William A. Walker III

Pastor, Professor, Theologian, Spiritual Director

Tag: hell

The Risk and Suffering of Love

This from Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost’s Faith of Leap: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure and Courage, Ch. 3 (Interview here):

Learning to love, and therefore becoming mature, is no mean feat.  It requires putting oneself on the line and embracing the risk, even likelihood, of pain and suffering.  There is no way around this; St. Augustine is right when he notes in his confessions that every new love contains “the seeds of fresh sorrows.”  Our most perceptive thinkers have known this all along, and actually, except for the most sociopathic personality, we ourselves know this only too well.  We feel it every time we put our hearts on the line.  C.S. Lewis perhaps best captures this tragic element in love with these unforgettable words of insight and warning:

Love anything, and hour heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping in intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change.  It will not be broken; instead it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  the alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.  The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations [disturbances] of love is Hell.

To love is to suffer . . . and that’s probably why we generally don’t do it well.  Unwillingness to venture, plus a desire to be safe, holds us back from love.  To be sure, most of us do have a vision of what makes for a good life, and as believers we know that it involves growing in the love of God.  What we seem to lack, however, is the will to attain this good life of love. most of us prefer to skip over the pain and the discipline, to find some easy, off-the-shelf ways to sainthood.  Christian self-help spiritualities are a classic dodge of the real issues and manifestly do no produce maturity.  We do well to be reminded of the cost of shortcuts in Carl Jung’s penetrating statement, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”

How I might still be an Evangelical: Purifying Judgment and Hell as Hatred

A recent Homebrewed Christianity podcast episode featured a discussion between podcast host Tripp Fuller and New Testament scholar and professor Daniel Kirk of Fuller Theological Seminary.  The first subject of their conversation was about labels like liberal, progressive and evangelical.  Not only did it help me label myself a little better — I might be one of those elusive progressive evangelicals who really cares about science  — but it was also very entertaining.  Among some of Tripp’s remarks that struck me the most were the following, one of which I’ve already shared on twitter:

“God judges to purify, not to be a poop head” (the safe-for-all-ages version).

“Basically, Jesus tells two groups of people to go to hell in the Bible: 1) religious bigots and 2) rich people who don’t share.”

I’m not interested in making light of judgment language in the Bible.  It’s there, and I believe it should be taken very seriously.  I don’t think the prophets of Israel were bluffing when they warned God’s people to repent and turn back to mercy, justice and humility, or else be destroyed.  I’m just not sure it’s always supposed to be read literally, and the language itself is rarely literal in the first place (e.g., fire, outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth, etc.).

But like Kirk, I too am uncomfortable with efforts to pacify Jesus. As Reza Aslan argues, “zealot” is a better description of Jesus than “hippy” or “free spirit,” though obviously he differed substantially from his violence-prone counterparts — and I’m sure I don’t completely agree with Aslan.  Jesus is indeed firm and quite forceful at moments in what he says.  At the same time, I think the second statement above is fairly accurate: the threat of gehenna (“hell”) is mostly aimed at those who portend to play the role of God in religion, politics and economics (and today we should add, in the environment).  That is, it’s a harsh warning — which is not the same thing as a prediction — to those who lack contrition in their spirits.  It’s a warning to those who hate.

Tripp goes on to explain that in Jesus’s teachings in the Gospels, he’s making an interpretative move with regard to the Old Testament that we ought to follow — namely, re-reading and imagining our sacred texts in the light of Jesus’s example (i.e., “you’ve heard it said . . . but I say unto you”).  Let me be clear though: by saying “hell” is for “those people,” I don’t mean to let myself or anyone else off the hook!  We’ve all created a lot of hell on earth for each other in history.  We also create hell in our own hearts and in personal relationships.  But I like the way Thomas Merton has put it in this case:

And yet the world, with all its wars, is not yet hell.  And history, however terrible, has another and a deeper meaning.  For it is not the evil of history that is its significance and it is not by the evil of our time that our time can be understood.  In the furnace of war and hatred, the City of those who love one another is drawn and fused together in the heroism of charity under suffering, while the city of those who hate everything is scattered and dispersed and its citizens are cast out in every direction, like sparks, smoke and flame.

I don’t think it’s worth speculating much about afterlife.  The gospel doesn’t have much to say about it, for one thing.  What I do think is important, however, is faith and hope in the promises of God as made known in Jesus through the witness of Scripture.  I’m open to looking elsewhere for God’s revelation, and in fact I have, but so far Jesus takes the cake for me.  To echo the conversation from the podcast, I think one of these promises from God is essentially that humanity, creation and the whole universe has its end in God as evidenced by the testimony of the resurrection.  And this must apply especially to those whose lives have already been lost and dragged through hell on earth.  From here one probably needs to say as well that, from the standpoint of the Bible and the Christian tradition, unrepentant hatred does not go unpunished — even if this punishment is not vindictive.  This is why I too am unsatisfied by mysticism despite being contemplative.  It’s also why I’m neither a reductive-materialist nor a post-structuralist.

I believe God’s love is radically inclusive; I also believe that God’s will opposes our idolatry, which produces suffering, boredom, hate and the like.  Without these two held together, it’s hard to see the goodness of God.  It seems like the Bible is saying that what is associated with this idolatry must ultimately either be purged or “thrown away.”  This is one of the reasons why I still think it’s an urgent matter that followers of Jesus make other followers and invite people everywhere, with boldness and sensitivity, to turn from their egoism lest they “not inherit the ‘kingdom’ of God.”  This “kingdom” is a beautiful, “heavenly” society, and a gift that God wants all of us to receive.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén