Thursday, February 24, 2005

Sage Can Be Devil's Advocate Any Time In My Book

Sage wrote in a Comment:

"Let me play devil's advocate here... bad pun, eh? he's the guy getting cut short in the book, IF GRACE IS TRUE.I haven't read the book, but I think I read several reviews of it when it came out (was it about 3 years old--I should go check, but that'd be too much work).It seems to me that if there is no hell, what do you do with those people who don't want to go to heaven (think C. S. Lewis, THE GREAT DIVORCE) or with those folks who would destroy heaven if they brought their baggage with them.What would Don Giovanni do to heaven? Could heaven be heaven without all residents being willing to submit to God? Is our adversion to hell due to the images we have of it from poets more than from scripture? What scripture passages are metaphorical and what ones are descriptive? If life comes from God, would the absence of God (hell) be eternal punishment or is eternal death just that? Is the fear of hell a good reason to "come to Jesus" or a good reason to modify our behavior? just some thoughts. Thanks for your thoughtful posts."

Actually, Sage, I was originally trying to make a political as well as religious point about what a gracious and progressive Christianity would look like. However, you raise some very interesting and valid points about a subject that interests me very much: Salvation.

Firstly, you mentioned one of my favorite authors, CS Lewis, and I loved The Great Divorce. Lewis, I believe, once said that hell is "God's great compliment to man." By that he meant that God's great, and incredibly gracious, gift of free will would be meaningless without the possibility of rejecting heaven and an eternity with God. So, for that reason, I will concede that hell is a possibility. Because humans must be free to reject God. Hell has been defined as the ultimate despair, which is knowing that one has chosen the absence of God, and of good, for all eternity. Lewis, however, also said "the gates of hell are locked from the inside."

I believe I once heard Lewis referred to as a "neo-Orthodox" Christian, meaning that although he believed in hell, he thought that God's saving grace could extend beyond the grave. The Orthodox usually believe that upon death one goes either to heaven, hell or purgatory immediately. If one is damned to hell, there can be no escape or hope of salvation. Lewis wrote The Great Divorce to dispute that belief. Although he thought that many would, in fact, deliberately choose to reject salvation, he also believed that redemption was possible and was even offered to those in hell. He once said that whether it is hell or purgatory depends upon whether the soul accepts redemption.

Many people who consider themselves universalists don't deny the existence of punishment and purification after death. It's not hell, but eternal damnation that they object to. Indeed, priest, novelist and sociologist, Andrew Greeley, does not deny the possibility of hell but frequently expresses the belief that God will in some way find a way and a means to reconcile all souls to her (Greeley frequently refers to God as "she"). It's Greeley's faith that God's love will be so irresistable and God will be so persistent that all will eventually be won over to redemption. That is probably where I stand. I believe that hell must remain a possibility or free will is impossible. But I believe that God's persistence and God's love will prove irresistable to the human soul.

One other thought to keep in mind, though, is that there have been hellish experiences reported by those who have had near death experiences. The vast majority of NDEers have positive experiences. But, as the literature on the subject expands, more negative experiences have been reported as well. So, that something hellish exists is probably true. Every religion, by the way, has a concept of hell. In fact, while Americans frequently think that Buddhism does not have that concept, but preaches reincarnation and karma instead, Buddhism has not just one hell but thousands of hell realms as well as heavenly abodes and Pure Lands. It also believes that those who are greedy and gluttinous could be reborn as "hungry ghosts" which are entities with large stomachs and tiny throats that make it impossible to ever get enough food to satisfy one's hunger. However, the Buddhists believe that all the hell realms, heavenly abodes, reincarnations, and hungry ghosts are both temporary and caused by our own minds at death. However, the important thing is that the concept of hell is not unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Every human has a hunger for justice, which is what leads us to believe in hell. The question is, if not from God, where would that hunger come from? That is one of CS Lewis' proofs for an existence of God. That the concept of fairness, justice and goodness are so universal.

As for your other question about the nature of hell and how metaphorical our images of it are, don't know, I've never been there, not even in an NDE.