Last night a group of friends and acquaintances gathered together in Central Hong Kong. It was a Friday night, the work week was over, and so they came together to drink a little wine, eat a little food…
… and talk a little hell.
I know this because I was there…
Ok, I was more than just there… I hosted the thing.
It all started a few months ago when I read, and then blogged on, Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who ever Lived. In the book Bell skirts around the issue of Universalism (a belief that Christ’s sacrifice covers everyone despite their choosing to receive it) and many Christians came away from the book upset that Bell had tried to make hell go away.
Shortly after that I got to speaking to a couple different friends who had read the book and wanted to get together to talk about it. Last night about a dozen people gathered to talk about it.
We set the tone by starting the evening watching a debate on a Christian talk show in the U.K. with Bell defending his views against author and blogger, Adrian Warrnock.
Watching the debate I found Warrnock’s appeal was to literal interpretations on hell and judgement which are most certainly to be found in the Bible. Frequently though he said something like, “we may not like it but we don’t get to pick and choose only the comfortable portions of Scripture.”
Bell’s defense relied on other interpretations of “hell” passages of scripture, context of a first century audience, as well as a direct appeal to the nature of God. At one point Bell asks Warrnock if a kid dies at 17 years old and he had “rejected” Christ, would God still be inflicting conscious punishment and suffering on him 17 million years later? Does the penalty measure up with the crime? Warrnock is then put in the uncomfortable position of defending the indefensible, so he ends up having to invoke scripture in order to do so.
Following the debate our discussion on the topic was quite lively. I think one of the reasons this topic invokes so much passion is that it brings the nature of God front and center. Some of us last night:
* were a little frustrated that Bell never seemed to answer a question directly
* were trying to process the whole thing because it was so new
* were happy of the fresh understanding Bell gave on a controversial topic
* were trying to reconcile teachings they grew up with
* were not Christian and gave a perspective from outside the faith
* really enjoyed the sweet chilli sauce on cheese with crackers (that was me)
There are so many perspectives we explored last night I can’t begin to unpack them all in a single blog post but I will give a thought I shared in relationship to God’s judgement and scripture.
The Woman in Adultery
I commented during the discussion about what Jesus’ did when confronted with scripture and sin. In John 8, a group of religious leaders bring a woman caught in adultery and interrupt Jesus right in the middle of his teaching. They wanted to test him by asking what his verdict about her would be and whether it would conflict with what the scriptures (Bible) said should be done.
The Bible was very clear; she should be killed. Her life should be ended and every person in that crowd would have been quite familiar with that judgement…including the woman on whom the judgement would ultimately fall.
And why were the religious leaders testing Jesus on this? Well, Jesus had been developing a bit of a reputation. Word was getting around of his bringing too much love, mercy, and forgiveness to people…and not just to pious folk, but to sinners. (I find that nothing makes religious people angrier than too much love and mercy)
Putting it another way, Jesus was getting to be known in the region as being one of those crazy “grace” preachers!
So they round up a “sinner” who the Bible says should receive death and they say,
In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
The Bible says this Jesus…what do you say?
Jesus, after stooping down and writing some undefined words on the ground, counters with, ““Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Dejected, one by one the group leaves until Jesus is left alone with the woman.
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The Bible said one thing…Jesus said another!
The Bible said she should be killed, Jesus says she should be forgiven.
The Bible treated her as a convict, Jesus treated her as a daughter.
Jesus refuses to condemn her, and as any loving father would do, encourages her to leave a life that is already bringing misery and death to her.
So Steve, are you against the Bible?
No, but I believe that Jesus is the Word of God (John 1) Jesus came to reveal who God is…When we’ve seen Jesus, we’ve seen the father. (John 14:9)
So in regards to eternal hell for people and the question it poses I risk being a little cheesy when I suggest I am not entirely sure but…
What would Jesus do?