Saturday, 21 November 2009

a hell of a dilemma

A recent post of Jonathan’s, ’babies in hell’ on his musings blog, has prompted me to offer an initial salvo of response. being in the missions business, in the arena of commercial radio, I guess it’s important to have a grasp, even if it’s a developing one, on what I think about such big picture concepts as hell.
At the root of the problem is the question of how we square the apparent bold simplicity and clarity of nt teaching that salvation is found in turning to Christ in repentance, and the complexity of the real human situation. For me intellectually to accept such a concept as hell, it helps to at least have some sense of how it relates to people‘s actual lived experience.
What is hell about? The bible does talk in places, in the nt especially, in apparently quite aggressive terms about eternal punishment and being thrown into a lake of fire‘ - this language is there. But who will go? The thrust of the nt is that this teaching is directed at those who reject the love of God, and eg in revelation 20, 21 it lists those who are hardened in an array of sins… Now this resonates with reality. Thinking, speaking, doing wrong does have a progressive, cumulative hardening effect on the heart, you lose sensitivity and joy. Eg I recall hearing teaching on the effect of habitual porn - it deadens and isolates cos it cuts you off from relationship, you become a shell of a person, as jesus warned about the path begun by a lustful look if not checked… so in real experience hell begins to be comprehensible.
God is not always and in every way obvious. It’s easy to caricature him as an evil sadist if you want to. But I can at times have a sense of the numinous, that I’m not alone, and of ‘eternity in the heart’, I feel drawn into a spiritual relationship, and yes I believe JC clarifies Who it is I’m relating to. But I have to follow that beckoning of awe and allow my whole being to unfold in response, not make an idol of science or rationality and so dull and close my sense of the spiritual. Parts of the bible are not easy to grasp, and without a willingness properly to engage with it, I can take an intellectual scalpel to it and set up my own horrible caricatures of a God as a baby torturer and so on. But with an open heart it is a vast house of light and treasure. And I don’t think you need me to tell you it actually says nothing about babies and hell.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

remembrance day thoughts

In his remembrance day message this morning, our minister Robin Gamble at holy trinity idle described a visit to the Somme and referred to the inscription to all the men who had died unidentified, simply ‘known unto God’. a powerful moving thought. It also brings to mind a reason john piper in ‘desiring God’ gives for believing in heaven and eternity, that he finds it inconceivable that something as beautiful, complex and mysterious as the human personality, should at death simply cease to exist. Like the suggestion that there can be no ultimate or purpose or meaning in life because no God, the idea that death is the end, kaput, that’s it, is the kind of assertion made by atheists that stretches credulity because it flies in the face of what our deepest intuition suggests to us. The atheist of course can and does respond that this is a mere comfort blanket, that the believer is taking refuge in a delusion. But this is where the broad picture needs to be surveyed: the evidence that God has communicated, and the experiential testimony that he does prove faithful and meet need.

Robin also delineated three broad stages in the bible’s portrayal of and thinking about war: the accounts of apparently pretty blood thirsty behaviour in the early OT, around 3 and a half thousand years ago when the Israelites were carving out a place for themselves, and when cultural norms were very different. But then the later OT, the prophets, when a consciousness emerged in the jewish nation that they were called to model a radical peace - ‘swords into ploughshares’… culminating in the high point of Christ’s ethical teaching of forgiveness and love even for enemies. The question is, does this model of an evolving ethical consciousness have to conflict with the idea of a God who is eternally the same? Progressive revelation?

Saw some of the secret life of berlin on beeb 2 last night, about the years leading up to the fall of the wall. Struck by the prominent role of the churches in stimulating a peaceful revolution.