March 7, 2012

Where Does My Mind Place the Power?

Over the past year I've been struggling with certain aspects of God as I have been trying to work towards living the two greatest Commandments, i.e., love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as you love yourself. In this struggle the main thing I've had to re-think and change my views about are the theories of universal reconciliation v. eternal conscious torment.

When I was younger, before the strains of legalism drove me from one church, I had no problem with believing in a literal place of torment for lost souls, and Christ's sacrifice as solely a substitution for the punishment we deserve as sinners. But in the past year, as I have tried to contemplate Christ's love more and more, I kept coming back to the question, "What is the purpose for eternal punishment in hell, and what end does it serve?"

Can the purpose be to teach people, and the end to bring all people to God? That is a very limited view of someone that is far beyond our understanding, and serves more to teach fear rather than love, given the limitations of time in our human lives. Also, the idea that some will be cut off from God for eternity and tortured places severe limitations on God's boundless love and mercy (see Psalms 100 & 136.) It also reinforces the Calvinist notion (which I can neither logically nor emotionally accept) that only some are called to come to Christ, and that His sacrifice is not sufficient to save everyone.

Is it to bring an end to sin? Only in an annihilationist view can it do that. People being subjected to eternal and unrelenting punishment from God would naturally get angrier at God for their situation, cursing him more and more, thereby continuing to sin. Only if hell is viewed as a place of destruction could sin be ended. And if souls in hell become repentant and cry out for salvation, then that makes our view of God similar to a child heading up a teenage clique, secretly enjoying the exclusivity of his club.

Is it to glorify God? In light of the things I've learned about the psychology of boundaries and contamination from Richard Beck's book Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, it's very difficult for me to imagine the glorification of God coming about through the destruction or punishment of His creation that has been damaged by sin. Is an artist somehow glorified when his painting is torn apart?

No matter how inspired or guided by the Holy Spirit we might claim to be, the fact remains that our theology, soteriology, and eschatology is influenced by our psychology. If I hold to a mindset that leans more towards the power of contamination, it is easier to have a conception that even the smallest amount of dirt or sin will inflict damage on God's purity and holiness; then the isolation zone of eternal punishment or annihilation is necessary. If my mindset is more towards the omnipotence of His cleansing power, then it's easier for me to lean more towards the concept of universal reconciliation through that power, and that all will bow at His glory. Not the bowing of the prisoner dragged before the tyrant, but the bowing of love, gratitude and admiration.

His Grace is sufficient.

His lovingkindness is everlasting.

He judges us all.

But, His mercy eventually overwhelms His wrath. The prophets of the Old Testament have testified to that.

His judgment is for returning us to Him.

He seeks the lost and those astray, He binds our injuries and strengthens the weak. He destroys the fat and strong. By feeding them. By feeding them with His judgment.

Does He destroy the fat and strong in their entirety, or does He destroy our fatness and strength?

His strength is perfected in our weakness.

Which is more powerful in my mind, the power of our sin to contaminate His holiness, or the power of His blood to cleanse our sins from us? One answer is self-centered, one answer is God-centered.

Is my regret a net that can dredge the forgetting sea? Is my sin an ax that can fell the Sacred Tree? They are not.

It's not an easy thing to move from letting a negative psychology influence my theology to letting His positive soteriology influence my negative psychology.

He will be all in all, and glorified for evermore, no matter who winds up being right in this debate.

But, my mindset will determine if I can love Him with all my heart, and if I can love you as I love myself.

And ultimately, if I can truly love myself.

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