Why it matters...Part 2

My famous theologian friend and I had a conversation this week via e-mail. (And I won't name him because then he'll be taken all out of context or I'll have interpreted something in my own head and he'll get blamed for it.)

Part of my battle over the past few months has been in sifting through all I've been taught and what in my heart feels true. Because no matter how hard you try, you can't make head knowledge trump heart knowledge. I don't know who first said it, but the saying goes "Logic provokes thought. Emotion produces action." In other words, when head knowledge contradicts heart knowledge, heart wins.

So I'm stuck with this heart knowledge of a beautiful, powerful God who is love juxtaposed against doctrinal teaching of unbelievers being tortured in hell for all of eternity. And I can't reconcile it.

My theologian friend encouraged me not to be too quick to completely dismiss a belief in hell because almost all religions have some version of it. He also said that my real question didn't actually center on hell, but on who it is for.

He also said that in the tradition I was brought up in we are taught that people go to hell for unbelief--a core tenet that is actually central to Islam. This didn't become official church doctrine until about the third or fourth century when the church became a state institution.

The next part I have to quote, because it was a new thought for me. "Hell is an eternal state of unrepentance and unforgiveness. It is the consequence of our own choice of refusing to reconcile with our neighbor, or hating our neighbor into eternity, or showing our hatred of God through how we treat others. In Jesus' "theology" you cannot love God and hate your neighbor, or vice-versa.

"Hell is really the consequence of personally refusing to love the way in which the Great Commandment prompts us. It has nothing to do with belief (cognitive). After all, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Mt. 7:21-23 NIV)

Belief without unconditional love is hypocritical and worthy of the highest condemnation."

That doctrine is much easier for me to believe on a heart level. The idea that we aren't judged on our head knowledge but on how we love.

If God is love (1Jn 4:8)and we reject love--well, the consequences to that are worth grappling with. (In fact, as I consider it, it occurs to me that many live in that "hell on earth" now.) Moreover, it is a choice that anyone can make. We all have conscience.

Of course, my friend--wonderful person that he is--also let me know: "the bottom line is that many have wrestled for millennia with what you're wrestling with"...It's about eternal "retributive justice," do you pay the penalty for what you've done and ultimately do you pay an eternal penalty? But of course God forgives, and Scripture is clear that God will forgive us the minute we "repent" and ask for it. Many Christian theolgians have said in effect hell is reserved only for those who absolutely choose it of their own free will, once they are aware of the options. (Lucifer did, according to the story.)

The wonderful part of my friend's explanation is that you don't have to "convince" anyone of love. You just love.

And that, is most definitely a heart thing.

1 comment

D Herrod said...

I think the Bible is pretty clear that hell is a real place. However it wasn't created for humans but rather Lucifer. Humans end their as a result of a choice to reject God.

The form of Hell is unclear. There seem is some evidence that it is a place of eternal suffering. What that suffering is exactly is unclear. However, it is a complete and total isolation from God and the love of God. In my opinion that alone is a serious consequence of a personal choice.

Unconditional love is or at least a result of a life changing faith. I think that Christ gave us 3 commands that are prime directives: 1) Love God completely; 2) Love others unconditionally; 3) Make disciples or teach others.

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Maira Gall