Thursday, June 20, 2013

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut Pt. 1

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut – A Review
Pt. 1. Presumptions and Possibilities

In the coming weeks I will be reviewing Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell and the New Jerusalem by Brad Jersak.   While the book was published back in 2009, I find that many of the questions that it raises are just beginning to make their way into the public conversations of Christians.  Questions about eternal destiny—heaven and hell are important because the way we answer them says much about how we see God and his purposes as well as our place in the story. 

Jersak sees several factors that contribute to a person’s idea.  The first and most obvious is the particular scriptures that a person wishes to use.  Beyond that he cites 4 other contributing factors:

1.    Our View of God: Is God primarily a God of love, justice, and mercy or righteous anger.
2.    Our View of the Atonement: Was the atonement about final payment for sin-debts or final forgiveness of sin debts?  Does the cross save us from God, the devil, sin, death, or ourselves?
3.    Our Approach to Scripture: Do we tend to interpret  the images of the Bible literally or metaphorically?  Do we feel we are more faithful to the text when we take it as literally as the language allow or when we are most sensitive to the author’s use of symbols?
4.    Our Personal Need: Do we feel the need to ignore, minimize, or do away with hell because we cannot allow that a loving God could conceive, create, or implement such a monstrosity?  Or do we desperately need hell, because in this world of atrocities, God could not be considered holy, righteous, and just without it?

Brad Jersak writes as a former infernalist (believer in conscious eternal torment of hell) who has come to be biased towards hope.  He writes in the opening chapter:

We all have a bias.  The important thing is to recognize your bias and be able to defend or explain it.  As a “critical realist,” I spend a good deal of time and energy studying my biases—how they emerged, and how they influence my thinking.  Rather than pretending to be perfectly objective, I confess that since my early days as a terrified infernalist, I have developed a strong preference for hope.  I hope in the Good News that God’s love rectifies every injustice through forgiveness and reconciliation.  The Gospel of hope that I can preach boldly is this:

God is not angry with you and never has been.  He loves you with and everlasting love.  Salvation is not a question of “Turn or burn.”  We’re burning already, but we don’t have to be!  Redemption!  The life and death of Christ showed us how far God would go to extend forgiveness and invitation.  His resurrection marked the death of death and the evacuation of Hades.  My hope is in Christ, who rightfully earned his judgment seat and whose verdict is restorative justice, that is to say, mercy.

…This book will address the central problem of this “heated” debate: not infernalism versus annihilationism versus universalism, but rather, authentic, biblical Christian hope vis-à-vis the error of dogmatic presumption (of any view).  Hope presumes nothing but is rooted in a deeper confidence: the love and mercy of an openhearted and relentlessly kind God. (P.9-10)

I guess one of the reasons I found this book so interesting was that it starts from a place of wrestling through our own beliefs.  Many years ago I began to realize that so many of the things I believed about Christianity had little or nothing to do with thoughtful and prayerful reflection on the scriptures but were rather the product of my own baggage: a mixture of religious, political and economic ideas filtered through the lens of a middle class American white dude.   Few topics come with as much religious baggage as the topic of hell.  We will get into some of that baggage in later posts but for now I will close with a question.

Think about your own view of hell.  What does your view of hell say about your view of God? 

1 comment:

greenturtle said...

Like most people in America, I was raised to believe that Hell is where "the bad people" go when they die.

Of course there are as many different opinions about who does and does not go there, as there are individuals in existence.

Uncanny that I read this article right after receiving my new book, written by the woman who was banished from the Westboro Baptist Church; They believe that everyone is going to hell, probably including themselves!

Prior to "getting saved", I forced myself to practice christianity only because I feared the wrath of God and did not want to go to Hell.

After I "got saved", I was completely sold on the idea that Jesus paid for my ticket out of Hell.

But I was still very confused about what I should and should not do, to STAY out of hell. And again, there are as many different opinions about that...

Although I'm now convinced that going to Hell is not based on what you do or don't do, or what you say or don't say... I still don't have an answer for what you have to BELIEVE or not believe, in order to stay out of Hell.

I know that some people choose Hell.

I know that no person gets to decide whether or not I go there; Only God himself.

Besides that, all I can do is hope that what the bible says about where I'm going, based on my belief that Jesus is the savior, is true. (And be thankful that no person gets a vote).

I used to think that possibly Hell is here on earth... or if it isn't, I can't imagine Hell being much worse.

I don't pretend to know what exactly Hell is, whether it's the lake of fire and brimstone, or eternal darkness, or ceasing to exist, or what. I only know that it's eternal separation from God.

I was torn about whether or not to order the book I just received. It's going to be hard for me to read, based on my experience with the church being similar to that of the author's... but here goes.