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Monday, February 03, 2014

More about hell


- Chartres, south portal, showing a small piece of Hell

Reading Matthew's Nonviolent Jesus and Violent Parables by Barbara E. Reid, O.P. from the Center for Christian Ethics. Here's a bit of it ...

[...] In Matthew 5:38-48 Jesus gives the most elaborate of his teachings on how to respond to violence with nonretaliation, nonviolent confrontation, love of enemies, and prayer for persecutors. This teaching is in the section of the Sermon on the Mount .... A disciple must love enemies in imitation of God because it is the righteous thing to do. There is no assurance that the love will be effective or be reciprocated. What is also unstated, yet implied, is the effect on the evildoer or the enemy. Just as God’s offer of indiscriminate love and graciousness to the unrighteous aims to bring them into right relation, so too does that of the disciple. It invites the estranged one away from enmity into the path of forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation.

[But ...]

The portrayal of God in Matthew 5:45-48 clashes greatly with eight of Matthew’s parables that end with violent consequences for those who do evil .... The punishments God metes out to evildoers include throwing them into a fiery furnace, binding them hand and foot, casting them into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, putting them to a miserable death, cutting and breaking them into pieces and crushing them, destroying murderers and burning their city, depriving them of the presence of God, and putting them with hypocrites or with the devil and his angels for all eternity.

What has happened to the boundless, unreciprocated divine love described in the Sermon on the Mount (5:44-48)? If disciples of Jesus are children of God who are supposed to emulate divine ways, which are we to imitate? Further, does God change? Is divine love not so boundless after all?

There are a number of ways to explain this tension in the Matthean narrative. I will offer seven possibilities and evaluate their merits ...


The two possibilities she liked best were the last two she gave ... one was that God wants us to continuously forgive people as he does while in this earthly existence, but once we die, all bets are off ... and the other was that God does forgive people, but if they in tern don't forgive others, they then doom themselves (a sort of CS Lewis fix that gets God off the hook). I didn't like either of these explanations. Instead, I found the very first possibility she mentioned and discarded to be the one I have de facto accepted, though it has its problems ...

One possibility is that Matthew did not sufficiently understand the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Missing the point that God’s love is unconditional and boundless, even when not reciprocated (5:44-48), Matthew has capitulated to the prevailing myths about violence and portrays God as acting in violent ways toward unrepentant evildoers. It is from Matthew himself, or his special source of information about Jesus, that the bulk of the violent depictions in these parables comes.

And the reason I go with this explanation is exemplified by what she writes about Jesus in another part of the article ...

In the Gospels we have no examples of Jesus’ use of violence, even toward those who brutalized and executed him. Instead, in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrest, Jesus calls Judas “friend” (26:50) and admonishes, “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (26:52). When Jesus is spat on in the face, struck, and slapped (26:67), he does not retaliate. In the resurrection appearances he says not a word about those who perpetrated the violence or the punishment they will meet, but only encourages his disciples not to be afraid (28:10), assures them of his presence with them, and sends them out to proclaim the gospel to all (28:19-20).

If when we look at Jesus we see God, then the idea of hell makes no sense, at least not to me.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Henry said...

Crystal,

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following about Hell:

212. In what does hell consist?
Hell consists in the eternal damnation of those who die in mortal sin through their own free choice. The principal suffering of hell is eternal separation from God in whom alone we can have the life and happiness for which we were created and for which we long. Christ proclaimed this reality with the words, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41).

213. How can one reconcile the existence of hell with the infinite goodness of God?
God, while desiring “all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), nevertheless has created the human person to be free and responsible; and he respects our decisions. Therefore, it is the human person who freely excludes himself from communion with God if at the moment of death he persists in mortal sin and refuses the merciful love of God.
And this led me to the conclusion that Hell exists because God values freedom! So much so that if a person’s freely chooses to reject Him, God created a place for them so that he wouldn’t violating their freedom by overriding their choice.

And, in many ways, you see that a person’s freedom, in a sense, limits Christ (e.g., the New Living Translation of New Living Translation of Mark 6:5 says: And because of their unbelief, he couldn't do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them.

I also often think of the fact that Christ could, if He wanted to, make everyone believe in Him - and yet, He doesn’t do that.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Crystal,

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following about Hell:

212. In what does hell consist?
Hell consists in the eternal damnation of those who die in mortal sin through their own free choice. The principal suffering of hell is eternal separation from God in whom alone we can have the life and happiness for which we were created and for which we long. Christ proclaimed this reality with the words, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41).

213. How can one reconcile the existence of hell with the infinite goodness of God?
God, while desiring “all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), nevertheless has created the human person to be free and responsible; and he respects our decisions. Therefore, it is the human person who freely excludes himself from communion with God if at the moment of death he persists in mortal sin and refuses the merciful love of God.

And this led me to the conclusion that Hell exists because God values freedom! So much so that if a person’s freely chooses to reject Him, God created a place for them so that he wouldn’t violating their freedom by overriding their choice.

And, in many ways, you see that a person’s freedom, in a sense, limits Christ (e.g., the New Living Translation of New Living Translation of Mark 6:5 says: And because of their unbelief, he couldn't do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. I also often think of the fact that Christ could, if He wanted to, make everyone believe in Him - and yet, He doesn’t do that.

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christians have of course been very busy in creating hell-on-earth for 1700 years now - as these references depict & describe

www.dartmouth.edu/~spanmod/mural/panel21.html

www.jesusneverexisted.com/cruelty.html

www.logosjournal.com/hammer_kellner

Note the unspeakbly vile sado-masochistic snuff/splatter movie being reviewed in the last reference.
Check out:
Columbus & Other Cannibals by Jack Forbes
American Holocaust by David Satannard
Britain's Empire by Ricard Gott

6:49 PM  

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