Is there to be such a thing? The particular cause of concern is for the consignment of ‘the goats’ once sorted from ‘the sheep’ into an everlasting perdition.
It is often pretty disturbing, not to say frightening, when a Christian reads (too often) works by a sermon preacher or a devotional writer who suddenly fires up and turns into a kind of demon when he (they are invariably men) draws down punishments; seeming to relish the pangs of hell waiting for those who do not make heaven.
There is no doubt in my mind that at least certain of such writers are releasing their own held-in angers and hurts when they are doing this ‘holy’ condemnation of others, even when condemning only in the hypothetical.
And this is a shame. It is a shame because it reveals that those who condemn others like this are struggling with those parts in the gospels about forgiveness and forgiveness seventy times seven times.
And this text of forgiveness brings us to the question: why should God want us to forgive seventy times seven times in this life, and yet in the next he will, like a pub landlord, call time on all this forgiveness and start doling out fire and brimstone?
I’m all up for those parts in the gospels (like this one of hellfire) which don’t make logical sense mainly because they tend to make supreme psychological sense. But this calling time on forgiveness doesn’t make logical or psychological sense, except as a (man-made?) frightener to those who fear God; and purgative to those who despair of man.
All the classic attributes of God are against such final everlasting condemnation issuing from his hands. There is a type of Christian commentator who couches this eternal punishment from God in terms of God’s hands being tied concerning his wishes in this matter. And that somehow God is (usually morally) unable other than to condemn such ‘goats’. It is thus presented as being a ‘sad fact’ and a ‘fait accompli’.
Yet in another breath, which can be consecutive, the same preachers will extol God as being ‘wholly love’ and ‘wholly light’ and ‘wholly mercy’ and even ‘wholly justice’; as being the God of ‘forgiveness’ and of ‘reconciliation’ between man and Himself and between man and man.
This is an odd Orwellian-type of ‘doublethink’ and it is another aspect of preachers’ and commentators’, especially the Anglicans in contemporary life, who like to use half-haplessly, half-knowingly, any ‘fuzzy’ and so duplicitous expression in their use of English. ‘Fuzzy’ is akin to safe mode on Windows – one is guaranteed safety, but certain practicalities are barred from your use.
The clergy’s use of words like ‘unfortunate’ for ‘bad’, or of ‘sad’ for ‘bad’ or of ‘unhelpful’ for ‘nasty’, are it seems to me all allied to their use too often of the case of the ‘unfortunate’ God with tied hands. Both these uses of language and the tying up God’s hands, serve to avoid and to hide certain incongruous and inappropriate acknowledgements of one’s inescapable attitudes and outlooks.
I think since the 20th century people have become aware of and accepting of their self-contradictory human natures, so that their inner contradictions have become less problematic for them to express and to understand than say before Freud and Jung wrote.
I think nowadays people, even intelligent introspective people, are less blind about their inner selves, and more, not so much forgiving, as blasé about their lack of emotional and moral self-consistency.
But alongside this more easygoing say la vie outlook of the people the Anglican Christian orthodoxy has not kept pace, and this above all is why Anglican Christianity is losing ground in Britain rapidly today. Should the Anglican Church decide that instead that in fact all persons will be saved, after some fashion, and saved regardless whether good, bad, or just a buried single talent, and then to act with vigour upon such a decision, then the Church truly would represent that ever open door for entry into a Kingdom of God on earth
The Roman Church would and does find anathema the vacilation of theological outlooks which keep pace with social changes . Their Church is the upholder of The Apostolic Succession, which carries with it a set of ramifications which remain ever the same and as they always have been – so runs the narrative. The Roman Church retains its flocks rather better than does The Anglican because it herds them so thoroughly well – sometimes to the point of imposing restraints.
None of what I have said is startlingly new or disturbing to any person awake and aware in the 21st century in Britain.
I must make clear that I do not like or accept the prevalent modern say la vie social outlook towards our human weaknesses and our tendencies to have double-standards. I also feel that herding and constraints are of no good use for and in relating to others. I feel that God’s hands are not, are never tied, except in the fantasy imaginations of preachers and commentators who cannot bear the thought of the awful things which the world, the flesh and the devil manifest in what men and women do to one another and to the world, its species and resources. But I sympathise with their pain greatly.
But men are not God and God is not men (excepting one Man) and our pain at the awfulness of what goes on in the world too often, I believe should not be translated or sublimated or whatever into gratuitous imaginations of bad persons burning everlastingly hereafter.
I believe we are able to forgive ourselves rather more since Darwin, Freud and Jung, than we were able to before society accepted itself as being composed of essentially flawed contradictory and vacillating moral agencies. This is us – it always has been – and why should we look differently upon our forebears? We just know a bit more about the inner mechanics of our flawed natures nowadays.
So, what’s the answer to hell? What is my answer? Equally appallingly sometimes people airbrush the principle of evil and evil deeds and evil persons out of any proposition of hell; and acclaim instead a universalism in which ‘everybody has won, and all must have prizes’. Under this schema everyone gets to heaven.
Those who have suffered at the hands of evil men and women rightly cannot deal with this idea. Maybe nor can God?
A more-nearly satisfactory solution, one which reflects our own penal system, and also I am told, it reflects an Ancient Chinese view of afterlife, is where punishments fit the crimes. I have absolutely no biblical basis for saying this. The nearest theological idea to it that I am aware of is The Roman Catholic concept of a Purgatory. The Chinese once though apparently that heaven was a hierarchical administration which runs rather like the Chinese Imperial civil service did under the Emperors. Hence bad men and women were, I assume, allotted appropriate penalties and places.
But surely no penalty should be everlasting. Such an unrelentingly punitive regime surely would defeat and throw into much doubt the love and light and mercy and graceful forgiveness, even the justice, of God? We do know however that:
‘With God all things are possible.’
‘But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.’‘