Sunday, July 17, 2011

And if GOD'S FINAL VICTORY doesn't convince you...'s a nice look at one of the "proof texts" often invoked to support a doctrine of eternal damnation.

In the linked post, Trig Bundgaard turns to the original Greek text to argue that what is being talked about in Matthew 13:40-42 is a purging and redemptive process culminating in salvation, not a punitive rejection leading to endless fiery torment. Bundgaard's point isn't new, but he makes it concisely...and it's a point that apparently needs to be made repeatedly to a Christian community so steeped in the presumption that the Bible "clearly" teaches eternal damnation.

Both John and I have been intrigued by the fact that the Eastern Fathers--and the Eastern Orthodox Church through history--have been historically far more open to universalism than what we find in the Western Church. One explanation for this--an explanation that gets some added support from the considerations raised by Bundgaard--is that the Easter Fathers were reading the New Testament in the original Greek, in which translational issues would not obscure the original meaning.

Gregory of Nyssa's universalism is precisely the version of universalism we find emerging out of Bundgaard's reflection on Matthew 13:40-42: What the Western Church has conceived of as a place of burning punishment is, on the contrary, a refiner's fire--and those who are cast into it are cleansed and purified, and thereby saved.

There are different ways to unpack this refiner's fire metaphor. One can, for example, take it that the experience of alienation from God, at least if it is permitted to continue indefinitely, burns away any illusions and self-deception about what it actually means to exist in alienation from the source of all being and value. Those who choose such alienation are given what they choose, and it is through having what they have chosen that they learn how utterly un-choiceworthy it is.

This notion of a post-mortem "hell" that actually purges away impediments to salvation is, by the way, not original with the New Testament authors, let alone with Gregory of Nyssa and Origen and others like them who read the New Testament in universalist terms. The Zoroastrians, who strongly influenced the Jewish community out of which Christianity was born, held that the damned were seduced by a lie and thereby fell into the clutches of Ahriman (the Zoroastrian Devil). But once in Ahriman's grasp, the lie was exposed--by the Devil's own gloating! And so the Devil himself sowed the seeds of the damned's eventual salvation.

1 comment:

  1. I like that post and the one you linked to. It's funny how a "plain, commonsense" reading of an English translation can sometimes steer people in the wrong direction.

    From a while ago and the Jesus Creed stuff, I laughed when I read this comment over there:

    "What gives Keiton the right to establish these three criteria for hell’s “fairness”? What does he base them on? His own moral compass? As the first comment noted, they certainly aren’t scriptural, so on what authority should we accept them?"

    lol, lol, lol. "Keiton." I think you made a good point about the need for God to adhere to logical consistency, otherwise reasoning about doctrine is meaningless. We may not be able to reason everything out, but we also shouldn't just punt to the idea that because God is beyond our understanding, then God can do things that are logically contradictory.