Sunday, April 03, 2011

The battle over eternity

I have a knack for taking two opposing views and finding some things of great merit in each of them.

I also have a knack for taking two opposing views and finding glaring weaknesses in each of them.

Basically, on any given day both sides might love me or hate me. And for my own opinion, it usually ends up somewhere in the middle, and I choose to not play the game of polarity.

The battle over eternity is no different. Traditional believers in heaven/hell, annihilationists, universalists, Calvinists... all have had their days in the sun over the past two millenia. And each can easily cite scriptures to support their views, and rightly so. Each one has merit based on biblical texts. Yet each view of eternity also has serious problems reconciling fully with the biblical texts.

Actually, I understated that. Each view cannot possibly reconcile fully with the biblical texts. Because the bible says things like this:

Matthew 25:41 -- "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

2 Thessalonians 1:9 -- "They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power"

Colossians 19-20 -- "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."

Revelation 20:13 -- "The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done."

I picked just four passages but already I wish anyone good luck in reconciling them all, especially if you want to get deep into the historical, cultural and language contexts of each. So in this fight between hell and universalism, between free will and predestination, between eternal souls and annihilation... I choose not to play. I think it's a false choice.

Maybe the bible has all those different statements because each viewpoint of eternity is partly true!

Traditional view -- I think you're right. There will be judgment on judgment day, and it won't all be pretty and graceful.

Universalists -- I think you're right. The final story will be more beautiful than we can possibly imagine, and in the end, the gospel (GOOD NEWS) will prevail.

Calvinists -- I think you're right. God knew what he was doing with this universe right from the beginning, and it's going perfectly to plan.

Annihilationists -- I think you're right. There are pieces of our souls, and perhaps even parts of creation, that will one day be destroyed forever.

But I also think that in other ways, every view has it wrong. And to take any one view as the only truth leaves out some important elements of who God is, and what He has in store for us.

To me it's a false choice. There's another way.


Mae said...

AMEN!!! Well said, and I soooo relate! I've said for a long time that each denomination has seen a piece of the truth. And,focusing solely on the piece they've seen, they miss the big picture. Lately, I've realized that applies, not only to denominations, but to religions as well.

Yes, a false choice...there has to be another way. Personally, I think there's much to be discovered from the non-dual perspective.

Thanks for this post!

Debby said...

Redlefty: The ability to see both sides, both the flaws and the truths, I think that makes you a mediator. A natural born, God created mediator. In all the hype of this world, all the violence, all the shouting and all the not listening, the one thing that I know for sure is that your quiet voice of reason is much needed in these times. Don't stop talking. Please do not stop talking. Write on, brother.

Logan said...

Very well written my friend. Thanks!

Redlefty said...

Thank you, gang!

Logan said...

The CUA board has been having an interesting conversation about 'Ultra-Universalism', the idea that there is no Hell other than this life. The very idea makes my skin does not take seriously what religion (not just Christianity) has said throughout the ages about right and wrong. I have a very expansive view of God's love, but I admit the standard universalist position inadequate.

Don said...

Have you entertained the possibility that not being able to reconcile any of the theories fully may be the fault of the (do I whisper this)Bible; meaning the fallibility of its authors and the inability for the text to remain as the original author intended?

Redlefty said...

Oh you bet Don, and you can probably already guess that I don't have quite the same take on inspiration and inerrancy as most Christians do.

But I also don't let that give me a reason/excuse to pick which passages to ignore because I don't like them or agree with them. It's more challenging, interesting and consistent to me if I face up to those things and try to find a deeper meaning or explanation.

The exercise always has benefits, even if I don't end up any closer to an answer after some study.

Bob said...

Well stated. I have many of the same thoughts but don't articulate them as well as you.

What frustrates the heck out of me is being afraid of asking questions. Pastor at our church said something Sunday morning I disagreed with but at our small group that night I was very sheepish in challenging it. I might print this post and take it to the next group.

Don said...

"It's more challenging, interesting and consistent to me if I face up to those things and try to find a deeper meaning or explanation."

I like that!