the hell there isnt….

“She thought she could get well again if children believed in fairies…

Peter flung out his arms. There were no children there, and it was night time; but he addressed all who might be dreaming of the Neverland, and who were therefore nearer to him than you think: boys and girls in their nighties, and naked papooses in their baskets hung from trees.

“Do you believe?” he cried.

Tink sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to her fate.

She fancied she heard answers in the affirmative, and then again she wasn’t sure.

“What do you think?” she asked Peter.

“If you believe,” he shouted to them, “clap your hands; don’t let Tink die.”

Many clapped.

Some didn’t.

A few beasts hissed.”- Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, Chapter 13: Do You Believe in Fairies?

Of course, none of us desire for there to be a literal, Biblical place of eternal torment where “the worm does not die, and the flame does not go out”, a “lake of fire reserved for the devil and his angels” Our consciences are singed at the very thought of an all loving Father, for whom even His very own Son was considered an available sacrifice to take away the sins of the world, sending some individuals into the outer darkness, perpetually separated from His love, and where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. My heart’s desire is that, when the final trump(!) is sounded, that this all encompassing loophole of God’s compassion, this universal salvation of substitutionary attonement would grant that every human ever created would willingly bow the knee and slip gracefully into the bosom of Abraham. But in 2000+ years of orthodox saints, sages, writers, luminaries, and other professional thinking persons it seems like the view of an all encompassing salvatory experience that does away with the necessity of Hell is a disesteemed position to take, if not completely nonexistent.

While we could all sit around reading and debating the works of the early church fathers, the apostolic fathers, Irenaeus of Gaul, Arnobius of Cicca, Athanasius, Origen, Augustine, Rohr, Bell, and all the rest, personally I am more persuaded by looking at the teachings of Jesus Himself. The Greek word “Hades” appears a limited number of times in the mouth of Christ, either in the gospels or accredited to Him elsewhere (in John’s Apocalypse for instance), and unfortunately He never sits the apostles down for a heart to heart about the specific mechanism, function, and even relationship between His uses of this term for the Greek otherworld reserved for tortured souls of the dead, the outer darkness, the lake of fire, and all of the other phrases He turned to describe the final judgement.

What was Jesus trying to teach when He scolded “That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”?  When He implored that it was better to go on with ones right eye, right hand, or various other limbs willfully plucked off rather than risk hell’s chastisement?  When He exhorted Peter as the scaffolding on which the church would be built, against which the very gates of hell would not prevail, or chided the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees for making their disciples twice the children of hell as they themselves already were?

The closest I think Jesus comes to a clear explanation of the existential divide between hell and “the bosom of Abraham” (whatever the heck that is) is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.  As with all His other parables it’s important to look at the intended audience of the fable.  Obviously the original listeners would already have had some experience with this explanation of the afterlife, with their own preconceived notions about who, what, when, where, and how which we twenty-first century westerners have regrettably little connection with.

The “Tinkerbell Effect” is an expression which reveals that people expect existence based solely on other people’s belief. I think it’s patently clear from this rambling response that I have absolutely no idea about the nuts and bolts beneath the surface of this great mystery, but I think it’s extremely important for us to listen to each other’s (sometimes opposing) viewpoints on what is obviously an incendiary topic of debate within our faith. And to extend to each other the same measure of grace we would desire for ourselves, not as a free pass that allows us to throw off all restraint under the guise of Christ, but as an offering of love and peace within the family of His church.

Whats wrong with hypocrisy anyway?

Jesus Mask

Hypocrisy gets a bad rap sometimes

I get asked a lot “why do you call your group ‘that’?” referring no doubt to our inglorious epitaph, and like so many other things which are beautiful and true the reasons are multi-layered and complex. On the face of it, I think I just wanted something that stood out, to everybody. Nearly every street corner and shopping center has a “Grace” or “Peace Community” or “Faith Word Assembly of Wah Wah” or whatever, and although those names can certainly be very uplifting I wanted something that would lodge in the conscience a bit more, something that would perhaps seem a little offensive or preposterous and sensational. Secondly there is truth in advertising, if a majority of people believe that christianity is made up almost exclusively of self-righteous hypocrites then why not take the liberty of applying a little bona fide candor and let the public know exactly who’s getting together when we meet. Sure sometimes each of us take ourselves a little too seriously, and we’ve all slipped up and been a bit legalistic in one area or another and then fallen all over ourselves-seccumbing to exactly the fault we saw so clearly in another. But mainly, I think that the term ‘hypocrite’ is probably most aptly applied to christians who, though struggling in their faith, are genuinely seeking after godliness. Why? The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means “Jealous” “play-acting”, or “acting out”, and is associated with the Greek word ὑποκρίτης (hypokrites), the agentive noun meaning “judgment” »κριτική (kritiki), “critics”) presumably because the performance of a dramatic text by an actor was to involve a degree of interpretation, or assessment. These masked actors would take on a role, and disguise themselves-burying their own personalities under this fictitious persona, and for the christian this is especially true. When we are ‘in’ Christ we arent instantly whisked away to glory to revel in the clouds in the presence of the Most High, but we remain here in the corporeal world and withstand the constant fevers and trials of living in our flesh while yet we are occupied by the Holy Spirit. Desiring perfection and godliness, we continue to fall into sin after sin, capitulating to the tragic frailties which our bodies are heirs to. And yet, when the Father looks upon one of these crippled creatures, He no longer sees the broken mass of seething desire and avarice we were physically born to-but under the sheltering cloak of the blood of His Son he sees Jesus in all of His perfection and glory. What greater mask to wear that that of the Maker of the Universe, what greater role to play than the Redeemer and Sustainer of mankind? Not that we are pretending to be something that we don’t believe, but given time our very features may begin to resemble those of the perfect costume we have affected, and the ‘persona’ of Jesus will be evident in our lives through our love, peace, and grace.