Monday, August 16, 2010

The Furnace Beneath, With Links

Blogger and pastor Joe Thorn has a 5 part series of posts up on his site right now, refuting popular ideas about Hell. According to Thorn, the Bible says that Hell isn't a place where Satan reigns, where sinners party, a temporary place of punishment, the mere absence of God, or a place that only 'bad' people go. So this is a quick link to that series, which you can find here and again at the bottom. But this is also my blog, so I get to share a few quick thoughts and some suggested reading, too.

The Glorious Goodness of Hell
First, Hell is a gruesome subject, at least for those who take it seriously. If it even approaches the terrors describes in Dante Alighieri's The Inferno, it's nothing to smile about. But we need to acknowledge that it's good: if there is no Hell, then God isn't good; He's not just. When we see people murdered, or people who treat their loving parents like bull excrement, or people who take advantage of others, we want to see them get theirs. And while in broken humanity that desire for vengeance can corrupt and twist people, like the captain in Moby Dick, it doesn't corrupt God. He is the only one who can inflict vengeance without having it consume Him. That's the difference between us and God, and it's the reason St. Paul wrote in Romans to leave vengeance to God (Rom. 12.19). Our desire to see things set straight and to see evil punished isn't wrong, though; that's the issue that God takes care of in Hell. If you believe in Hell, you really believe that God sees all the evil in this world and cares enough to deal with it.

From the saints in John's Revelation, in verses 6.9-11, who begged for vengeance, to Israeli King David's 58th entry into the biblical Book of Psalms called "God Who Judges Earth" (ESV), to Jesus of Nazareth's parable of divine retribution in The Gospel of Matthew 25.31-46, there's a recurring theme in the Bible that wickedness on the earth deserves punishment. And that that punishment should be more like David's "break[ing] the teeth of the wicked" than the modern Evangelical "absence of God" scenario. And that nothing short of this can be called good. For an example, here is the text of Psalm 58:
Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge the children of man uprightly? No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; your hands deal out violence on earth. The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. They have venom like the venom of a serpent, like the deaf adder that stops its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers or of the cunning enchanter.

O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD! Let them vanish like water that runs away; when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted. Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun. Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns, whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!

The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Mankind will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth."
Now, that all sounds gruesome, from the breaking of the teeth to the bathing of the righteous in the blood of the wicked (which, incidentally, Jesus is portrayed as doing in St. John the Apostle's vision, Revelation 19.13). But look again: it's because of all of this gruesome treatment that the onlookers at the end of the Psalm can say "surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on the earth." If this is true, then there is hope. As much as Hell should terrify us, it should also comfort us: God sees the evil and the pain in the world, and he wants to make it right. We are not alone. Surely there is a God who judges on the earth.

Hell In Every Day Life
Since The Voice is supposed to be about making doctrine matter, here's a couple of ways that knowing about Hell makes a difference: (1) It gives you more respect for God; you don't see Him as a toothless loving grandfather but as a righteous King. (2) It takes away your need to take vengeance; if God is the one who takes vengeance, then you don't have to worry about getting back at people. (3) It motivates you to be serious about God; David once wrote something to the effect of "since you take out people who hate your law, I find myself really motivated to love it!" Psalm 119.118-119, if you're interested.

Books and Links About What Hell is Like
Definitely check this out if you get a chance:

Myth #1: Hell is Where Satan Reigns
Myth #2: Hell is Where Sinners Party
Myth #3: Hell is Temporary Punishment
Myth #4: Hell is the Absence of God
Myth #5: Hell is For All the Bad People

And, as a really big recommend, check out Dante Alighieri's Inferno. It's arguably the greatest work in the Italian language, and in translation it really gets you thinking about what Hell is like. Reading it, you get the sense that the punishment fits the crime, and when you've stopped being squeamish it gives you a new respect for God. One of the many free editions kicking around can be found here.

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