Monday, March 27, 2006

Why We Need Hell

I was going to write a bit of a Lenten reflection on heaven and hell, but Frederica Mathewes-Green does so much better a job of it than I possibly could.

Hell has never been a fashionable destination, but it in recent years it's met a fate that even the most passé hotspots don't endure; people suspect it doesn't exist. Or, if it does exist, it attracts no customers; "we are permitted to hope that hell is empty" is how this is sometimes phrased. Even the most conservative Christians have a hard time putting a positive spin on a wrathful God who flings evildoers into flaming torment.

It is tragic that some Christians have been so battered with stories of a prideful, vindictive God that they have fled from Jesus' fold. No wonder some become atheists; who would want to spend eternity with such a tyrant?

Yet I'm going to make a case for hell, though not the one you see in cartoons, a fiery cavern where demons poke you with pitchforks. Dante made that kind of thing look pretty exciting, but "The Inferno" was written almost 1300 years after the Gospels. When you strip away European and medieval assumptions, and look at the writings of Christians in lands and cultures closer to Jesus' time, you get a different picture…
That's just a teaser; read the whole thing; you will not be disappointed.

She draws her metaphors from Origen and Daniel.

"The same sun that melts wax hardens mud" is how Origen, the 3rd century Egyptian writer, put it. In the 4th century, St. Basil the Great used the story of the three young men in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:1-30) as an illustration: the fire spared the prayerful trio, while the guards who threw them in were destroyed.

I draw my metaphors from South Austin. I was going in the same general direction, but my best example involved the difference in reactions between the dog and the cockroaches when you flip on the kitchen lights. The dog goes to the cabinet for a snack; the roaches flee in panic and horror. I guess that’s why she’s an author and I’m a geek.

By the way, she will be one of the speakers at the 3rd Austin C.S. Lewis Conference at St. Edward’s University, August 29, 2006. The conference topic is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty – Apologetics and the Winsome Christ. I’ve been to the last two conferences, and I do not hesitate to give them a shameless plug. Be there or regret it.