The Northern Hawk Owl amber ale in the cask set the tone for a nice, low-key evening of discussion, with some potentially hot topics. Great to have the wisdom of a philosopher again in our midst (C), not to mention the always insightful Presbyterian contingent (D and N), the resident a-theists (S & R), some new voices of wisdom (S, K and M!), and some of us who just like beer (J & A, and B). Not to be forgotten was the late arrival of our local fashion and health consultants (B and E). I am sure I have forgotten some others, but then I arrived at Right Brain at 2pm to reserve our usual seat -maybe I should rethink that strategy.
where is Jesus?
1. Studies show that empathy is tied to our awareness of our own and others’ mortality. Will heaven be without empathy?
2. Was Jesus able to come down from the cross? Could he have blown it to a ‘million smithereens’ if he wished?
3. A physicist: “One must always allow for alternative theories.”
A theologian: “Using God as an explanation is not an explanation.”
What do you think?
4. ‘Freedom in Christ.’ What does(n’t) it mean?
5. What does it mean to say: ‘Jesus is here’?
6. “The traditional understanding of hell perpetuates the cycle of violence for eternity, and it is divine violence that does it.” Are we stuck with violence and evil forever?
7a. “Instead of bringing God to ‘unreached’ places and ‘unreached’ peoples, I find countless missionaries who say that, while this was how they once thought, time and again they find that these unreached places are the very sites where they must go to find God and to be reached. How many of us have learned too late that our initial idea, that by serving the world we will help bring God to others, has eclipsed the wisdom that in serving the world we find God there.” Is it presumptuous to ‘bring God’ somewhere?
7b. “There is no empathy in heaven, because there is no mortality. There is no empathy in utopia, because there is
no suffering.” In other words, those entering heaven will have to leave their empathetic sensibilities at the Pearly
Gates, because there cannot be empathy for those left behind. If there were, there would be regret and sadness,
and these are not permitted. What is interesting to note about the incarnation is that Jesus had to leave
‘heaven’ in order to properly empathize with us. Is heaven sterile?
8. “A story told often enough, and confirmed often enough in daily life, ceases to be a tale and is accepted as reality itself.” Discuss.
Through me the way into the suffering city,
through me the way to the eternal pain,
through me the way that runs among the lost.
Justice urged on my high artificer;
My maker was divine authority,
The highest wisdom, and the primal love.
Before me nothing but eternal things
Were made, and I endure eternally.
Abandon every hope, who enter here.
– Sign on the gate into hell, in Dante, Inferno, Canto 3
It’s been a couple days since, so I’ll focus the recap to heaven and hell.
Heaven was an interesting topic, as a couple of people felt that a utopian heaven of perfection would be theoretically impossible because different people would have different ideas of what perfection is, and therefore it would be impossible for everyone to be the same amount of happy all the time, forever. In other words, one person’s junk is another person’s treasure – but how do you account for everyone without making someone upset? Some also noted that anything that was repeated over and over forever would eventually become hell, even if it started out as your favorite thing (I do love Tetris though). Others of us felt that God would be able to pull off something that gave each person meaning and satisfaction that would not result in stupefying boredom, and that the presence of God himself would preclude that (though isn’t he present now?). We also noted that heaven (or the new creation), may well be outside of time as we know it, and so it is hard for us to think about what that is presently like, this side of things.
If you’re going to talk about heaven, hell, you naturally think about those who ‘don’t get in’. Will people in heaven be aware of them? Will this go over well? (We noted that Jonathan Edwards and others said that the chief delight of people in heaven will be awareness of the suffering of the unrighteous in hell. “Hey Joe – watch this guy – he’s going to really burn in a minute” Can you honestly imagine?) Will everyone eventually be reconciled to God or will some people remain in suffering forever? Discussion on hell was interesting, particularly the fact that no one seemed interested in defending the traditional view of eternal, conscious torment, even as I attempted to articulate it. Ideas of separation from God, of loneliness, of constantly needing more of your own space (a la The Great Divide), as well as – ‘maybe we’ve just made a lot of this stuff up by misreading texts and importing assumptions’.
There’s been a lot of talk about hell and universalism of late with Rob Bell’s new book impending. A couple of good blog posts on hell have shown up this week, so I encourage you to read them over:
To Hell With It on Gathered Introspections, by the incredibly wise and wonderful Christy Berghoef. (no relation) Wait – she’s in the other room! OK OK > she paid me to link to her post. With dinner.
Can Anyone Explain to Me Why People Should BURN in Hell FOREVER? – by Kester Brewin