A post on CRC Voices about the final judgment, about whether a person goes to hell when they die, or is it Hades and then hell, etc. A discussion started and I shared these thoughts.
Part of the puzzle is frame or story of self. There are a lot of questions involved especially of approach and process.
Hoekema, who’s book I consider to be the best thing I’ve read on these matters WITH his kind of approach approaches the question almost in isolation from the rest of relational theology. We have Bible passages that talk about X, and so then we learn about it via those passages. We call it systematic, but it is in some ways as siloed as other approaches.
1. Relationships trump comfy digs: Another avenue in is to think about it relationally. One of the common themes of the Bible is friendship with God and loyalty to Christ. This always sounds like kinship or clanishness but it does make sense on a relational level. If you can’t stand a person why would you want to live with them?
Too often heaven and hell conversations are all about either torture or luxury accommodations, imagining the self as a passive being like my dog that is happy if I give it treats and unhappy if I lock it in a dirty kennel. Now of course treats are nice, and dirty kennels are uncomfortable but as Tom and Katy and Suri illustrate no amount of success, wealth, influence, fame, or luxury can make people happily co-habitate in isolation from all of the relational stuff.
2. A second issue is that of identity consistency. I’ve been playing around with a lot of questions about who we are as selves and what that means for very long, important narratives where questions like the afterlife figure into. Let’s imagine the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. So we get a better body that isn’t subject to decay. OK, but our young selves, like in our 20s are just as unwise, rebellious, selfish, ornery, petty and obnoxious as our 50 year old selves. What kind of transformation does God do to our characters, egos, etc. You can see you very quickly get into notions like karma, reincarnation, purgatory, etc. What is the WE that gets changed and how? Can that be done? If God can zap us straight after we die, why not do it now? We all have a sense that this zapping-fixing character flaws somehow breaks the narrative. Karma, reincarnation and those kind of ideas I think also fall apart. I’m suspicious about purgatory (no Biblical support) but have a better idea of why the idea developed in Christianity. Maybe not so much along the lines that Dante illustrated but there is clearly space between putting our friends six feet under and addressing the kinds of character flaws that create hell on earth. What does that look like?
Most evangelical narratives see judging as very much a third party process. I agree that it is, that someone decides for you, either in agreement with your desires or against them, but I also think about the powerful of the earth who are terrorized by the coming of the one seated on the throne and the lamb:
Revelation 6:12–16 (NRSV)
12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb;
3. I’m also struck by how Jesus answers questions about afterlife narratives. Our difficulties in exploring them stem from natural tendency to extrapolate our own narratives into the next “which of the brothers will that woman be married to…” Jesus’ answer to these questions is often relational. “Depart from me I never knew you.” We focus on the furniture and the food, Jesus tends to focus on the relational aspect.
CS Lewis of course pulled at a lot of these threads in his writing.
I think we have to drive some stakes in the ground and keep a lot of things loose and admit we don’t know.
1. Heaven and hell will be more relational than about furniture, paving materials and the quality of the food. The Almighty will not be as absent in that dispensation as he is in this.
2. Our self-narrative in this age will be consequential and honored, even if it’s not as simple as we imagine it is.
3. All of us will face an existential crisis in meeting our maker face to face. “Judgment day” is the traditional language, but it will be far more than some sort of moral audit, although that will be a part of it.
4. All the good news about Jesus is true. We face the Father through him and with him. Without Jesus we could never endure this facing. He is our brother, our friend, through him we can endure and get tough enough, solid enough to enjoy the Father.
This language sounds strange but I think we can understand it. Have you ever had pleasure that was do good you needed it to end? Kind of like tickling. You couldn’t stand it.
Dwight Moody has a story about this. http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/biomoody4.html
Mr. Moody went East to New York City to collect funds for the sufferers from the Chicago fire, but his heart and soul were crying out for the power from on high. “My heart was not in the work of begging,” says he. “I could not appeal. I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day, in the city of New York — oh, what a day! — I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths; and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world — it would be as the small dust of the balance.” His soul was set on fire in such a way that his work would soon became a world-wide one.
Pascal had a similar experience. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yimcatholic/2011/02/because-of-the-note-sewn-in-blaise-pascals-coat.html
I’m not premising this on these experiences, but these experiences illustrate what I’m talking about.
If this is what is had on the street or in one’s home, what must it be like to face the one on the throne upon the sea of crystal? We need the Son of Man to take us there and take us through.
So I realized I’ve not answered any of your questions with specifics, but I hope I’ve given you a sense of what I’ve been thinking about and maybe this can be helpful to talk to people who are extending their narrative beyond the tomb. pvk