Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the carrot and the french fry part 2

Well we've got the easy question out of the way...sort of. The second question, "if hell exists, then who's going?" is a bit trickier. Let me begin with this disclaimer: I am in no position to speculate on the eternal whereabouts of any particular soul. And, by the way, neither is anyone else. None of us can say with any degree of certainty that any specific person is in hell. No not even that one. That said, I think Jesus does give us some indication of what kind of person, or lifestyle should be cause for concern.

For my money, nothing beats the parable of the prodigal son. It's found in Luke 15, so go read it if you haven't yet. The cliff notes of it is that there are two sons and one righteous father. The younger son takes his inheritance in advance and blows it on women and whiskey, wakes up in a pig-sty, and comes crawling home to the compassionate and unqualified embrace of his father. The elder son stayed by the father's side, carried out his duties, and didn't spend nary-a-night with a pig.
The father throws a party to celebrate the return of his youngest, which I presume to be symbolic of heaven. Read the whole chapter and you'll see why. The elder son is envious of this extravagance, and refuses to go in.

OK, here's my take on all of this....The younger sons fault is that he didn't yet understand the fathers love. He thought there was something better out there. Eventually, he realized that he was horribly wrong. The elder son was content to remain in the fathers loving presence. His fault was that he wanted to keep his fathers love to himself.

The most scandalous, and terrifying truth of this parable is that the person on the outside is there by his own choice! The father was begging him to come in and he refused to! It should scare the crap out of all of us who are Christian by birth that the purest, and best behaved of these two brothers couldn't stomach the goodness of the father. The point that Jesus is revealing is clear...all rebellion is destructive, but the number one risk factor for eternal damnation is too much religion. Think about it. Break it down all you want to. There's only one reason the elder son missed out. He simply didn't like who else was on the guest list. Decades of duty-bound service had hardened his heart, and convinced him of his own worthiness. It was no longer enough that he got in. He had to control who else got in too.

In the end, the father was better than either son realized. The rebellious son came to his senses ( v. 17 ). The elder son never did. The moral: self-indulgence and self-righteousness are both sinful, but self-righteousness sets the deeper stain. God help us.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

the carrot and the french fry

Rob Bell has me thinking lately. His book Love Wins has stirred a heated debate these past few weeks over the subtleties of eternal damnation. I admit I haven't read it. I've done what most others have a few excerpts, seen a few interviews and discussed it for hours with other Christians. So this is NOT a book review. These are my views on the topic of heaven and hell, which have been brought to the surface and refined by the recent discussion.

Two questions about hell keep coming up. The first is, "is hell real?" The second is, "if it is real, who's going?" We all have to wrestle with these questions. As far as I can tell, the answer to the first question, hell is not real. It exists, but it's not real. What I mean to say is that hell is not natural. Hell is the eternal manifestation of falsehood. In this way, it's the opposite of real. God is real. In fact, he is reality itself. Heaven is to be in the perpetual presence of God. To be anywhere else is to exist in non-reality. Comparing heaven and hell is like comparing a carrot with a french fry. The carrot is real. It's intended. It's natural. It's here on purpose. The french fry, when held in the shadow of the carrot, can't be said to be real. It's fake. It's fabricated. It's here, but it's presence is not a result of divine volition. (An exception shall be made for Wendy's fries. Those things are dang good.)

Now, on to some scripture. In Matthew 25, through the lens of a parable, we get a look at the judgement seat. Here, the Son of Man is separating the people as a Shepard would separate sheep from goats. The long and short of it is, the ones cast into hell are the ones who refused to lay down their lives for others. Interesting side note...the basis for judgement in this parable is behavior, not belief. heaven and hell have more to do with ethics than theology. More on that later. My main point here is that in this parable, hell is described as having been made "for the devil and his angels." Hell came about as a fabricated consequence for those who rejected divine reality. Unnatural actions breed unnatural consequences. Also, it was made for spiritual rebels, not people. people experiencing hell are experiencing something that was not intended for them. Actually, I think a pretty good definition of hell is to receive what you were not intended to receive. So hell is not real. the very essence of it is fakeness.

Heaven was made for us. Hell was made for the devil. If that's true, then why doesn't everyone go to heaven? Do people go to hell because going to heaven is so hard? No. People go to hell because going to heaven is so easy. Heaven is automatic. It's natural. It's already built into the plan. That's what throws us. We don't trust anything we can't make. Some of us would rather inherit a hell made by our hands than a heaven made by the hands of another. The ultimate irony of heaven is that the only way to miss it is to try to get there on your own terms. -we'll get to the second question next time