Hell and how to preach it
Posted 20 October 2010 - 07:26 PM
Posted 21 October 2010 - 12:45 AM
What I appreciate most about Keller's teaching on Hell is the emphasis on its self-chosen nature. This is something that Christians of many theological stripes have spoken on in similar terms. Keller has already mentioned C. S. Lewis; you can find more from Keller on the subject here or in chapter 5 of The Reason for God. Let me give a few other illustrations.
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (aka Timothy Ware) in The Orthodox Church (concluding with a quotation from Vladimir Lossky's The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church):
Elsewhere, Ware considers Saint Isaac of Syria:
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation:
W. H. Auden, “Anger.” In The Seven Deadly Sins, various authors (with a Foreword by Ian Fleming, of all people):
To think of God’s laws as imposed leads to absurdities. Thus, the popular conception of what the Church means by Hell could not unfairly be described as follows. God is an omniscient policeman who is not only aware of every sin we have committed but also of every sin we are going to commit. But for seventy years or so He does nothing, but lets every human being commit any sin he chooses. Then, suddenly, He makes an arrest and, in the majority of cases, the sinner is sentenced to eternal torture.
Such a picture is not without its appeal; none of us likes to see his enemies, righteous or unrighteous, flourishing on earth like a green bay tree. But it cannot be called Christian.
[…] To speak of the Wrath of God cannot mean that God is Himself angry. It is the unpleasant experience of a creature, created to love and be happy, when he defies the laws of his spiritual nature. To believe in Hell as a possibility is to believe that God cannot or will not ever compel us to love and be happy.
[…] If there are any souls in Hell, it is not because they have been sent there, but because Hell is where they insist upon being.
When you really consider it, the Hell-as-torture-chamber model is comparatively easy to swallow and easy to reject. Easy to reject because nothing puffs up righteous indignation like the prospect of blatantly unjust victimization, the "moral monstrosity no decent person could believe"; easy to swallow because unjust victimization is, in fact, the perpetual fantasy of many sinners, lending as it does a certain pretext of justification sufficient to our idolatrous predilections and purposes. The consolations of theological victimhood are undeniable. The Torture Chamber model flatters the two mutually reinforcing self-conceptions between which we sinners are all prone to vacillate: that we are utterly worthless and without value and beyond redemption, and that everything else is worthless except in relation to us.
For those who surrender the burden of creaturehood and give themselves over to one of these two lies--i.e., despair and pride--capricious torture is precisely the form divine punishment would be expected to take. Once you accept that this is the Christian proposition, Christianity is a piece of cake...to reject or to accept. The really hard pill to swallow is the proposition that we are "created to love and be happy" and are promised the desire of our heart. That our freedom means something in the scope of eternity and divine love can be terrifying to someone culturally predisposed to think of choice in strictly arbitrary terms, bearing no intrinsic relation to what is. That we were so created for and by love without our consent is something of a paradoxical offense. But in my view the freedom to stand and reject that paradox hinges on its (the paradox's) solidity, which is the very branch beneath our feet.
Edited by du Garbandier, 21 October 2010 - 01:19 AM.
Posted 21 October 2010 - 05:15 AM
Edited by Ryan H., 21 October 2010 - 05:16 AM.
Posted 21 October 2010 - 08:55 AM
Here is Edwin Palmer in The Five Points of Calvinism:
Palmer does not frame this as a "free will" defense, which of course he says no man has; rather he uses the term "free agency," designating mankind's freedom "to do exactly what he wants."
And of course Keller himself is Reformed.
Posted 21 October 2010 - 09:10 AM
Posted 21 October 2010 - 10:44 AM
Posted 21 October 2010 - 11:47 AM
It is important to note, though, that Keller does not merely describe hell as self-chosen. The opening to the article that kicked off this thread explicitly describes hell as a place where good people go "just because they don't believe in Jesus". And it's only a short step from THAT to believing that hell is a place where good people go even though they may have believed in Jesus, because they didn't believe in Jesus THE RIGHT WAY. See, e.g., the Left Behind novels and their fantasy idea as to which Christians get to be raptured and which do not. Or, for that matter, see the bit later on in his article where Keller explicitly argues AGAINST the idea that God would never send anyone to hell "just for holding the wrong belief."
It is, indeed, in the context of that last quote that Keller cites Romans 1 without making any reference to the inclusivist elements in Romans 2 (e.g., "For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them"). And as I've already noted, Keller's apparent ignorance of these inclusivist elements in the New Testament is a major, major problem.
: Isn't the problem of hell merely a special case of theodicy? The ultimate case, in fact?
Depends on what you mean by "hell". If we're asking why God allows evil, then that's one thing (though certainly, if Knowledge + Power = Responsibility, and if God's knowledge and power are limitless, then God must be responsible, on some level, for letting bad things happen). But if the argument against Keller's brand of Christianity is that his God is abusive and explicitly perpetrates evil against people who don't deserve it, then I don't think Keller does himself any favours by saying, "It's okay, God was abusive and evil to himself, too (and then blamed the rest of us for it)."
Posted 21 October 2010 - 02:46 PM
And du Garbandier said: What I appreciate most about Keller's teaching on Hell is the emphasis on its self-chosen nature. As well as, “Hell is not so much a place where God imprisons man, as a place where man, by misusing his free will, chooses to imprison himself. And even in Hell the wicked are not deprived of the love of God, but by their own choice they experience as suffering what the saints experience as joy. "The love of God will be an intolerable torment for those who have not acquired it within themselves."
And Augustine said: You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you
Don't know if it is the ultimate case, but think of it. A person is in hell. Let’s say they chose it. Ultimately speaking. For whatever rationalization process or irrational reasons. At the same time, you have to say that God still sustains said person in such an existence. Even if you want to say “chooses to imprison himself” the “prison” is still sustained in existence by God.
My point is this. The Augustinian quote tells us something about the ontological and dispositional nature of persons in existence (persons are never solidified unto evil). In other words, just because someone is in hell doesn’t mean that restlessness somehow is eviscerated because God’s love is not. Its infinite. In other words, I think God has given creatures the irrevocable power and potential to not only accept God’s love but to reciprocate love back to God. In short, it's IMPOSSIBLE to TOTALLY ignore God...to absolutely and irrevocably destroy the possibility of receiving God's love. So then the question becomes:
Can a finite being (with finite strength of will unto defiance)...who has God Himself as the very ground of his deepest "self"...actively resist receiving the Infinite Love of God **every possible moment** for the rest of eternity? In other words, is it possible for a defiant finite being--no matter how strong--to OUTLAST the infinite loving will-to-patience of the Infinite God, without whom they cannot fully be "selves" at all?
I’m gonna bet on God.
Posted 21 October 2010 - 03:24 PM
What if hell is a long, slow slide from personhood toward something subpersonal? What if you gradually cease being a grumbler and become only a grumble (The Great Divorce)? What if in the end you make yourself something no longer something capable of receiving God's love?
What if, in a word, neither "ECT" nor annihilationism were wholly false? The New Testament contains language that supports both ... what if the truth were somewhere in between?
Posted 21 October 2010 - 03:33 PM
Is this even an ontological possibility? I mean, the fact that you could actually become an ontological impossibility seems like the very definition of hell to me, but I simply can't think of any precedent in biblical or theological literature for what you are suggesting.
Posted 21 October 2010 - 04:25 PM
Posted 21 October 2010 - 09:05 PM
Edited by Ryan H., 21 October 2010 - 09:38 PM.
Posted 21 October 2010 - 09:37 PM
Your comments, Stephen, beyond the echoes of Lewis' GREAT DIVORCE, remind me of N. T. Wright's comments in SURPRISED BY HOPE:
"When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human nature is that you become like what you worship; what's more, you reflect what you worship not only back to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sexual objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch. My suggestion is that it is possible for human beings so to continue down this road, so to refuse all whisperings of good news, all glimmers of the true light, all promptings to turn and go the other way, all signposts to the love of God, that after death they become at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all. With the death of that body in which they inhabited God's good world, in which the flickering flame of goodness had not been completely snuffed out, they pass simultaneously not only beyond hope but also beyond pity. There is no concentration camp in the beautiful countryside, no torture chamber in the palace of delight. Those creatures that still exist in an ex-human state, no longer reflecting their maker in any meaningful sense, can no longer excite in themselves or others the natural sympathy some feel even for the hardened criminal."
Posted 21 October 2010 - 09:51 PM
Currently not sure either way, still musing. The way you worded it ("you make yourself something no longer something capable of receiving God's love") is what raised the interesting (read: terrible) question.
Edited by M. Leary, 21 October 2010 - 09:53 PM.
Posted 21 October 2010 - 11:49 PM
Posted 22 October 2010 - 09:20 AM
Posted 22 October 2010 - 11:06 AM
Posted 22 October 2010 - 11:40 AM
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
Posted 22 October 2010 - 12:08 PM
Let me say from the outset that my starting point for thinking about the question of evil in all its forms, including death and hell, is my fundamental conviction that God is good. That is where I begin and end.
For the purposes of this discussion, my second premise is: As a Catholic Christian, I affirm the existence of hell. That is, those who die in a state of personal mortal sin are eternally separated from communion with God.
Part of theology entails theodicy, that is, the art of trying to articulate a coherent worldview that comprehends both the goodness of God and also the evils both of our experience and of revelation. I seek understanding on this point, but I am not trying to "justify" anything. God's goodness, and the compatibility of the existence of hell with God's goodness, do not hinge on my ability to explain it. The reality of hell is something I am absolutely content to trust God with. Whatever doubts I have had in my exploration of my faith, this isn't one of them. Cardinal Newman's dictum that "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt" may have its limits, but with respect to this question, for me, it is the truth. If at the end of the day I cannot explain or understand how the goodness of God and the existence of hell fit together, that alters neither my fundamental commitment to premise 1 (God is good) nor my secondary commitment to premise 2 (hell exists).
Having said that, I acknowledge the difficulty -- the apparent injustice of hell. However it may hinge on our own choice, it is hard to think that anyone could actually deserve hell as it has traditionally be understood. The sum total of all human sins is finite; eternal punishment would seem to be infinite. How can anyone, even Hitler or Stalin or Judas Iscariot, deserve infinite punishment? Saying that it is freely chosen may not obviate the difficulty: Are any of our choices on earth really commensurate with eternal punishment? Wouldn't God have other options? If He loves them, wouldn't He choose to exercise them?
How might these difficulties be resolved? I can see a few ways that one might try to do so.
1. It might be that all are saved. For me as a Catholic, this proposal lurks in the wings, but cannot be embraced. Universalism, at least in most of its forms, is flatly incompatible with Catholic belief. It contradicts the plain sense of many scriptural texts as well as the weight of tradition in historical Christian belief and in magisterial teaching, in which Catholics see the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The proposal that Christian tradition has so profoundly misunderstood divine revelation is not compatible with Catholic faith in the teaching of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit.
2. Is there any sense in which a back door might be left open to universalism? Some have proposed that even if we can't affirm that all are saved in fact, we might possibly dare to hope that all may be saved. Catholic faith affirms definitively that hell exists -- the devil and the fallen angels are there for all eternity -- but we do not have definitive knowledge that any particular human beings go there. Can we at least hope that perhaps none do?
From a Catholic perspective, this view is, if not strictly heretical, at least proximate to heresy and gravely suspect. Proximate to heresy is nowhere that I would want to be -- but I don't go so far as to affirm as an article of faith that people are definitely in hell. The only safe view of scripture and Church teaching for me is that hell exists and people go there -- but I allow myself, if not a hope for universal salvation, at least a doubt as to the absolute reliability of the historic understanding on this point. That's as close as I can get to universalism.
3. It might be that those who are not saved are annihilated. This also is not a live possibility for me as a Catholic, even more so than universalism. The Church's teaching on this point is definitive: The soul is immortal and does not cease to exist, ever. However, as indicated previously, I wonder whether annihilationism might not contain a partial truth. Scripture does use imagery of destruction as well as of eternal suffering and exile. Is there a way that both could contribute to a larger understanding of the reality of hell?
4. It might be that the punishment of hell is not infinite. How can eternal punishment be finite? One way would be if it were progressively lessened. One can plot a curve that goes to infinity without ever crossing a certain finite threshold (e.g., halving over a given span of time, then halving again, etc.).
That would be simple enough if the punishments of hell were imposed from without, in which case one could imagine God, as it were, turning down the dial over time. But if the Catechism is right in saying that the main punishment of Hell is the inability to enjoy the Beatific Vision, then how could that be diminished over time?
One way might be if the capacity to suffer -- awareness of suffering, perhaps consciousness itself -- diminished over time. What if hell were not oblivion, but a slide toward oblivion? This proposal has for me the attractive quality of tying in both with the scriptural imagery of destruction and also the imagery of eternal suffering, while also allowing the sufferings of hell to be finite. However, it is wholly speculative, and I am aware of no precedent for this style of thinking in tradition or theology, so I don't put much weight on it. It's just an idea that I happen to like.
It seems to me at least plausible that if in Christ we become fully ourselves, then in definitive separation from God we cease to be ourselves. If in Heaven we become full or complete persons, then perhaps in hell we cease to be persons at all, and in that sense, perhaps, cease to be objects of God's love.
I don't think there is a dangerous analogy here to the depersonalizing tactics of military training. No callous or ruthless action follows from this belief. It's not like I want anyone to go to hell, or to recommend any course of action that would tend to send people there! On the contrary, the more firmly convinced we are both of God's love and the reality of hell, the more determined we should be to love our neighbor and to follow Christ's command to proclaim the gospel to all the world. It is the seemingly compassionate rejection of hell, especially in its universalist form, that robs Christ's command of its urgency and commends the path of least resistance.
5. Finally, it might be that the goodness of God and the reality of hell are part of a larger reality in other ways that we can't fathom. For example, perhaps when we understand the nature of human freedom from the other side, as it were, we will see that we are indeed capable of freely choosing eternal punishment, and that there is nothing contrary to God's justice or mercy in it.
With the catch-all addition of that last point, that about exhausts the options I can think of. There might be other possibilities worth distinguishing, but I can't think of any.
Edited by SDG, 22 October 2010 - 12:10 PM.
Posted 22 October 2010 - 12:10 PM
: I'm gonna try to argue that, at least for me, it doesn't make sense that one is a "self" in hell via separation from God.
FWIW, I am sympathetic to this view. C.S. Lewis has some very powerful -- and, it seems to me, persuasive -- depictions of hell as a place where people lose their "self", not only in The Great Divorce but in his Screwtape works, too. (And it's sort of the flip side to Till We Have Faces, where the implication is that we who live in this fallen state have NOT YET become the "selves" -- the "faces" -- that we were meant to be.) (And this all ties in to the nature of Personhood and the Trinity and how three Persons sharing one perfect divinity are the model for we humans who need to perfect our own Personhood while drawing closer to God and to one another, etc., etc. The Screwtape Letters has some brilliant stuff on this, too.)
That being said, I am not sure how "separate" from God one can be so long as one simply exists. I mean, if it is God who creates us and sustains our existence, then hell itself -- if it is to exist at all -- must be sustained by God, yes?
Though admittedly, God sustains the existence of rocks and chairs, etc., too. The mere fact that God sustains something's existence does not, in and of itself, make that something a Person. I guess I'm just ambivalent on the question of whether a person can become a non-person and remain, in any sense, a sentient entity that is aware of its own torment etc. To say that a person becomes a non-person seems tantamount, to me, to saying that the "person" has been annihilated altogether -- and while the grumbles of that person might echo into eternity, the fact that there is no longer a grumbler would have to mean that there was no one to suffer any torment for being a grumbler.
To put this another way: When someone is brain-dead and in a coma, do they feel hunger or thirst? Of course, we might say that their body reacts on a physical or biochemical level to the absence of food and drink, but does that person "feel" the hunger and thirst? If not, then most of us would be okay with "pulling the plug". And if God DOESN'T "pull the plug", then it can't be because he wants the person in question to FEEL hunger and thirst; the ability to feel hunger and thirst no longer exists. If God DOESN'T "pull the plug", then there can be only two reasons: he either intends to resurrect that person at some point (either to save him or to torment him), or he wants to keep the body around as a sort of museum piece.
Heh. Kind of like Jabba the Hutt, now that I think of it.
Anyway. Just some rambling trains of thought here.
And, FWIW, to bring this back to Lewis, I believe he inclined towards the view that Hell and Purgatory were sort of the same thing: it was just a question of whether someone got out of there or not; it was a question of what trajectory someone was on at the point of their death. (Could the trajectory be changed AFTER their death, in his view? Not sure.)
Now, as I understand it, the Orthodox aren't particularly fond of the doctrine of Purgatory, partly because it has historically been tied to the Catholic doctrine of indulgences, etc. But I don't believe Lewis made any reference to those other doctrines, nor do I think there is necessarily anything about Purgatory itself that, in principle, would be anathema to Orthodox thought. It might be one of those speculations that we prefer not to indulge in, but... well, okay, speaking PERSONALLY, I do like to speculate, so there you go.