – Does Jesus Talk About Hell More Than Heaven?
Wesley Rostoll – Hell, thoughts on annihilationism
K. W. Leslie – Dark Christians
Angie Benjamin – Hell Is For Real
Paul Meier – Hell Is For Real – I’ve Been There and Came Back
Glenn Hager – Abusing Hell
The Virtual Abbess – What The Hell?
Kimbery Klein – Hell, if I know.
Michael Donahoe - Hell Yes…or No?
Liz Dyer – Hell? No!
Margaret Boelman - Hell No I Won’t Go
Loveday Anyim – Why the hell do you believe in hell?
Linda - If you died today, where would you go?
Edwin Aldrich – What the Hell do we really know.
Mallory Pickering -- The Time I Blogged About Hell
Elaine – What The Hell?