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Jesus And Hell?


trek42
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Many progressive Christians seem to believe that everyone will eventually come to know God, that this is what God Himself desires and His plan for humanity.

 

Jesus had a number of things to say of "eternal" life and "eternal" punishment.

 

What are your thoughts on Jesus' teachings on hell? Can these teachings be interpreted through a progressive filter?

 

trek

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You might enjoy reading what Borg (and to a lesser extent Spong-- I don't care for him as much) has to say. Take a look at "Reading the Bible Again for the First Time". Anyway, the general idea is that you have to look at who was writing the scripture (given it was not passed down directly from God but written by men) and why they were writing it, ie the context. MOST of the references are in Matthew (I think?). There is only one is Luke (which I believe was in the parable of Lazarus). What was Matthew trying to say and why? At the time, Christians were being persecuted and there is a lot of frustration (and some anger) out of Jesus' mouth.

 

I think the progressive "filter" is that the words and teachings are not always literal, and much of the time have metaphorical meaning.

 

--des

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  • 2 weeks later...

A couple of years ago on another forum, we were talking about hell. I said that I believed that hell was not so much a literal place for the execution of God's tangible, expressed anger, but a metaphor for God's justice-oriented love. Then someone asked me the following question and I gave the following response. I hope it helps.

 

***************

Quote: XA would it be possible to draw out what you mean by "metaphoric" as opposed to tangible, expressed anger?

 

First of all, I want to talk about metaphorical language. Human beings must understand God through their own lens of the human condition. Therefore, certain language that is “supra” human (with regards to what is considered to be “virtuous”) becomes the norm for God.

 

Some examples: Humans experience love, so God is Absolute Love. Human beings are finite, so God is infinite. Human beings have a certain about of potential in their lives, so God is omnipotent.

 

Metaphorical language helps us to identify with God. Hence, some people are possessive over certain descriptors. Many say they cannot worship a God who is not a “He.” Others say they cannot worship a God who is not a “She.” From what I’ve encountered, the reason for such terms is not a desire to keep other people from connecting with God, but rather a desire to keep people from taking away from them how they identify with God. (So, in that sense, it is an interpretive grid through which we understand and relate to God.)

 

Metaphorical language also allows us to speak about our understanding of who (or what) God is, and how God relates to our world. By using language that refers to human emotion, we are saying that God is not “disconnected” from what happens in our world. We are saying that God does “care,” or that God has an “interest” in human/creaturely affairs. By saying that God is emotively involved in our world, is to say that God is relational (as opposed to aloof). To say that humanity is meant to be created in the image of God is to say that truth (the measuring stick for that which is just) is relational to the activity of God. To say that we encounter God in the person and work of Jesus Christ is to say that justice /the way of God is encountered through compassionate relationships (as opposed to dogmatics) that mirror those found in his life. Those relationships that do not measure up to what we se in Jesus of Nazareth are then identified as “unjust,” or “sin.” (So, in that sense, it is a projective vision of what our world can or should be like.)

 

This brings us to the “anger” of God. Let me first state that I do not ascribe to an understanding of the atonement that says that Jesus Christ’s life-blood was drained by God in order to sat the vengeful thirst of an angry God. I believe that such an assertion flies in the face of orthodoxy as established in the council of Nicaea (perhaps another topic). I want to look at the anger of God another way, using human relationships as our lens to articulate that which is ultimately impossible to articulate.

 

Some time back, I watched a news blurb about the escalating problem in the Palestine. As the newscaster talked, the accompanying footage was that of a five-year old little girl learning how to use a gas mask. I felt sick in my soul. It was a reminder for me that “justice” always has a name, and that name is the name of all those individuals who suffer the whims of the powerful in their own persons. How does a parent respond to those who would mercilessly slaughter his or her child? Does not that child’s name become the name of justice?

 

Also, I used to work at a rescue mission as a secretary. This made me one of the first contacts for those who came in off of the street. My office became almost an impromptu pastoral care office for those who knew no hope. If Jesus had his way, these people would not have been robbed of their lives, their “kingdoms” if you will, and been cast out into the cold to die by a “Christian” society that has more money than it knows what to do with (other than build bombs, but that too is perhaps another topic). [Yes, I know, Jesus said that the poor will be with us always, and that does relieve some of my frustrations.] Jesus worked with the poor. Jesus identified with the poor. Jesus did not cast them out to be devoured by the darkness. When I think back to my time there and those people, those individuals too remind me that “justice” has a name, and it is the names of all those who have been labeled as “expendable” in one way or another in any society.

 

And so, I believe that God gets “angry.” But maybe I am only projecting. Maybe this is the way that I make sense of my world and try to figure out “right” from “wrong”. Such things I cannot say for sure. How many people have claimed to know the will and mind of God and then brought new definition to the word “heinous”? I can’t say for sure how much of my language about God is actually about God or to what extent I use my language to conform God to my own image. In humility, I must always be willing to say “I might be wrong.” But I still feel that I must express what seems to be to me. And so I speak of a loving God who is sometimes angry.

 

But I don’t know that I want to go into a loving/angry dichotomy for God either. Too often that has led to manipulation through guilt. Although feelings of guilt can be healthy, I do not believe that attempts to bring about guilt-ridden “repentance/conformity” is healthy. (Quite the contrary, I would argue that it is “sin,” but that may be for another topic too.)

 

When I hear people say God becomes “sad,” I like that terminology. It reeks of “degree” in a positive way. To me it says that God had expectations or standards of behavior, but humanity dropped the ball. But at the same time, I also don’t want to abandon the extreme emotion of anger for God because I want to say that some things are downright atrocious and evil. In those cases, for example in the case of an entire region being ethnically cleansed, to say that God is “sad” simply doesn’t hack it for me.

 

So, according to my understanding, God is a God of Love, but that love can be the foundation of both divine sadness and anger, as well as divine joy and delight. But suffice it to say that for me, to say that the God who is Love sometimes becomes angry is to say that divine justice always has a proper name.

 

But maybe that’s just me.

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