Friday, November 30, 2012

Re-thinking Rob Bell and Hell

I was at a conference a few weeks ago. Because of my interest in eschatology, that is, the doctrine of the end times, I went to one seminar about hell. The young man was presenting a summary of his dissertation which happened to deal with eternal punishment.

His thesis was interesting. He was looking at various interpretations of biblical texts dealing with judgment and eternal punishment and how we can understand the eternal condition of the unsaved given the variety of pictures given to us in Scripture. I thought he presented an interesting hypothesis and defended it quite well.

When he opened a time for questions, several good ideas and challenges were raised and he answered each inquiry very well. But then came the zinger.

This person asked why the presenter was talking about the various biblical portrayals of eternal punishment as metaphors. The question caught me completely off-guard. What else would those pictures be? After all, a metaphor paints a picture of reality but does not necessarily deny the reality. In other words, if I say that God is a rock, I am not denying that God is God. I am simply saying that some of the characteristics of a rock remind me of the way God is.
The presenter answered the question well. But the questioner persisted. “Are you saying that there is not literal fire and screaming, and torture, and darkness?” 

Once again, the young presenter replied well, explaining that these are depictions of the horrors of being separated from God but not necessarily hard and fast literal representations of a particular place. After all, he explained, how can a place be both utterly dark and have fire? Good response.

Undaunted, the questioner replied that in the Bible, God tells us what he wants us to know and that God obviously wanted us to know that this (fire, screaming, etc.) was what hell really was.

I confess that I didn’t hear many “hell” sermons growing up. But I also know that Reformed theology in general is quite reticent to say much about hell and eternal punishment, leaving it to God’s eternal wisdom. One Reformed theologian even says we should all hope hell is empty. This is what I grew up with.

But it occurred to me that perhaps Rob Bell had a very different background; one with a pastor like the questioner. The questioner seemed not only to want to insist on eternal, active, tortuous suffering of the reprobate, but also seemed to delight in this knowledge. Yikes! Perhaps Rob's reading of Scripture is a bit more understandable.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pet Death

I blogged a week or so ago about our decision to put our dog, the dog we have had for 15 years, to sleep. As it turned out, we did not have to put her to sleep. She died of natural causes just two days before our appointment. We were glad that we did not have to actively put an end to her life. But we were sad that she was gone.

In fact, I was surprised at the level of grief we all felt. She was a dog, after all.
But I guess I shouldn’t have been. After all, she was a member of our family. Our youngest child really doesn’t remember much before we had our dog.

Its lonely without her. I sit down at the piano, and she is not there to join me anymore. I walk in the door from work and realize that I am alone. She is not there to greet me, get into the open pantry cupboard, or bark to go outside. She is not waiting for me in the morning to slip her a few Cheerios. And she does not need to be put into the back hall when I leave.

Pets are more than property. They are warm, furry parts of our lives. And in my experience (and that of our kids) they are perhaps one of the best pictures of unconditional love most of us will ever encounter, outside of Christ. Regardless of how she felt, time of day, my mood or condition, Muffin always greeted us enthusiastically and wanted to be close to us. To personify further, she loved us.

My daughter is sure Muffin is in heaven. I will leave that perennial question unanswered. But I am sure that she was a gift to our family and is greatly missed. And I also know that I understand more fully how important a pet can be and will never minimize pet death again.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Abstract vs. Concrete

I’m a pretty logical, rational person. I can usually discuss things without letting too much emotion enter in and come to a good decision. Usually; not always.

Our dog is getting very old. She has been a part of our family for 15 years since she was 2 months old and 2 pounds small. She can’t eat much any more. She is skin and bones. She is deaf. And she has begun having seizures which temporarily debilitate her.  We have known that we could not let her go on this way or let her deteriorate to the point of ongoing suffering.

Over the past week, we have discussed putting her to sleep, killing her that is, although I hate to put it in those terms. I have cried with everyone else but am usually the first one to bring things back into perspective and encourage a reasonable, humane decision.

But today I had to call the vet and make the appointment. That was a different story.

I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth without crying. And I am still crying as I think about telling the kids the date and time. I wish I could just call and cancel the whole thing, prolong the inevitable. There is a significant difference between thinking about something, and doing it. . . 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

God and Job

One of the Scripture readings the other day was from the book of Job, chapter 38. Despite having read and studied Job numerous times, a particular phrase caught my attention this time through.

Job has been questioning God for most of the book. He has repeatedly asserted his innocence against his friends’ accusations of guilt. And he has frequently asked God to give him a hearing, to explain to him why he is being tormented. Here, in chapter 38, God shows up to respond to Job. Speaking out of the storm, this is what God says:

“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you will answer me.”

After 38 chapters of Job asking questions of God, often from a position of despair, now God will ask questions of Job.

Funny, isn’t it?

Job has dared to protest to his Creator, has begged for an audience. Now he gets exactly what he has asked for but not at all what he expected.

I like to picture God, a twinkle in his eye, speaking these words to Job.

Why a twinkle in his eye?

Well, the Bible repeatedly tells us that God is our father. Good parents often do things and demand things that puzzle their children. They understand a bigger reality than the child does. So God, like a good parent, holds back a smile as he in good Socratic form, responds to Jobs questions with a series of questions.

That is comforting because I, like Job, have spent a fair amount of time questioning God—his ways in the world, his action or lack thereof—you name it. And I know, that although I, like Job, do not have the big picture, God must have a reason for what I observe. It is good to know that God does not get angry. He is not offended by Job’s questions or cranky that he has to take time out of his schedule to address Job, or me. And thanks to information that I have, that Job was not privy to, I know that I can take all my fears, questions, and uncertainties before the throne of grace, knowing that the One who is like me in every way, except for sin, hears and has compassion on my child-like concerns.