Kimball on Hell

Dan Kimball is blogging about Hell, as well as one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes. You can read his remarks, together with what will probably end up as a long string of comments here.

Update:

Long-time readers know from my past posts that I don’t come down at quite the same place as Kimball. I think that, whatever the images of the ghenna/garbage dump are attempting to portray, they seem to be saying that those who abuse power in opposition to God’s kingdom will not get to live within it. Its not about “zapping” every person who doesn’t profess Christianity, but the process of defeating opposition to God’s reign in the world. I’m also hopeful that some texts (particularly in Paul) really do hint at ultimate universal salvation, as some claim.

In spite of our differences, however, I admire Kimball, because he’s willing to confront the issue head-on. As I’ve said before, my biggest problem is not what people think about God’s judgment and hell, but that Christians just don’t talk about it. Its as if we have no language, no viable theology to describe it or – worse yet – its as if its a big embarrasment that we’d like to ignore.

Christians can’t hide from this issue forever. Everyone – including those who quietly hold traditional, fire-and-brimstone positions – need to follow Dan’s example, and openly discuss this subject.

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6 Responses to Kimball on Hell

  1. nena says:

    I don’t know about the “fire and brimstone” part. Some people “burn” with anger, hate and resentment. Some languish with despair and depression. God says there are no tears in Heaven. I can’t wait!

  2. Rosa says:

    At the risk of being dorky…
    in response to: ” Its as if we have no language, no viable theology to describe it or – worse yet – its as if its a big embarrasment that we’d like to ignore.”

    Here is a bit from Dante’s Inferno Canto:32

    “Were there a language dark enough to speak truly of that hole harrowed by crags, gravity itself could not fall through to, I could taste the salt of my own conception.
    But words are abstract, sadly approximate, dull with use. I’m afraid to move my mouth afraid to conjure the bottom of the universe.”

  3. Jon says:

    I don’t even know what to think about this anymore. I’m so sick of the arguments on both sides. Both seem to make sense.

    In the Experimental Theology blog, Richard talked about how the traditional fundamentalism assuages fears of death and provides existential comfort.

    However I think that Universalism could also be said to come from the same fear.

    Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to try and determine the happenings of the afterlife.

    Jewish scholars and teachers of the law and prophets studied about the messianic character. But they never expected him to be God or the revolution started by him to be solely spiritual rather than political. They thought God would always favor their nation above others.

    That’s not how it happened.

    I think we’re in the same boat. We’re jumping to conclusions and proclaiming things as truth that we’re not absolutely sure about.

  4. Matt says:

    Jon-

    I think that, by making references to hell, the NT writers are inviting us to think about the afterlife, and they seem to assume that we can know things about it.

    Can we conclude that, to a large extent, the exact nature of hell and new creation are shrouded in mystery? Sure. But I don’t think that we should throw up our hands and say “well, I guess we don’t know anything about it, then.” The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is intended to warn us about *something*, and that something has to do with what you are calling the “afterlife.” Shouldn’t we reflect on it?

  5. Jon says:

    The problem is that reflection on this feeds directly into how we react to our own faith journey and its failings, how we react to other believers around us, and probably most importantly how we react to unbelievers.

    Somebody has to be wrong, but no one will listen to the other side it seems. There’s a scholar to support every position on the subject. We are really far removed from the bible’s inception. That provides a problem. We don’t know exactly what we’re supposed to assume about the afterlife. We don’t even speak the same language that the bible is written in and we’re boiling these arguments to single words within a passage!

    There’s a problem with this, especially when it directly affects how we treat ourselves and other people.

  6. Jeremiah says:

    To reinforce Jon, our notions of eschatology inform the very core of our hope and consequently our behavior. Having grown up with pop-theology about a very near coming tribulation and conflageration of the world, it makes wanting to do anything that takes substantial investment difficult. Why work so hard at something and deal with the frustration and grief if Jesus is coming back tomorrow and we’re all going to be singing hymns for eternity? Paul dealt with a city that had a similar problem when people believed that Jesus had already come or that he was soon returning – he told them, “You don’t work, you don’t eat!”.

    I think on the flip side however, there is the alternate concern that without a hope and a clear definition of the future and the consequences for our actions that people will gladly abuse their salvation… “I should sin more therefore grace may even more abound…” Or moreover, people will forget that it is those who “…call on the name of Jesus [who] will be saved,” treating His sacrifice with flippancy.

    The difficulty in being able to challenge our popular notions of heaven and hell are much more about how we view ourselves and society and the consequences of certain beliefs than it is about TRUTH. However, this belay’s our mistrust of God or at least a view of him as being a weak tyrannt. I believe it is the very dialog that shapes and transforms us and this is why Luke makes it a point to tell us that the early Christians broke bread together and discussed the teachings of the apostles.

    …Discussion allows for correction, discipline, and accountability. Hiding religion and politics behind the viel of humility or polity is a cowardly farce! Unfortunately, I know that I am just as guilty as my brothers and sisters. Lord, forgive us and help us!

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