Thursday, January 08, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday January 10, 2008
The Vocabulary of Faith
Hell, Judgment & Damnation
Matthew 25:14-30 & 31-46
Matthew 7:1-5
Matthew 5:17-19 & 7:12

OK - this sounds depressing, but is an interesting 2nd vocabulary "word" for this new preaching series. What do you think of when you hear or read the word "hell"? Here's snapshot of pictures I found on the internet.

The English word "hell" comes from the Greek "hades" which in the Judeo-Christian literature comes from the Hebrew "sheol".

Of course the vision of flames, tormented bodies, devils, pitchforks comes to mind. For me my first thought was of junior high [I sli
pped a picture of mine into the collage]. The Bible is actually relatively quiet, or sparse in terms of descriptions of hell. There are a lot in Revelation. You can compare those sections to very similar descriptions of Hades by Greek Philisopher Plato in Phaedo to see that the writer(s) of Revelation were most likely using their contemporary cultural understanding of Hell to describe the absence or anti-thesis of presence with God [what we usually call Heaven, Paradise, where you want to be, etc.].

Here's the excerpts from Phaedo written about 200 years before Revelation. (click on the picture to enlargen). Compare them to Revelation 19:19-20 and Revelation 20:11-15. I think that what we see is that the writer(s) of Revelation use the image of hell/hades, prevalent in their culture, to explain what they're trying to say. They use their culture to articulate faith for them, which simultaneously subverts the cultural assumption.

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an amazing play, No Exit, about Hell. It's famous for one line in particular, "l'enfer c'est les autres" [hell is other people]. He's basically teasing out the fact that we are relational, need each other to choose, to create, to move into our futures. If we live without honest, mutual, peripatetic relationships, choosing manipulation, power over and vanity we literally live in hell. Recent sociological work has lifted up that many Americans now consider life to be hell, they are involved in less and less relationships and networks and feeling increasing isolated and alone. [salon article] [thesis of the book Bowling Alone].

The 1997 film Devil's Advocate has a challenging speech about God, Satan and the situation in which we seem to be set. It's an interesting speech to listen to about sin, freedom of will - and what life is meant to be and how it can be twisted [it is R rated]

So is there a hell? Is it a geographic/cosmic place? A myth to frighten us into good behavior? Or is it a metaphor that seeks to express the opposite of being present with God and in God's life-giving presence? And who gets to go there? Is it only those that call upon the name of Jesus? And what about those that call on that name in faith at the last possible second? Is that fair?

These are our modern ways of asking questions. Jesus in the passages above seems to focus more on actions, how we live, how we follow what he teaches, than upon upholding the correct doctrine, dogma or belief. In the two parables in Matthew 25, Jesus basically says that it's all about how you live your life. Did you use the gifts/talents you were given to steward? Did you care for the least of these? Or only yourself or those that could get you ahead?

I think that judgment is actually about being held accountable. Are we coherent in what we believe, how we act, how we relate to others. I think that heaven is being in the presence of God who is community (three in one). Life in and from community into increasing community is what we're made for. That's what "created in the image of God" means. So if we refuse that, refuse to live in community, to recognize our interdependence and
gemeinschaftsgeful [my new $100 word] nature as human beings....then we are in hell and not living as God lives or calls us to know life. It's all about relationships and community not about results and work. In the end I guess I find that I wonder what are we motivated by in how we live and make meaning in our life? Is it according to what we think will happen to us afterwards, in terms of fear or benefit? Is it about how we live in the moment? Or the legacy that we leave behind us?

I'm not actually interested in the afterlife. I'm to busy surviving day to day, trying to make meaning of my life, my relationships, my work and to collaborate in the world living as faithfully as I can as one created in God's image. My motivator is more today than tomorrow, more about meaning and purpose than paradise.

What about you?

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