Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Let's do some thinking

Hi Guys and Gal
Lying in bed this morning, I was thinking about how to make it easier for you to generate some discussion on the blogsite (assuming you might want to) while I am otherwise engaged these next few weeks.
Since all of you are parents and have raised at least one child, I thought I would pose a series of questions that you might consider, and hopefully some discussion material might pop out at the end.

Do you love your kids?
Do/did you ever discipline them?
What is/was the purpose of your discipline?
How severe is/was your discipline?
Does/did it ever stop?
Does/did it achieve its purpose?

Does God love his children (the people who populate his earth)?
Does he ever discipline them?
What is the purpose of His discipline?
How severe is His discipline?
Does it ever stop?
Does it achieve its purpose?

What Bible stories, parables, verses might support your answers?
What Bible stories, parables, verses might challenge your answers?

Use the Post a Comment link below to share the thoughts that pop out of your considering this.

Monday, August 23, 2010

On "Vacation"

Sorry Guys and Gal
But I am going to give this a rest for a couple of months, unless some spare time unexpectantly turns up.
I am preparing a series of sermons for a stint to help out in Cairns next month and will need to keep focussed on that preparation.  I have a couple of posts half-ready, and if I get the chance, I will finish them, but I am just sending out a warning that nothing fresh may appear for a while.

But that should not stop YOU from making some comments and having some discussion on the posts already there.
Haven't heard much from you great scholars so far........ so how about it....?
I will have the time to read what you write and make spontaneous comments on it.

Blessings all, Barry

Friday, August 13, 2010

Where Do We Start to Form our Biblical Views?

Since I am still away from home and on holidays with friends, I have not had the "privacy" to do any serious study or to write a well-thought through post.  But I have been doing a lot of thinking in the "privacy" of my mind, so I am writing this from some of that thinking.

Most Bible students try to understand the Bible and form their theological views using two rules:
1.  Allow the clear, straight forward verses to help us understand the meaning of difficult or more complex verses.
2.  Force the interpretation of verses that challenge a particular theological view we hold into harmony with the verses that support our already-formed view.

The first of these seems sound and sensible, so I won't comment on it any further.
The second raises some problems.

Firstly, it raises the prospect of us using our current understanding (theology) as the only determiner of the meaning of some difficult verses, thus hiding other possible views from our consideration.
Secondly, it raises the possibility of starting with the wrong set of verses to determine our theology and then trying to make everything else fit.

Let me give an example of this second problem that is very relevant to the topic of this blogsite.

Most people use the verses that describe God's judgement and punishment to form the view that all those who do not get to hear about Jesus and accept him as Saviour before they leave this planet will be tormented in hell forever. We shall call these the judgement-punishment verses - JP verses.

The verses that talk of God's salvation for all and promise that He will be glorified in all things at the end of the ages are paraphrased or interpreted to fit that torment-hell view.  We shall call these the universal reconciliation verses - UR verses.

Mainstream christianity always seems to start with the JP verses and the torment-hell conclusions they invite and either ignore the UR verses or interpret them in a way to fit.  There seem to be very few people who start with the UR verses and the obvious conclusions they demand, and try to interpret the JP verses in a way that is consistent with these conclusions.

Let's be more specific.
JP verses include verses like .....
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them." [John 3 : 36 TNIV]
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." [Matt 25 : 46 TNIV]
"Then I saw a great white throne ..... The dead were judged according to what they had done ..... All whose names were not found written in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire." [Rev 20 : 11 - 15 TNIV]

UR verses include verses like .....
"As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." [1 Cor 15 : 22 TNIV]
"..... we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe." [1 Tim 4 : 10 TNIV]
"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. [1 John 2 : 2 TNIV]

Taking a particular example, readers starting with Rev 20 : 11 - 15 quickly draw the conclusion that unbelievers will be tormented in hell forever.  They then paraphrase 1 Cor 15 : 22 so that it reads something like "For as in Adam all die, so all who are in Christ will be made alive." to fit in with their conclusion from Rev 20, and not contradict it.

However, readers who start with 1 Cor 15 : 22 and draw the conclusion that everyone will be saved eventually, then see all of God's judgements and punishments, even the lake of fire, as remedial and, like all good parents, God is using these to produce better attitudes and behaviours and attitudes in His children so that their relationship with Him will eventually be restored.

So where is our starting point?  Do we start with a God of unconditional love who desires all his children to be saved and in relationship with him eventually, or with God as an angry, vengeful judge who will punish forever his rebellious children (and those of his children who have never heard of Jesus)?

Is the gospel we proclaim one of good news for all, or a mixture of good news for some and very bad news for others?

Jesus said the truth will set us free.  Does the truth of Jesus' death and resurrection set all of his creation free, or only those chosen to belong to Him during their short lives on this planet?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What is Hell?

Today I am in Adelaide on holiday with our friends, Trevor and Nita Cole.  Scanning the magazine section of The Adelaide Advertiser I came across a review of a new book called "The Big Mo", with the subtitle "Why Momentum Now Rules the World", by Mark Roeder.
This really clicked with me, especially while thinking about writing this post.

The popular concept of 'hell', including the view held by mainstream christianity, has gained its own momentum since Augustine got the ball rolling centuries and centuries ago.

It's a bit like the word 'Jesus'.  If you asked an "unchurched" child (a child uneducated about such things) what the word 'Jesus' means, you would most likely get the answer that it is something you say when you get angry or when things aren't going your way.  This would not have been the answer of a generation or two ago, but the momentum of the last few decades would certainly make it so now.

So what is 'hell'?

The common view is that 'hell' is a place of fiery torment where God sends "bad" people forever to execute His justice on them and to appease His wrath.
Even mainstream christianity agrees with this view, while simultaneously declaring that God is love and unconditionally loves all of His creation.

Most people would say that this is the view of the church, and they would be right.  Most people would also say that this is the view of the Bible, but, in this case, they would be wrong.
So let's find the correct or original meaning of the English word 'hell'.

Dictionaries are designed to give the meanings of words as they are used in society.  They are not definitive authorities on the correct meanings of words, but are reporters of the popular and current use of language.  Some dictionaries also give older and even obsolete meanings and uses of words as well, and many discuss word origins and their histories.
Let's see what www.dictionary.com says about 'hell'.

–- Used as a Noun
1. the place or state of punishment of the wicked after death; the abode of evil and condemned spirits; Gehenna or Tartarus.
2. any place or state of torment or misery: They made their father's life a hell on earth.
3. something that causes torment or misery: Having that cut stitched without anesthesia was hell.
4. the powers of evil.
5. the abode of the dead; Sheol or Hades.
6. extreme disorder or confusion; chaos: The children let both dogs into the house, and all hell broke loose.
7. heck.
8. a receptacle into which a tailor throws scraps.
9. Also called hellbox. Printing. a box into which a printer throws discarded type.
10. the utterance of 'hell' in swearing or for emphasis.
11. the hell, Informal.
    a. (used as an intensifier to express surprise, anger, impatience, etc.): Why the hell can't the trains run on time?
    b. (used sarcastically or ironically to express the opposite of what is being stated): Are you listening to me? The hell you are!
–- Used as an Interjection
12. (used to express surprise, irritation, disgust, etc.)

-- Used as a Verb Phrase
13. hell around, Slang.  to live or act in a wild or dissolute manner: All they cared about was drinking and helling around. 

-- Used as an Idiom
14. be hell on, Slang.
    a. to be unpleasant to or painful for.
    b. to be harmful to: These country roads are hell on tyres.
15. for the hell of it, Informal.
    a. to see what will happen; for adventure, fun, excitement, etc.: For the hell of it, let's just get on the next bus and see where it takes us.
    b. with no particular purpose; for no special reason: I called him up for the hell of it, and he offered me a job.
16. get/catch hell, Slang. to suffer a scolding; receive a harsh reprimand: We'll get hell from our parents for staying out so late again.
17. give someone hell, Informal.  to reprimand or reproach severely.
18. go to hell in a handbasket. Informal.
19. hell on wheels, Slang.  extremely demanding, fast-paced, aggressive, effective, or the like: The new job is hell on wheels. Our sales staff is hell on wheels when it comes to getting the most out of every account.
20. like hell, Informal.
    a. with great speed, effort, intensity, etc.: We ran like hell to get home before the storm. She tried like hell to get him to change his mind.
    b. (used sarcastically or ironically to express the opposite of what is being stated): He says the motor will never break down? Like hell it won't!
21. play hell with, Slang.  to deal recklessly with; bring injury or harm to: Snowstorms played hell with the flow of city traffic.
22. raise hell, Slang.
    a. to indulge in wild celebration.
    b. to create an uproar; object violently to: She'll raise hell when she sees what your rabbit has done to her garden.
23. the/to hell with, Informal.  (used to express dismissal, rejection, contempt, disappointment, or the like): If we have to walk five miles to see the view, the hell with it! He wouldn't even speak to me, so to hell with him!
24. what the hell, Informal.  (used to express lack of concern or worry, indifference, abandonment, surrender, etc.): As long as you're borrowing $100, what the hell, borrow $200.

Amazingly, in defintion 5, an original meaning of 'hell' is still listed, although I rarely hear it used this way today.
The original meaning of 'hell' means the concealed or covered or invisible place, and therefore the abode of the dead, or the grave, having been derived from the Saxon word 'helan' meaning 'to cover' or 'to hide'. 

Irish potato farmers regularly talked of helling their potatoes, meaning to mount dirt on them, or to dig holes and bury them, so hiding or covering them.  Even today we still use the word 'helmet', which is a perfect example of the use of this meaning to convey a covering or hiding of the head.

Isn't it amazing how this correct meaning has been almost lost and completely overtaken by an incorrect one, and how this incorrect one has totally infiltrated our language and is used whenever a concept of harm or mayhem is being expressed?

Using the original definition, 'hell', or 'the grave', is then the correct translation of any Hebrew or Greek word used in the Bible that means hidden or concealed or covered, or where these meanings are inferred.  'Sheol' in Hebrew and 'Hades' in Greek should therefore be translated 'hell' (correctly understood) or, better still, 'the grave' while we are trying to rid people of their incorrect understanding of the meaning of 'hell'.

There is no connection with punishment or everlasting torment or fiery judgement.  Even Job said he preferred going to sheol (hell or the grave) rather than staying on earth experiencing God's wrath.

If only you would hide me in the grave (sheol) and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me! [Job 14 : 13 NIV]

The more modern translations have corrected the confusion caused by the KJV in translating 'sheol', but have usually allowed the confusion with 'hades' to remain.
As an aside, it's interesting to note that the translators of the King James Version, steeped in the mainstream understanding of 'hell' as a place of never-ending torment, often translated 'sheol' as 'the grave' when referring to good people and 'hell' when referring to bad people. 

The translation of 'sheol' and 'hades' is easy to sort out with a good Bible dictionary.  The real problems arise when 'hell' is used to translate two other Greek New Testament words.  We'll look at these words and their English translations in another post.

In the meantime, 'hell' is correctly a place of concealment, a place hidden or invisible to others, the abode of the dead in relation to those still on the planet. So whenever we notice the word 'hell' or 'the grave' in our English Bibles, if it is a translation of 'sheol' or 'hades', we can be assured they are correct translations, provided we have the correct definition of 'hell' in mind.