Archive for category Afterlife
“Hell is the absence of God”. This is a pithy definition that many Christians find attractive. It shoves under the rug any suggestion that God might have created Hell as a place of eternal torment and punishment for human disobedience. Since God will not force us to love ‘him’, we must make the choice ourselves, or so it goes. And what Christian would not choose the presence of God in Heaven? If God is omnipresent, if “he” is everywhere, then his absence is ‘no where’. Hell is the last death, annihilation. This makes the bitter pill of damnation a bit easier to swallow.
But Jesus is suggesting something else, that God is not in Heaven but may actually spend a lot of time in Hell. Many of his followers readily choose to spend time in Hell, living with and helping those who cannot escape, at least not on their own. Classic examples are Father Damien, Dorothy Day, Albert Schweitzer, Corrie ten Boom, Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa. Thousands, if not millions, of others, have forfeited comfortable Sunday church meetings, choir practice and Bible study to devote their time and energy in the service of the sick, the poor and the imprisoned. This is where they find God. This is where they lead others to God. Not through pseudo-evangelical proselytizing about Hell and Heaven. Not through fear and intimidation, but through self-sacrifice and love.
The other day I suggested that, to many Evangelicals, both progressive and fundamentalist, if you took away Hell you would take away their vision of Jesus. Hell may even be a more important tenet of the Christian faith than Jesus, because without Hell what is there for Jesus to save us from?
But maybe there’s another way to look at Hell, a way that is not so doctrinaire but more holistic. Maybe the closest we can get to God is in Hell, though not by reflecting on our own pain but through focusing on the pain of others. No gains or rewards, no divine pats on the back. Just encountering the beauty and presence of God in some of the vilest and most horrifying cesspits of the world. Why else would anyone willingly live their lives with those people, in those places? A love of God that I can only imagine.
Perhaps this points us to what Heaven ( or more accurately, the Kingdom of God ) might look like. It’s not a place where we go when we die and it’s not a return of the mythical Garden of Eden. It’s not something God gives to us for being good, but a world that we must earn by working towards eliminating our man-made Hells. Of course, the chances of this happening does not look good, but some amazing people are busy making it happen, one piece at a time.
Thank God, I will get a view of the Battle of Armageddon from the grand stand seats of the heavens. All who are born again will see the battle of Armageddon, but it will be from the skies (Carl McIntire, 1965)
What then should be the believer’s attitude to the destruction of the world by fire? First of all, he should welcome it and pray for its nearness (Robert Gromacki, 1970)
The world has one great war yet to endure…. The slaughter that will take place is too frightening to imagine. Just be thankful that you’re not going to be around (Chuck Smith, 1977)
The Tribulation will result in such bloodshed and destruction that any war up to that time will seem insignificant (Jerry Falwell, 1983)
Some day we may blow ourselves up with all the bombs…. But I still believe God’s going to be in control…. If He chooses to use nuclear war, then who am I to argue with that? (Charles Jones, 1986)
-from “God and Empire” by John Dominic Crossan
I’m sorry, but the Book of Revelation should never have been included in the Bible. There. I’ve said it. No more pussy-footing around. I’m no longer going to compromise, rationalizing that it needs to be read, as Augustine said, ‘spiritually and not carnally’ (metaphorically and not literally). I think it would have been better never read at all.
Rather than underlining Jesus’ (and Paul’s) radical message of the just and peaceable Kingdom of God to be found right now and right here on this earth, Revelations depicts a kingdom somewhere “out there” that will some day come, but only after Jesus returns and and initiates the violent destruction of civilization.
In the Gospels, Jesus offers us a meal of bread and wine- hospitality, friendship, community. In Revelation he offers the birds of the air a meal made up of the flesh of millions of dead.
In the Gospels Jesus talks of his return AFTER a violent apocalypse but an apocalypse that is the result of man’s ‘worldly’ and violent way of life. His return does not precipitate this apocalypse but follows it, bringing the Kingdom’s non-violent redemptive power. Revelation, on the other hand, has Jesus accepting and adopting as his own modus operandi this ‘worldly’ violence, no matter how ‘other worldly’ it is portrayed.
In the Gospels he enters the Jerusalem meekly, on a donkey, pointedly lampooning the triumphal entry of the Roman governor. In Revelation he is on a white charger, wielding sword and with a blood soaked cape flowing about him.
Is it any wonder that this vision of a doomed and temporary earth violently destroyed by a blood-thirsty Messiah who then selectively redeems it has led to 20 centuries of Church sanctioned violence? Well, not when we realize that it didn’t take long for the Church to stop opposing violent empire and become violent empire. The Book of Revelations proved to be an excellent tool in furthering the worldly ideals and goals of empire.
Americans easily recognize that the fundamentalist theology of Islam, of a disposable world followed by paradise for the fortunate faithful, has eagerly led many to commit acts of horrific violence. But can’t we see that the contemporary dispensationalist theology of Rapture and Armageddon also leads to similar contempt for this world and a a similar eagerness for violent retribution?
It may seem extreme to make comparisons between the actions of radical Islamists and those of fundamentalist Christians, but their rhetoric is similar. Violent actions no not always follow violent rhetoric but they are always preceded by violent rhetoric.
Perhaps there is some good ecclesiastical advice in this book, advice designed to help the early beleaguered Church to hold fast and resist the temptation to capitulate to empire. But by painting Jesus in heretically violent colors John only helped spur on the Church to become empire. Did Rome co-opt the Church or did the Church co-opt Rome?
How might have history been different, if the rhetoric of violent judgment penned by John of Patmos had never been linked to Jesus’ Gospel of peace and justice?
In Isaiah 46 the author talks of two of the ancient Babylonian Gods, Bel and Nebo:
1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
a burden for the weary.
2 They stoop and bow down together;
unable to rescue the burden,
they themselves go off into captivity.
I was curious about what all this meant and found an informative article written by Dr. Allen Ross on Bible.org. This line was of particular interest:
“Bel” is belu, which is the equivalent of ba’al in Western Semitic. Bel is the Semitic title for the ancient Sumerian god Enlil, Lord of the Air.
The Lord of the Air? Where had I heard that before?
According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:15-18
OK, close, but not quite. Anyway, this is one of the two or three scripture verses that those who are anxiously awaiting the End Times serve up as evidence for the impending Rapture. Personally, I’ve always felt that it’s a pretty long stretch of the imagination to take these verses literally. Even so, what if Paul wasn’t talking about Jesus being the Lord in the Air? In Ephesians 2 he specifically refers to Satan as the lord of the air:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient
What if Jesus takes only those who are “dead in Christ” and then leaves the rest of us – those who are still alive – not to the Lord IN the Air but the Lord OF the Air?
Jeesh! That’s not too encouraging.
Just a few of my opinions. The funny thing is, I used to believe most of these things not too long ago.
1 – I doubt that the scriptures were ever meant to be read literally, or formatted between two covers and called the Bible, with numbered verses and the words of Jesus written in red. I doubt that the Bible is the actual Word of God. It is a collection of ancient, spiritually oriented scriptures and, as St. Paul said, is useful for spiritual instruction, which implies it’s not the only end-all, go-to, book for everything you wanted to know about the universe but were afraid to ask
2 – I doubt the book of Genesis is historical or factual in almost any way. I doubt that Adam and Eve were real people. I think they are biblical metaphors for mankind in general. I doubt that the Garden of Eden was a real place. I think Eden is a metaphor for a world that is in harmony with nature. I doubt that there was a global Flood and i doubt that God nuked Sodom and Gomorrah. I doubt that science and the theory of evolution are incompatible with faith.
3 – I doubt the literal doctrine of the Fall is supported by scripture. I doubt that Satan was ever a real being, a fallen angel, but he is a damn good metaphor for man’s ego run amok. I doubt that mankind is essentially depraved and wicked but learns to be this way.
4 – It follows, then, that I doubt the doctrine of Original Sin
5 – I doubt God ever ordered anyone’s army to rape, pillage, steal or enslave.I doubt if God ever ordered tortuous death sentences or ritual sacrifices. Therefore, I doubt that Leviticus or Deuteronomy set good standards for today’s politicians and leaders.
6 – I doubt that people of the twenty-first century are supposed to respond to God in the same way the ancient Israelites did. So, I doubt that all those old Jewish laws (on diet, slavery, sex, tithing etc) are obviously applicable today. God may not change but people do, thank God.
7 – I doubt that God has preordained everything (although God may have preordained some things, but I doubt that as well).
8 – I doubt that God has chosen some people for salvation and others for damnation. That would be a pretty wicked God. The NeoCalvinists are nuts.
9- Anyway, I doubt the doctrine of Hell, where God infinitely torments (or allows the torment) of finite people, judging them infinitely guilty of finite sins. I doubt God is beholden to any sort of legal system and I doubt that God is really all that into judging as it is.
10 – Therefore, I doubt that Jesus’ death was some sort of legal blood sacrifice necessary to pay our way out of Hell.
11 – I doubt (nor do I really care) if Mary was a virgin.
12 – I doubt if any of the Old Testament writings are predictions of Jesus. These “prophecies” are poor ‘reasons to believe’ because the only ones who see these predictions are those who already call themselves Christian.
13 – I doubt Jesus had super powers and could predict the future. I doubt he was holding himself in check in order to get the job done, just ‘pretending ‘ to be a man (even though I believe he may have performed miracles).
14 – I doubt that Jesus was the ‘perfect’ sacrifice’ (akin to an unblemished lamb slaughtered to appease God) but that his sacrifice was ‘perfect’ ; he was innocent and undeserving of the punishment he received for proclaiming the Good News (which was really bad news for the ‘powers that be’). He forgave his tormentors and executioners and did not forsake God while on the cross, which is much more ‘perfect’ than any other example I can think of.
15 – I doubt that women are in any way supposed to follow men, take a back seat, not teach or preach or lead in church (or anywhere else).
16 – I doubt that Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Navajos, Druids, Wiccans, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists or atheists are held in less regard by God than Christians or Jews
17 – I doubt that only Christians are ‘saved’ . In fact, I doubt that most Christians are ‘saved’. But salvation is not about heaven and hell; it is about being saved from our false selves and living the life God intended for us. I believe that Jesus points to and shows the ‘Way’ of this ‘eternal’ life but he is not THE WAY himself (because what does that really mean, anyway?). Jesus Way IS very narrow; there is no room for hatred, selfishness, or arrogance. It is the way of love and forgiveness.
18 – I doubt that there is a place called Hell. I doubt that God would have any reason to make such a place, unless, of course, God is sadistically deranged. And that is too horrifying to contemplate.
19 – I doubt the United States of America was ever intended to be a Christian Nation. I doubt that the words “Christian” and “nation” are ever compatible.
20 – I doubt that it is possible to readily define or identify an authentic “Christian”. I doubt that there are 34,000 different Christian denominations (as some sources say) but that really there are around 34,000 different religions that all claim they are “Christian”. I doubt that Jesus and religion will ever mix very well,
“No, I’m telling you this is the last show. When the curtain comes down tonight that’ll be it. Kaput. Finito. Finished.” Victor was dabbing rouge onto his powdered cheeks. He glanced up, taking in the reflection of the young woman in the doorway.
“But, Victor. That’s not true at all. There will be another show. And another after that. Who knows how long this will run? Perhaps forever.”
“I wish I had your faith Muriel. But with no director, I don’t see how that’s possible. We’ll just play our parts and that will be it. After tonight the company will break up and, well….”
“Victor, we have a director. The Producer is our director. When Josh was directing he told us that he was just following the Producer’s wishes, to the letter. His stage directions are perfect – we all know precisely what we have to do. “
“I see no producer, Muriel. No director anymore, either. We are doing this thing by the seat of our pants. You need to open your eyes, sweetheart. Take a look around. This chaos can’t last for ever and we need to be prepared for the end. That’s why I’m going to make the most of my last performance.” He took a napkin and began to remove some of the excess rouge.
“That’s swell Victor. Tonight, after the show, during the party, we’ll get to meet the Producer. I’m sure he’ll love your performance and will tell you so.”
“The producer again! Muriel, I’ve never seen hide nor hair of this guy. I keep hearing about him, how great he is, such a sport, keeping us going for all these years. Well, the way I see it is that if there ever was such a fellow he hit the road a long time ago. Or else he kicked the bucket. We’ve been keepin’ this gig alive, with our talent, our hard work. There ain’t no producer. Just leave me out of your fantasies, will ya? I don’t want any part of this ‘new’ show of yours. Sorry to disappoint you.” He threw the wadded up napkin onto the floor.
“Oh, Victor. Don’t say that. Please!“
“TEN MINUTES TO CURTAIN!” the best boy sang out.
That night the company put on their finest show ever. A standing ovation. Victor and Muriel took two curtain calls and dozens of floral bouquets littered the stage floor.
Afterward in the dressing room, Paul, one of the grips came up to Victor. “You goin’ to the party Mr. French?” Victor was the last one in the dressing room, lingering as he removed his makeup one final time.
“What party, Paul? That fabled “last show” party all the suckers have been waiting for? Well, I hate to burst your bubble kid, but there ain’t gonna be no party because there ain’t no producer to throw us one.”
“Gosh, no Mr. French. Not a last show party. The New Show party. It’s already started, out on stage. C’mon, everyone’s askin’ for ya.”
Wearily Victor finished wiping the cold cream off his face and, still wearing his robe, followed Paul out into the wings. By golly, was that the sound of a party coming from beyond the curtains? As Paul parted the the heavy drapes, Victor’s expression changed from one of disdain, to curiosity, to confusion and finally to disbelief.
Lit up by the stage lights, the entire cast and crew could be seen gaily partaking in one humdinger of a soirée. Champagne glasses were waving about with abandon, large platters of roast meats and vegetables were on display, bowls of exotic fruits, caviar, canapes, smoked salmon….and isn’t that Joshua standing over by the bar?
“Victor! Finally, you are here!” Muriel threw her arms around him. “Here, take this.” She thrust a glass of champagne into his hand. He looked down at it as if he had never seen one before.
“Come Victor, you must meet the Producer. He is tremendous. Fantastic. He is so much more than I ever imagined. You will just love him. Come along – quickly!” She dragged the dazed actor by his free hand. He stumbled awkwardly behind her, sloshing his champagne, suddenly afraid to meet this Producer that he had so flippantly dismissed for all these years.
They approached a dense knot of people clustered about a well dressed man, everyone intent on getting his attention. Muriel pushed her way through. “Let me in, let me in! I’ve got Victor. The Producer asked to see Victor!” The crowd parted, people pulling back, their attention now on Victor.
He wants to see ME? thought Victor. Why me? What have I gotten myself into? He tried to pull back but Muriel would have none of it; she gave a great tug and Victor stumbled forward, right into the arms of the Producer!
“Whoa!” the man said, laughing. He clutched Victor by his shoulders and held him out at arms length. “I didn’t think you would be that eager to meet me, Victor” His smile was bright and it seemed to be quite genuine.
Suddenly Victor began to feel more at ease and even began to smile a bit himself. “I guess, I tripped…ah…er, sir. Sorry”
“Nothing to be sorry for lad. I am so glad to see you! ” He gave Victor a great bear hug. “I was beginning to think you were never coming out of that dressing room. Whatever kept you?”
“Well” stammered Victor. “You see, I wasn’t aware that there was a…I didn’t think that anyone would be….It was the last show and I thought…..”
“That’s alright” the Producer said, chuckling. “I understand everything. That’s all in the past. The important thing is that you are here with all of us. Now, have you seen the script for the new show yet? “
“A new show? I thought…oh.”
I guess there really is going to be a new show, thought Victor. And I guess I blew it, big time. He remembered telling Muriel that he wanted no part of it. He looked down into his glass of champagne. It was empty, everything had spilled out.
“You’re going to love your part in it”
“What?” Victor looked up.
“I said you are going to love your part in the new show.” The Producer was smiling broadly.
“But, but I didn’t….”
“Believe in me? Yes, I know about that. But you’re not the only cast member who didn’t believe. It’s hard for some people, with me staying behind the scenes. But you all have such hard parts to play, I know the script is not an easy one. I just didn’t want to be too much of a distraction to you all. I don’t want you to be so obsessed with trying to please me that you’ll forget your lines or even worse, try to upstage your cast members.”
“So you’re going to keep me in the new show?” Victor was astonished.
“Absolutely. You did a great job in the last show. Sure there were times that you missed your mark, occasionally stepped on someone else’s lines. I can forgive that. Even those times that you decided to ad lib a little bit, hoping to jazz up the show just a touch. But you realized how badly that went off and you came right back to the script. You’re a real trooper, Victor. You rarely thought of yourself – the play always came first.”
“Thank you. And again, I’m sorry.”
“You’r welcome and forgiven. Now, want to take a look at the new script?”
“Sure! This is great, getting to keep on working with the old cast and crew” said Victor.
“Oh, and a much, much bigger cast and crew. It’s a much bigger show. But not everyone is staying on board. Sadly a few have decided not to stick with the company. Take Maya, for example. She was hoping that she would be able to put on her own one-woman show. You know, one of those performance art things, going on and on about chocolate brassiers while standing on a commode or something like that. I told her that there were no one actor productions in our repertoire, so she’s going to try going it alone. I wish her well but….”
A newspaper shutterbug jumped in front of them. “Hey, Mr. Producer! How about sharin’ those pearly whites with the Good News’ readers?
“Oh, well sure! Anything for you boys.” And with that the great Producer put his arm around Victor and both of them faced the cameras, big grins brightly lit by popping flash bulbs.
“Welcome to CalvinAir. We ask during the flight that everyone please refrain from smoking. There are two restrooms; one located here in basic seating and one up front in select seating. For reasons of safety we have anticipated your every need. You will be allowed to leave your seats when we reach cruising altitude. At all other times we ask that you keep your seatbelts tightly fastened.”
“In case of an emergency there are four exits; two located here in standard class seating and two up front in select class seating. Only those doors in select will actually open. Those in standard are welded shut.”
“If the cabin loses pressure then face masks will automatically drop from the bulkheads located above your seats. Only those masks in select class will provide oxygen. The face masks in standard class are not connected.”
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“Please enjoy your flight and, speaking for the captain and crew, thank you for flying CalvinAir.“