While surfing...er....researching....... recently, I came upon comments from two preacher/teachers about hell. These guys might appear, on the surface, to come from different worlds (galaxies?)
The theme song from the Patty Duke show comes to mind when I think about these two.....
One pair of matching bookends, Different as night and day.
Shane Claiborne...modern day Jesus Freak hippie living in inner city Philadelphia founder of the New Monastic Community, The Simple Way. The other...Richard Rohr...a contemplative Franciscan friar, founder of the Center for Contemplative Action. One young...the other a bit past middle age. Do a search on google images and you will find pictures of these guys....one balding, the other with long hair....even long dreadlocks. But they both seem to...in their own way....to have taken to heart the "red letters" in the New Testament. Red Letter Christians.
So anyway, as I was scurrying here and there all over the world wide web the other day I came upon an article written by Shane Claiborne about The Gates of Hell. And later, in another corner of the internet, I came upon a quote by Richard Rohr....on one of the anti cult, "sound the warning trumpet blast" web sites.
Again, I would like to thank them and all the anti-cult, defenders of the "true gospel" web sites for providing the absolute best quotes....quotes that must take a lot of digging and searching. They provide gems that would take countless hours of searching web sites, reading books, listening to audio, watching videos. They post the quotes to prove heresy...but for heretics like me, they are a huge blessing. Just goes to show that sometimes God uses us in spite of ourselves...and not at all in the way we plan to be used. But I digress.
Let's start with Richard Rohr.....
From an interview with Stephen Crittenden of The Religion Report on ABC Radio National:
Stephen Crittenden: Let me just finally give another example from the opposite side of the ledger. There’s a great term called universalism. And I guess at base it’s the idea that in the end, no-one’s in hell, everyone’s going to heaven, that the crucifixion ultimately saved everyone and God’s mercy will gather everyone according to some .even Judas and Satan in the end will be saved. Often hearing John Paul II I thought to myself Actually at base, he’s a Universalist. Some of the things Benedict has written suggests the same. I think the vast majority probably of Australian Catholics these days are Universalists.
Richard Rohr: In effect, yes. Well, you know -
Stephen Crittenden: Which doesn’t mean they know they’re going to heaven, but they hope that everybody, including the Buddhists and the Hindus and the Jews and the Muslims, everybody will be saved.
Richard Rohr: Isn’t that a marvelous act of trust in the mercy and victory of God. If we say God is victorious, what else would God’s victory be? Is God so small that God’s victory can only win over a few? I think that’s the sad commentary on much of Christian history, but the wonderful thing is, that we find a constant sub-text, starting in the scriptures themselves, starting in Isaiah, of language of all, of language of everybody. It’s called apocatostisis in Greek, which means universal restoration. It was believed by any number of the early fathers of the church, taught in various forms, subtle forms very often, but you can see that it was a hope, it was a desire, it was the yearning of the spirit that God’s victory has to be this great, and has to be this big. It’s interesting, that like we in the Catholic Church have officially proclaimed many people to be in heaven, we call them saints. We have never proclaimed a single person to be in hell. Now that’s rather telling. We never said we are sure Hitler’s in hell, we are sure Judas is in hell, we’ve never said that. That reveals something; and I think it’s the hope planted in us by the Holy Spirit of the nature of God’s love. Is grace is true; we’ve got to take it to its logical conclusion. If you and I are loved, in spite of ourselves, then what’s the cut-off point of worthiness and unworthiness? Now I have to receive that, I have to surrender to that, but I think God has led all of us to surrender in spite of ourselves. So for God to allow that, God to do that, in death, after death, that’s easy for me to trust.
I figure anytime you are about to talk about hell it's good to start with a joke, so here we go?.It was a busy day in heaven as folks waited in line at the pearly gates. Peter stood as gatekeeper checking each newcomer's name in the Lamb's Book of Life. But there was some confusion, as the numbers were not adding up. Heaven was a little overcrowded, and a bunch of folks were unaccounted for. So some of the angels were sent on a mission to investigate things. And it was not long before two of them returned, "We found the problem," they said. "Jesus is out back, lifting people up over the gate."
Yep…that sounds like something Jesus might do :-)
Shane talks about his views on the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats...and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus....neither of which I totally agree with...but the point of this post is to talk about what I do agree with....
Nowadays many of us spend a lot of time pondering and theologizing about heaven on earth and God's Kingdom coming here (and rightly so!), but it seems we would also do well to do a little work with the reality of hell. Hell is not just something that comes after death, but something many are living in this very moment? 1.2 billion people that are groaning for a drop of water each day, over 30,000 kids starving to death each day, 38 million folks dying of AIDS. It seems ludicrous to think of preaching to them about hell. I see Jesus spending far more energy loving the "hell" out of people, and lifting people out of the hells in which they are trapped, than trying to scare them into heaven. And one of the most beautiful things we get to see in community here in Kensington, is people who have been loved out of the hells that they find themselves in - domestic violence, addiction, sex trafficking, loneliness.
So according to Shane, hell is not just an afterlife concept...but alive and flourishing in the land of the living. There truly is a hell on earth. And it is not just the ones listed above...the addicts, the abused, the exploited...the lonely, the hungry, the sick....but it is also those who have too much...who live in suburbia, in their own little selfish world of Me, Myself and I. He talks about the gates of hell.
Jesus reassures Peter: "The gates of Hell will not prevail against you."
He talks a bit about what he used to think this phrase meant...and what he thinks it means now.
Gates are not offensive weapons. Gates are defensive - walls and fences we build to keep people out. God is not saying the gates of hell will not prevail as they come at us. God is saying that we are in the business of storming the gates of hell, and the gates will not prevail as we crash through them with grace.
And now the part about suburbia....
Just as we are building walls to keep people out of our comfortable, insulated existence, we are trapping ourselves in a hell of isolation, loneliness and fear. We have "gated communities" where rich folks live. We put up picket fences around our suburban homes. We place barbed wire and razer-wire around our buildings and churches. We put bars on our windows in the ghettos of fear. We build up walls to keep immigrants from entering our country. We guard our borders with those walls - Berlin, Jerusalem, Jericho. And the more walls and gates and fences we have, the closer we are to hell.
Let us pray that God would give us the strength to storm the gates of hell, and tear down the walls we have created between those whose suffering would disrupt our comfort. May we become familiar with the suffering of the poor outside our gates, know their names, and taste the salt in their tears?
And in the New Jerusalem, the great City of God, "on no day will its gates ever be shut." The gates of the Kingdom will forever be open. (Revelation 21:25)
I wrote about this a while back on another post...about, in part, universalism.
Eventually everyone straggles though the gate.....every knee bows, every tongue confesses and every tear is wiped away.
In Revelation chapter 22 .... which is the very last “that’s all she wrote” chapter of the Bible, verse 17 says
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
Huh? To whom is this invitation extended? Aren’t all God’s people already included in the “bride”? Could it be the ones still “outside”...the dogs, the sorcerers, the immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying? The ones from verse 15? Who else would they bid, “Come”? Come and drink...without cost."
And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
And the invitation remains open until the last “each in their own order” hold out straggles through the Gates...weary knees finally bow....joyful proclamations that Jesus is Lord. Tears of joy and repentance gently wiped away. Behold, he makes all things new.
The offer never expires, the invitation is never withdrawn, the welcome mat is never rolled up and put away, the Gate is never closed. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”