As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A New Take on Hell

I found this quote in C. Plantinga, Jr.'s Not the Way it's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. It is a quote from Professor Henry Stob, a Reformed theologian, and comes from an article entitled "Sin, Salvation, Service." I think it mirrors Pauper Frater's understanding of the relationship between God's holiness and human sin in quite an uncanny way, considering its provenance. Enjoy.

Hell in the either very hot or very cold, depending on whether the sinner is perceived as a rebel or an alien. In either case hell is not a divine creation. Hell is made by those who climb the holy mountain and try to unseat the Holy One who, ablaze with glory, dwells in the light unapproachable. Those who mount an attack on God and cross the barrier of his exclusive divinity die like moths in the flame of him who will not and cannot be displaced. And hell is made by those who, turning their backs on God, flee the light and move toward the eternal blackness that marks God's absence. Hell, then, is unarrested sin's natural and programmatic end. Sin is either rebellion or flight, and, when persisted in, leads either to the fiery furnace or to the cold and desolate night.

Strong stuff.
Sir R.F. Burton


Blogger fra edwin said...

My concept of Hell is the natural consequence of a decision to deny or rebel against God. God, being just and merciful, allows the rebellous soul to go to that place God has prepared for the fallen angels: a place from where God has voluntarily withdrawn. Imagine a place from which every aspect of God is lacking: Peace, love, light, beauty, happiness... and you will find that place of wailing and gnashing of teeth. It is a place born of a soul's own misplaced desire - not of God's punishment.

7:30 PM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

First, Haj, I REALLY like the quote, although I would say there is no escape from God (where can I go...).


Your understand was mine for many years. But I no longer think so. If God was absent from us, I think we would cease to be. We are not eternal souls, but very dependent on Him. The place where God is not simply is not. It can't be because there is nothing without Him.

10:36 AM  
Blogger fra edwin said...

We are not eternal souls? So are you simply replacing hell with oblivion?

Rather than argue from my side of the fence, may I offer something from the Orthodox tradition:

Immortality of the soul.

The rational soul of man has supernatural, infinite aspirations. If the rational soul were dependent upon the body and died together with the body, it should necessarily submit to the body and follow it in all its appetites. Independence would have been contrary both to the laws of nature and to reason, because it disturbs the harmony between the body and the soul. As dependent upon the body it should submit to the body and follow in all its appetites and desires, whereas, on the contrary, the soul masters the body, imposes its will upon the body. The soul subjugates and curbs the appetites and passions of the body, and directs them as it (the soul) wills. This phenomenon comes to the attention of every rational man; and whoever is conscious of his own rational soul is conscious of the soul's mastery over the body.

The mastery of the soul over the body is proved by the obedience of the body when it is being led with self-denial to sacrifice for the sake of the abstract ideas of the soul. The domination by the soul for prevalence of its principles, ideas, and views would have been entirely incomprehensible if the soul died together with the body. But a mortal soul would never have risen to such a height, would never have condemned itself to death along with the body for the prevalence of abstract ideas that lacked meaning, since no noble idea, no noble and courageous thought has any meaning for a mortal soul.

A soul, therefore, which is capable of such things, must be immortal.

2:25 PM  
Blogger fra edwin said...

A few words from Christ (beware of that old immortal worm and unquenchable fire):

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'

Mark 9:43-49

2:38 PM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

First, Christ spoke to us as we would understand. Often, we didn't. God was, in some way, limited by our inability to grasp the fullness of Truth.

As for the immortality of the soul, it is not immortal in and of itself. In some ways, I'm kind of believe what Bishop Berkley said. When God ceases to know us, then we no longer are. Thus, for the rebel, the hater of God, the Love of God is both the source of his being and the unbearable torture.

8:44 AM  
Blogger fra edwin said...

Are you saying that if the Old Testament declares a truth, we can discount it because what was said was "an emerging and developing" understanding? (Admittedly you said this in another thread, what you say next follows logically)

And are you saying that if Jesus declares a truth, we can discount that too because the Apostles were too dense to understand the real truth?

It sounds like you are in the process of throwing away all scripture except as references subject to revision.

As for your statement on the immortality of the soul, does God know us? He knows us to the very count of our hair. What Bishop Berkley says cannot be true. And, if the contrapositive is true, that as long as God knows us we exist, then we are truly immortal.

7:05 PM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

I'm not saying that the Bible can either be discredited where it doesn't agree with me. I'm saying that where interpretations of the Bible disagree with the interpretations given by the Fathers, I must question it.

Regarding immortality of the soul, you are correct. God always knows us, so we are, in a sense, immortal. But we are not immortal independently of Him. Our existence is predicated on his "knowing" us. Thus, Berkeley is vindicated.

4:17 PM  
Blogger Hajiburton said...

It's intensely gratifying to me how quickly this thread descended into quibling. Let's see: Fra Edwin - I like your definition of hell, but I think Stobb does a good job of nuancing it poetically- i.e.- very similar to the way Scripture itself does. As you both know, Gehenna isn't a technical term at all, but a place outside ancient Jerusalem where the city's waste was dumped. Sheol isn't what we would think of as "Hell" either, but "the grave," which doesn't necessarily imply even a resurrection (thus the possibility, in Jesus' day, of an orthodox Jewish sect like the Saducees). And, of course, - there is the Greco-Roman conceptual structure of Hades, which the New Testament writers take over to suit their eschatological purposes. Ultimately, it is perhaps the "lake of fire" imagery in Revelation 20 and 21 that forms, more than anything else, the modern Christian conception of "hell." In any case, it may be seen even from this brief survey that it is not something we can expect to easily pigeonhole into a theosophical category. In fact, I think one of the effects of the multiplicity of "possibilities" for hell is to make us turn to grace the more desperately. Grace is simple as it operates on humanity. Christ, it may be said, is a sure thing. Life without him is uncertain and terrifying, and can never be a calculated risk.

As a technical note, I have to say that I'm not aware of other fathers (besides the Origen, whose opinions were condemned), who were annihilationists. I'm not sure if I would claim patristic precedent to question Scripture on that one, PF.

May we never know for sure,
Sir R.F. Burton

3:02 PM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

It's spelled "quibbling." Get it? Ha!

No we're not. All of these are important issues. My understanding of hell is part and parcel of my understanding of God, while Edwin's understanding of hell is part and parcel of his understanding of the Bible.

Regarding imagery of hell, I consider it the same as "streets of gold beyond the crystal sea."

Turning to Christ because of hell is a shotgun wedding and interently selfish. Not the basis of a real relationship.

My God, I love The not because
A hope of heaven thereby
Nor that for fear of loving not
I might forever die....

I'm not sure what you mean by annihilationists.


8:04 PM  
Blogger fra edwin said...

Poor Bro,
If you want my more personal feeling about hell, rather than my "rationalization" of hell based upon the authority of the bible, well here it is:

There are people in this world I love. I love them with all of my heart. Many are family. I know at least one of these persons has completely turned his back on his God and his family. I hope that he relents and comes back. Yet all my love will not save him. If he chooses to maintain his course, I face the grave fear that i will not see him in heaven. This would tear at my heart for all eternity.

God loves this person more than I ever could.

As much as I want this man in heaven, I know God wants him there even more. Yet it will be the choices of this man which determines his fate. Without a place from whence God withdraws himself, there is no freedom nor choice. I pray that this man's choice is heaven. If not, both I and God will mourn for him through all eternity.

Hell might be a "shotgun" but whose hand is at the trigger? I would say it is our own. God's love, constantly offered, cannot save those who willingly and remorselessly pull the trigger.

"The beginning of Wisdom is Fear of the Lord." Yet that is only the beginning of Wisdom. The END and goal of Wisdom is Love in the Lord.

5:49 AM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

In your personal reflection on hell, I take exception to this:

"Without a place from whence God withdraws himself, there is no freedom nor choice."

Is it not a choice to accept or reject God, regardless of whether He is present or not? But your central point I agree with. We choose hell.

7:06 PM  
Blogger fra edwin said...

To respond to your objection, I ask: Is it possible to reject anything unless we separate ourselves from it? And if God is always and everywhere, how can we be separate from God?

Logically (and yes, this is a rationalism), the only way that God can grant free will is if God gives us a choice to be with him or not to be with him. So, logically, heaven and hell are those two places necessary for there to be free will: A place with God, and a place from which he has withdrawn. This is a real place, prepared by God.

Jesus went ahead of us to heaven to prepare a place for those who would follow him. However, those who did not keep his commandments, did not clothe him when he was naked, or give him drink when he was thirsty, shall go to the place prepared for the devil and all his angels. As we sow, so shall we reap. Our lives are our choice.

Is this not both just and merciful?

6:19 AM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

I don't see that it is logically necessary. I'm reminded of Sartre's "No Exit." The people in the room had a choice: overcome their personal issues and be happy with each other, or create their own, personal hells. They chose the latter.

The place where God isn't, isn't. Even the Enemy owes his continued existence on the one he hates.

The choice is to love or hate. The result is heaven or hell. Regardless, I think we may be stuck here.

8:14 AM  

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