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?