rerun: This was first posted on my old blog on March 23, 2008.
It’s been a while since I’ve waxed philosophically here. Mostly I haven’t been thinking philosophically much – not sure why.
Let’s just say that I’m emerging from a long, dry spell.
I’ve been thinking about heaven and hell.
It’s something that I’ve written about before and something that I’ve definitely continued to think about. I guess it all started with the Brian McLaren and his writings – Generous Orthodoxy and the “A New Kind of Christian” series in particular. Then there’s Rob Bell too.
At Watershed lately, they’ve been talking about the questions that some of the peeps there have had. It was part of the “Quandary” series. So it’s been back in my mind.
We’ve got this dichotomous view of heaven and hell. Black and White. Or, we’d like to think it’s black and white. We also have this view that heaven and hell is a “something to come later” concern. All this combines and results in a group of people that try to convince people that they’re wrong and need to “turn or burn.”
Here’s what I’ve been thinking.
First: Heaven and Hell are present realities. They happen in various amounts and through various means every day. There are some big things we can cite – Darfur does far too much to increase the amount of hell that we encounter. At the same time there are countless moments of heaven on various scales that make the kingdom of heaven a little more of a reality. Jesus talked about the Kingdom of heaven being at hand – being present. Our job is to make that a reality.
Secondly: Rather than being a dichotomy, heaven and hell represent endpoints on a scale. I don’t want to get to scientific with this – all I mean is that if we think about the kingdom of heaven (that is a reality where things are as God intends them to be) as being one endpoint and the kingdom of hell (that is a reality where thigns are exactly the opposite of what God intends them to be) then the things that happen here place us somewhere on the scale between heaven and hell.
Thirdly: We can AFFECT where we are on that scale. The decisions that we make and the actions that we take culminate in such a way that can move mankind towards one of those endpoints (either heaven or hell). We can choose to bring heaven to earth or to bring hell to earth. In practical terms, when we choose to be kind to our neighbors that are far too loud late into the night (not that I have any experience with that) we bring heaven to earth. When we choose to sit and talk with a homeless man rather than just pass them by or maybe just blindly throwing them a couple of bucks, we bring heaven to earth. In the same way, we can choose to bring hell to earth by choosing to do things that are less than what we know we should be doing.
All that to say I wish we could stop thinking about hell as a place that “sinners are condemned to” and start thinking about how heaven “is a place where people act as though every one is a child of God; where His love for them is greater than our condemnation of them.”
It’s dangerous to think this way – or at least threatening. People think that you’re universalist and that you’re throwing out what it says in the scripture. In reality, I feel like it’s holding more closely to it. There’s no judgment – that’s not my role. I’m doing to others as I would like them to do for me. I’m loving my neighbor regardless of who they are. I still think there’s a “right” way to live. It’s not heretical.
Anyway – just thoughts.