Saturday, August 11, 2007

hell no?

I am reading through the Old Testament again and it is interesting to note that the modern concept of a future utopia (a.k.a. heaven) is hardly to be found. Modern religion seems to have swung the other way and favours much talk about future reward as a motivator while underplaying possible punishment in some suitably horrible place because they say (whoever they are) that hell smacks of cruelty and a lack of love and is not an effective tool for changing behaviour nor, in all likelihood, a real place.

Some say we have progressed in our knowledge and behaviour since those barbaric times before Jesus. I highly doubt that; in fact, I would say that while we have simply replaced and renamed sins and cruelties and idolatries, God has been the faithful One in progressing: telling a progressive story of his character to humankind that is there for anyone to read if they have the desire, tenacity, and are willing to submit their self righteousness to a genuine love for Truth.

I don't know if hell is a real place, but I think it gets more time in the Scriptures than the concept of a future utopia (the word "heaven" in the Bible often refers simply to the sky or atmosphere above earth). We have been noticeably selective in how we read these things because we all tend to take in information through the filter of what our current culture is telling us is acceptable and noble and desirable. Until we can get it through our minds that GOD is the originator of progress, the One continuously revealing his character to us (and we have millenniums to go before we begin to fathom some of the depths there) and this whole trek here is not about improving and enlightening ourselves and becoming more civilised, we will sadly miss the point.

I have no desire just to become a kinder, gentler human race. I want to see God's character in its pure blinding beauty and be changed by the encounter.

This striking picture of the heavens was taken in Ste-Anne on Thursday.


Barry Pike said...

Hi. I couldn't agree more with the main part of your observation, that our ability to understand some aspects of scripture are undeniably colored, possibly even distorted, as viewed through the prism of our culture.

Personally, I find the Bible pretty clear on the facts of the existence of both heaven and hell, although the descriptive details are somewhat sketchy.

There is an enjoyable and comprehensive study of what the scriptures do say (and imply) about heaven, though, in a book by Randy Alcorn entitled, predictably, "Heaven". I've read this book a couple of times and it has really opened up my thinking about what happens after we leave here.

Matte Downey said...

Hey Barry. I guess I was not clear in stating that I do not question the reality of heaven and hell, but merely the concepts that are now associated with them in so many minds. Heaven often does refer to the place where God dwells or rules, but the details are sketchy as you say, and it is not necessarily described as a future destination or reward. In fact, you hardly ever head any of the Old Testament writers refer to future reward. It just seems silly to base our faith on future reward instead of a current vibrant living relationship with Jesus. That's basically all I wanted to say.

Matte Downey said...

oops, I meant "hear any of the Old Testament prophets" instead of "head any of the..."

Shelley said...

Interesting. I agree that our culture has a pretty weird view of heaven (like the philly commercials??)
For me personally though, the hope of eternity, of being with Jesus, of completion, has given me a place to put those heart longings that don't go away, and never seem to be wholly fulfilled here. I love C.S. Lewis' The Weight of Glory.
Interesting question, why the old testament doesn't refer to heaven much. Paul refers to "the hope to which we were called" a lot in his letters.

Barry Pike said...

Hello, again. I didn't mean to imply that I thought you were questioning the reality of heaven and hell. That is culturally fashionable, obviously, but I didn't get that vibe from what you had written and am sorry if what I wrote made it seem like I had.

I think you make an excellent point, especially about living with the Lord in the present. I was just a little clumsy in my agreement. For Christ-followers, we are already living our eternal life...although there are still uncertain circumstances ahead of us, to be sure, we are called in THIS life to be a new creation.

In the OT, when one considers the promises the Lord made to Abraham, Jacob, and was about posterity, legacy, honor, blessing, and, most of all, about the nearness of His presence. It was not at all about the afterlife as we think of it today. The blessings of God's promises were to be revealed on the Earth, in and through the lives of their descendants.

The glimmers of heavenly insight that do appear in the OT are hopeful, I think, though enigmatic. Such as the disappearance of Enoch, the death of Moses, and the exit of Elijah.

The NT has much more to say about what happens when we depart the Earth than the OT does.

It's interesting to consider the differences in the way the topic is addressed pre-Jesus versus post-Jesus.

Matte Downey said...

I pretty much agree with everything you said, Barry. Thanks for the comments.