In yesterday’s very active blog about Dark Thoughts some commented on what they “hoped” while some others thought such “hopes” were unbiblical and misplaced. I offer here not so much what I believe and what I will eventually state in these blogs, but why it is that many of us really do “hope” Dark Thoughts, as traditionally stated, are not the Last Word. I grieve over those who think we shouldn’t “hope” such things, as if our “hoping” is somehow inconsistent with faith in what the Bible says. Paul hoped that the Last Word on his people was not the Last Word.
Please, what I am writing is about what this “hope” is all about; not what I believe finally. But, this “hope” deserves a hearing, at least the way Job’s thoughts deserved a hearing. (And his were finally defeated; better yet, transcended; which is what we hope, too.)
Preface: we don’t hope beyond what the Bible says, we don’t long for the Bible to be proven wrong, we don’t avoid what the Bible says, but it is just because we know what the Bible says that we wonder if we might not be getting it right. I, for one, am willing to live with and submit to what the Bible says, but I am always willing to listen again to what it says. Why? because human interpretation is not infallible, and maybe we need to look again.
So some of us hope that the traditional way is not completely right. We hope this, but we know that our hoping could be misplaced, but we do so for a variety of reasons and I give some of these (you may have others) and some of these are your thoughts and some of them are my thoughts.
Why? Because we have read much on this and we know that many fine Christians who love the Lord and the Bible have taught other things — including such things as conditional immortality and annihilationism. (I do not speak here for universalists, for that I’m not.) Maybe they are wrong, but they deserve to be listened to.
Why? Because we think the logic of an eternal punishment for a finite sin and a finite human seems inconsistent — and we believe with many that humans simply cannot — in space and time — commit infinite sin and that finite sins against an infinite God are still not infinite sins.
Why? Because we cannot bear the thought of humans we love or know or speak with or have known or know about will spend Eternity in such graphic pain and misery. Those who love their neighbors, at least as much as themselves, cannot look with glee or triumphalism or joy and vindictiveness on Dark Places. We can imagine the horror and it terrifies.
Why? Because we know the grandeur of God’s embracing grace, we know the glory of that grace, and we wonder if maybe, somehow, God might even turn hell inside out and upside down — even though we do not understand it or comprehend how it might be just or know how it would be good. We are among those who fell the pull of God’s final grace — the way Paul feels its glorious pull in Romans 5.
Why? Because we know the ground of reality is the perichoresis, God’s interpenetrating love and mutual indwelling of the Trinity in love — which has been a consistent theme from Gregory of Nyssa to Jonathan Edwards to Miroslav Volf, and we wonder if God’s Love might be able to turn human sinfulness into divine grace and glory. And we want that Love to hold our hearts in its embracing grace.
Why? Because we know that the Old Testament does not speak of hell, because we know that what many say about hell is rooted in passages that are about God’s historical judgments — in time, in space, on earth, judgments against his people’s unfaithfulness, and because we know that many people today think Jesus was speaking about 70 AD in Mark 13 (parallels) and that the parables attached to that chapter might be speaking of that in-time, in-space, in-history judgment against Jerusalem and because we know that we could be wrong about this interpretation too (but maybe not), and because there is not as much in the New Testament about hell as there is about historical judgment, and because the one book that seems to talk so much about it — Revelation — is front to back apocalyptic and metaphor and imagery and symbolism and we just wonder, if maybe even judgment imagery ought not to be taken too literally.
Why? Because we know that even when Jesus speaks about hell he uses graphic physical imagery and we know that human bodies can’t go on burning for ever and ever because they will be incinerated, and because we know that “fire” is an image and a metaphor quite often in the Bible for judgment and for purgation and maybe isn’t literal. And that therefore we wonder what it might be an image about — and we wonder and we hope and we do this because we believe in the Bible and hope that it might refer to something as simple as separation (as Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce).
Why? Because we believe God is Sovereign, and that it is his judgment (not ours), and that what he wants to do will be Goodness itself, Beauty itself, and it will always be consistent with his glorious person. We want what he wants.
Why? Because we might be wrong, and we’d like to be wrong because it pains us to hear our brothers and sisters talk the way they do about hell and final judgment as if it doesn’t matter and as if humans are dispensable and as if these brothers and sisters have got things so right and that they know they are on the right side — when the whole Bible points its fingers at attitudes like that.
These are some thoughts — and I am speaking for my own heart and the heart of others when I say these things, and I know what the Bible says and I believe what it says, but I’m with a lot of brothers and sisters who know that what it says is not that clear and that we ought to be more humble about it all and that we ought to spend our time loving our neighbors and not assigning who to where. I know what I think the Bible says but I hope that what I think is not what will happen — why? Because it is unbearable, friends, unbearable.