By Robin Schumacher, Exclusive Columnist
photo above: pxhere.com
WN: Interesting that the photo chosen for the article highlighted below (not shown above) is along the lines of what Larry Dixon wrote (The Other Side of the Good News: Contemporary Challenges to Jesus’ teaching on hell) in apparent approval of an instance of “horrific violence” by the U.S. Empire in the first Gulf War:
A brave journalist who was in Baghdad when the bombs landed, cried out in his television report, ‘I have been in hell.’ As horrible as war is we would have to say to him, ‘No, you haven’t. If we understand Jesus correctly, war is only a small foreshadowing of that final condition of the forsaken (p. 14, emphasis in original).’
Besides the sanctimonious piety in these kinds of warnings, the tragic flaw in Dixon’s book begins with the title: there is no other side to the Good News, or it simply ceases to be such . . .
Or as 19th-century American newspaper columnist, Matt Miller, wrote in an ironic riff on Evangelicals’ all-time favourite verse, John 3:16 (I love the verse too!):
For God so loved the world that he temporarily died to save it from himself. But none of that really matters because most people will be tortured for eternity anyways.
John Alexander dedicates his book, Your Money or Your Life: A New Look at Jesus’ View of Wealth and Power (1986), to his father this way: “He is an unusual fundamentalist; for he believes that inerrancy extends to the teachings of Jesus.”
After “world,” “whosoever,” “perish,” and “life” the footnote reads: “except our enemies.” They must in fact be exterminated–and be relegated to hell (whom as God’s enemies Christians are to hate with a pure zeal, so claims Larry Dixon, discussion of whose sad book is in my: WAR AND HELL – and Exception-Clause Footnote Theology)! Yet, I was always taught in my upbringing it was the “Liberals,” so-claimed masters of the exception clause and footnote theology, who played fast and loose with Scripture…
It seems almost invariably the case that apologists such as the writer of the article highlighted below spend inordinate energy “apologizing” for an image of God that if true, would so fundamentally contradict all ethical concepts of human decency, that one could simply grant them such a “god”–and be done with the entire travesty of religion! I feel for such defenders of an image of God that profoundly contradicts everything we know about our Christlike God.1
Kill them all. God will recognize his own.
How lovely and endearing of “god!”
Western Christian Crusaders with that kind of logic have been functioning thus off and on throughout Western colonial history. A modern quip by an American Christian military general that I heard goes something like:
Of course God loves _____! (That is, whatever flavour of enemy at the moment.) Our job is to arrange their meeting!
Again I say: How lovely and endearing of “god!”
Martin Luther in Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants 3 wrote:
Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog.
At minimum, that sounds a tad anti-Christ . . . Of the 300,000 or so peasants who revolted, as many as 100,000 were mercilessly slaughtered. Martin Luther and other Magisterial Reformers condemned the uprising and clearly sided with the nobles. One might even say theirs was a kind of theology from hell . . .
Some historians argue that a direct line may be drawn from Martin Luther in the early 16th century to Donald Trump in the 21st. There is likewise a tragic direct line to be drawn between Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler.4
Belief in hell of eternal conscious torment certainly helps in allowing/supporting that such a destination for some gets an early start . . .
It seems certain, as theologian Stephen Travis observes5, that those most invested in a literal hell of “eternal conscious torment” are simultaneously most assured they will never land there . . .
So Mr. Schumacher observes in the article highlighted:
This doesn’t mean that we necessarily sit unbelievers down and read through Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God message, but rather that we move ourselves far beyond the flippant take-it-or-leave-it attitude we often have about others’ salvation. As A. W. Tozer wrote, we shouldn’t think of ourselves as neutral diplomats “but prophets; we are not delivering a compromise, but an ultimatum.”
That sounds arrogant at first [it does!], but properly understood, it is anything but. In discussing the thorny subject of hell with others, it’s important that we convey to them that, contrary to what many believe, hell is not a place where God sends people who are especially bad. The truth is, it’s everyone’s default destination (including us).
A variation then on Matt Miller’s observation is: God created hell as pre-ordained destination for all humanity since the “Fall.” “Jesus”-as-all-but-Cipher in such a view is really only useful as a Cosmic Ticket to another destination: heaven. But too bad if you haven’t even heard of Jesus-the-Travel-Voucher for posthumous bliss (the case for the overwhelming majority of humanity). Or you may of course never get around to getting that Ticket; or according to some, possibly lose it if once possessed . . . (Just where did I hide that?!)
This notion creates a dilemma though, as observed by Dixon:
Obviously, no follower of Christ wants to be guilty of presenting God as one more heinous than Hitler. However, if the Bible is clear on this issue, the Christian must not throw in the towel (pp. 149 & 150, emphasis in the original).
And the author proceeds to present God in his holy hatred of sinners precisely in those terms: as one more heinous than Hitler!
Jesus gives us a new ethic of life affirming mercy, which sets aside the old ethic that supported death penalties. Biblicists who desire to condemn sinners to death can quote the Bible by citing Moses. But Jesus says something else. That is why I was so appalled when a well-known evangelical leader wrote an opinion piece for CNN defending the death penalty by citing Moses, yet never once mentioned Jesus. We cannot create Christian ethics while ignoring Christ!—Brian Zahnd in: Clarion Call to Love: Essays in Gratitude to Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Brad Jersak, Editor (2018).
The contingent clause is of course Dixon’s: “. . . if the Bible is clear on this issue . . .” And that means interpretation.
On this “if,” we read in theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar‘s Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?: With a Short Discourse on Hell, a quote from The Church’s Confession of Faith: A Catholic Catechism for Adults, published by the German Bishops’ Conference, English edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), p. 346:
Neither Holy Scripture nor the Church’s Tradition of faith asserts with certainty of any man that he is actually in hell. Hell is always held before our eyes as a real possibility, one connected with the offer of conversion and life.
Yes, the theologian concludes, we may dare hope. The three Theological Virtues are: Faith, Hope and Charity. (Wikipedia). “But the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13) So I rest in these Virtues as fundamental to who God is. Further conjecture about hell I make not.
In my fictional novel–Chrysalis Crucible–about my evangelistic experience in West Berlin, the protagonist Andy at one point is touring Dachau Concentration Camp north of Munich.6 Suddenly the penny drops for Andy and there is blazing new insight–almost an epiphany–about what “hell” meant in that context. We read:
Then a realization blasted into his consciousness like the imagined sudden blistering heat of those ovens at full burn: Dachau is Christendom’s most perfect human picture of hell!
The parallels overwhelmed. God is Hitler. The ovens are God’s specially built chambers of eternal conscious torment, to which human victims by the billions are fed because they refused to take the hand of the feudal lord’s son in marriage.7
Jesus the Jilted Lover, whose cry of wrath echoed throughout the Corrupted Cosmos. Only unlike Daniel and his companions in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, these victims would experience the full suffering of the oven for ever and ever, God be praised, amen! For there even the worm “dieth not.” This was Christendom’s “god.” This was Evangelicals’ hell. This was what Billy Graham warned his listeners about, what G. E. [head of the mission organization] holds onto in his evangelistic vision of deity. This was the deep dark open secret about Neal Steinhauer’s [conversion story in a tract distributed at the 1972 Munich Olympics], Bill Bright’s [founder of Campus Crusades for Christ; writer of the mass produced evangelistic booklet: The Four Spiritual Laws], Evangelicals’ “God who loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
“Nein!,” Christendom, Evangelicals, Christians, Billy [Graham] declare. But their eyes betray them. Deep down, they all say, “Yes!” This was the fundamental, fundamentalist, Evangelical footnote theology of John 3:16. This was the truth about their god: God is the Ultimate Sadist of the Universe, whom tomorrow, with a smile, they would invite Olympic-goers to meet through a personal relationship with Christ.
“Open House at Adolf Hitler’s from 1:00-3:00 today. Come get to know him, whom to know is to love,” the personal invitations all read, with Neal Steinhauer’s signature at the bottom. The small print reads, “But we’re constrained to say: If you turn down the invitation today, tomorrow it’s into the ovens. Sorry. ‘His mercy lasts for a moment (two hours to be exact), but his wrath is everlasting [inverse order of Psalm 3o:5].’ Have a nice day and a bright forever—though it may not be quite the kind of ‘brightness’ you imagined…”
As I was reading Jesus and John Wayne, I couldn’t help but be reminded of comparison between extreme right-wing evangelicalism and extreme right-wing Islam. The parallels between the masculine militancy, absolute patriarchal authority and subordination of women and sexuality can’t be missed. When I talked to my wife about this, she also drew a parallel. It must be something to do with far right-wing religion, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and even Buddhism. The more right-wing, the less tolerance there is of “the other” and the more likelihood of resorting to violence through power. The culture of violence in right-wing Islam and in right-wing evangelicalism seems remarkably similar.—another very wise friend, Allen Harder, in an email, 10/06/21 (full comment on page with review of Jesus and John Wayne).
A wise friend, Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, in a recent email exchange wrote:
Evangelicals are, in my opinion, the primary driving force of atheism in America. We are a very small voice attempting to counter that, but I suspect that ultimately Evangelicals and fundamentalists will prove to be house wreckers to Christianity.
Unfortunately, the Evangelical movement has become nothing more than a pharisaic apocalyptic cult. Unfortunately, they have a great deal of political power in the United States. They really represent a “Taliban Christianity,” and they would be an unholy terror if they really gained the political position that they desire. It seems they have forgotten about the heavenly kingdom and seek to establish their kingdom in the politics of this world.
I fear there is much truth in that observation. At least this: It has never worked in the past!–with that kind of violent Christianity 8.
Schumacher, his article highlighted below, and Dixon tragically appear to fit that portrayal.
American evangelical historian/sociologist Douglas Frank published Less Than Conquerors: How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986.) He argued that the core characteristic of dominant evangelicalism is indeed as the Archbishop observes, a spirit of pharisaism; a spirit not likely easily to disappear from those who set the evangelical agenda. He yearned nonetheless for
… a church that awakens to the Stranger, Jesus Christ, the Jesus Christ of the biblical witness; not the denatured, ideologically and morally useful Jesus Christ of evangelicalism… (p. 277).
The Epilogue’s penultimate paragraph reads:
Whether in auspicious or declining times, as we have seen, we display a tenacious commitment to self-deceit. It is true that we are those who like to think we heed Jeremiah’s words, ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.’ Our history, however, gives evidence of Jeremiah’s wisdom in adding these words: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?’ (Jer. 17:7, 9). In our very protests of trust in the Lord, we find occasion for our deepest self-deceits (p. 278)
Kevin Miller produced the movie Hellbound? in 2012 to look at changing views on the doctrine of hell. As he began “exploring” hell, partially motivated by having read his friend Brad Jersak’s (highly-reccommended) book, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell and the New Jerusalem, he was alerted to the publication of Rob Bell’s Love Wins. (A play, “The Christians” by Lucas Hnath, based on Rob Bell’s experience of losing his own church after publication of that book, is well worth taking in.)
This very sad, even some form of (scary?) [almost] fatwa-inviting publication is why the Gospel is widely rejected.
Eventually Miller’s documentary showed in movie theatres throughout North America in 2012.
Kevin took a lot of flak from production of the movie. Sadly he has been similarly vilified with this new publication. He talks about this and his movie, and other things, in a compelling interview, October 9, 2017, here.
List of Contributors:
• Frank Schaeffer
• Brad Jersak
• Ron Dart
• Michael Hardin
• Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
• Julie Ferwerda
• Sharon L. Putt
• Joshua Tongol
• Brian Zahnd
• Randal Rauser
• Jaime Clark-Soles
• Robin Parry
• Thomas Talbott
• Kevin Miller
• Adam Ericksen
• Jackson Baer
• Rayborn Johnson
• Andrew Klager
• Heath Bradley
• Richard Beck
• Christopher Morrissey
• Eric Reitan
• Matthew Peter Klein
• Wayne Northey
• Derek Flood
Kevin introduces the new book thus:
In September 2012, the feature-length documentary Hellbound? was released in theaters across North America. Joining a growing chorus of voices that were questioning the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal conscious torment, the film asked a handful of “burning” questions. Does hell exist? If so, who goes there, and why? More importantly, what do our views about hell say about us and our understanding of God? And how do our beliefs about these issues affect the kind of world we create, the kind of people we become?
Five years later, the debate over hell is far from settled, but the landscape in which such questions are being asked has changed radically. Hence, filmmaker Kevin Miller decided it was time to go back to some of the people who appear in Hellbound? and others he met along the way to get their input on how the debate has shifted and how it’s remained the same. The result is a plethora of voices offering all sorts of perspectives, some highly academic, some polemic, some intensely personal, and all bound to impact how readers think and feel about this issue.
At least this: in my two years of evangelism on the streets of West Berlin, I suffered from:
- a kind of arrogance about having “the truth”
- a hopelessness about a message whose sting was out of all proportion to any human understanding of justice or love
- a joylessness that was all law and no grace.
To give an oft-used biblical saying in evangelistic context an ironic twist:
Do you gain anything if you win the whole world [to Christ-as-Sentencing-Judge] but lose your life? Of course not! (Mark 8:36, Good News Translation)
That did it. At this point, Archbishop Lazar [Puhalo]’s face grew stern. His long index finger grew towards my face, correcting me with these firm words: “NO! Jesus is the Word of God. And any scripture that claims to be a revelation of that God must bow to the living God when he came in the flesh. ‘No man has seen God at any time, but God the only Son, who was in the bosom of the Father—He has made him known.’ ” I was both duly chastened and filled with joy. The hair on my head stood up and my entire body tingled with goose flesh. I have never forgotten, and will never forget that lesson. It is not merely a word about reading I Samuel 15 or every Old Testament call to genocide. What Archbishop Lazar made crystal clear is the truth that every conception of God has always been imperfect prior to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ as the final and only perfect revelation of God, fulfilling, completing and correcting all previous revelations.—Brad Jersak in Clarion Call of Love: Essays in Gratitude to Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Preface
When we try to pray, we must have some idea of God in our minds, and this idea will influence how we pray and whether we pray. As a university chaplain I used to spend much time listening to people who had either given up their Catholic faith, or were thinking of doing so, or they were worried about their own honesty in continuing as Catholics when they felt that they no longer really believed in the teachings of the Catholic Church. Having listened to them, I always tried to encourage them to speak about their own understanding of God. After many conversations, an identikit image of God formed in my imagination.
God was a family relative, much admired by Mum and Dad, who described God as very loving, a great friend of the family, very powerful and interested in all of us. Eventually we are taken to visit ‘Good Old Uncle George’. He lives in a formidable mansion, is bearded, gruff and threatening. We cannot share our parents’ professed admiration for this jewel in the family. At the end of the visit, Uncle George turns to address us. ‘Now listen, dear,’ he begins, looking very severe, ‘I want to see you here once a week, and if you fail to come, let me just show you what will happen to you.’ He then leads us down to the mansion’s basement. It is dark, becomes hotter and hotter as we descend, and we begin to hear unearthly screams. In the basement there are steel doors. Uncle George opens one. ‘Now look in there, dear,’ he says. We see a nightmare vision, an array of blazing furnaces with little demons in attendance, who hurl into the blaze those men, women and children who failed to visit Uncle George or to act in a way he approved. ‘And if you don’t visit me, dear, that is where you will most certainly go’, says Uncle George. He then takes us upstairs again to meet Mum and Dad. As we go home, tightly clutching Dad with one hand and Mum with the other, Mum leans over us and says, ‘And now don’t you love Uncle George with all your heart and soul, mind and strength?’ And we, loathing the monster, say, ‘Yes I do,’ because to say anything else would be to join the queue at the furnace. At a tender age religious schizophrenia has set in and we keep telling Uncle George how much we love him and how good he is and that we want to do only what pleases him. We observe what we are told are his wishes and dare not admit, even to ourselves, that we loathe him.10
For one of my first publications on Restorative Justice, a Mennonite teacher in Winnipeg edited it. I worked then for Mennonite Central Committee Canada, and travelled to their headquarters in Winnipeg a few times yearly. On one such trip, I invited my editor out for lunch to express personally my gratitude.
He told me that he had been part of a Mennonite Church all his life; and was then an elder in one. When he read in my piece that Restorative Justice reflects the very heart of God, he told me that in his entire life, “God” in his conceptualization was more scary than any idea of Satan. He told me he dared not hope that God was as portrayed in my writing . . . I find that tragic.
Yet millions have struggled in the West with that image of God. One could even conjecture, to expand the Archbishop’s lines as quoted above, that more people in the West have turned away from God due to that brutal punitive image, than the sum total of the catch of the multiple evangelists throughout Western Christendom . . .
One may ask and respond:
- WWJE? Whom Would Jesus Embrace? Everyone.
- How many times? Seventy times seven or limitlessly.
- But what about hell? Theologian Lee Griffith wrote in “Redeeming Hell” (The Other Side magazine, July/August 1997):
This is the fire of hell. This is the eternal torment. Those who would reject all love are forced to endure it… Jesus is already there preaching to the unreachable and loving the unlovable… We cannot escape God’s love. In Jesus, God invades not only the earth but hell itself. God is the one who decides to go to hell. Hallelujah and amen.
The only hell there is biblically is that of our own making in failure to “love”–actively seeking to draw into our circle of friends–God and neighbour: the two great poles of human freedom. God on the other hand is determined to empty hell of its clutches forever–in every human heart. Novelist Georges Bernanos’ country priest says, reflecting the biblical material:
Hell is not to love any more, Madame. Not to love any more!
This is consonant with much Eastern Orthodox understanding. In Hell And God’s Love: An Alternative, Orthodox View, Eric Simpson, we read:
The same fire, the love of God, that ignites in the hearts of the faithful transmutes in the experience of those who reject it into the fire of hell; it purifies the former, but burns the latter, per St. Isaac the Syrian:
It is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is a child of the knowledge of truth, and is unquestionably given commonly to all. But love’s power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it. (Homily 84)
Hell in this view is understood as the presence of God experienced by a person who, through the use of free will, rejects divine love. He is tortured by the love of God, tormented by being in the eternal presence of God without being in communion with God. God’s love is the fire that is never quenched, and the disposition and suffering of the soul in the presence of God who rejects him is the worm that does not die. Whether one experiences the presence of love as heaven or hell is entirely dependent on how he has resolved his own soul to be disposed towards God, whether communion or separation, love or hatred, acceptance or rejection.
Hell, then, is not primarily a place where God sends people in his wrath, or where God displays anger, but rather, it is the love of God, experienced by one who is not in communion with him. The figurative, spiritual fire of God’s love is transcendent joy to the person purified and transfigured by it through communion in the body of Christ, but bottomless despair and suffering to the person who rejects it, and chooses to remain in communion with death.
Amen! and Amen!
There is much more on this website about hell.
It still both terrifies and convicts me every time I watch it.
A Letter from Hell! is a very short video that fictionalizes an exchange between a young guy named Josh who resides in hell and his friend Zach who is still alive on earth. Josh’s letter to Zach decries his friend’s neglect where telling him about Jesus is concerned. Josh’s agony and fury at his friend are summed up at the end where he writes, “P.S. Wish you were here.”
Even though I used the video nearly a decade ago when teaching through the subject of hell, it continues to chill me when I listen to it. It reminds me of the seriousness of hell and my responsibility to warn unbelievers about it.
A frightening reality
In a New York Times opinion piece, theologian/philosopher David Bentley Hart writes: “The idea of eternal damnation is neither biblically, philosophically nor morally justified.” Hart (a universalist) has plenty of company these days, which is not so surprising considering the very first Christian doctrine to be denied was judgment:
“The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die … The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!” (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:4).
Lots of people say the same thing today. Even C.S. Lewis admitted, “There is no doctrine I would more willingly remove from Christianity than [hell], if it lay in my power…”
Charlie Peace was a notorious English criminal who lived in the 1800’s. When he was being taken to the gallows, a priest followed him reading about heaven and hell.
At the mention of hell, Peace reportedly said: “Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!”
Charles Spurgeon captures that same sense of gravity when he says, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
Please click on: Schumacher’s Message from HellFootnotes
- Theologian Brad Jersak has written much on this theme: A More Christlike God.
- We read in The Origins of “kill Them All and Let God Sort It Out”:
Cathars were Christians. But they rejected the authority of the Pope and other key aspects of Catholicism, so they were deemed heretics by the Catholic Church.
This apparently didn’t matter much to most people living in the French town of Beziers.
Catholics and Cathars had lived there together for many years in relative harmony.
On July 22, 1209, they were celebrating the annual Feast of Mary Magdalene together, a religious holiday observed by various Christian religions.
Suddenly, the festivities were cut short when an army of “Crusaders” sent by Pope Innocent III showed up outside the walls of the town.
The military leader of the army was Simon de Montfort, a French nobleman highly motivated by the Pope’s promise that he could keep the land of any heretics he killed.
The Crusaders were accompanied by an official representative of the Pope, a French Cistercian monk named Arnaud Amalric (also variously referred to as Arnald Amalric and Arnauld-Amaury).
De Montfort demanded that the leaders of Beziers turn over the town’s Cathar heretics to him. They refused. The Crusaders attacked.
According to accounts written decades later, as the attack began, a soldier asked Amalric how they would be able to tell which Beziers townspeople were Catholics and which were Cathars.
Amalric supposedly answered (in French):
“Kill them all. God will recognize his own.”
Some sources give the alleged quote as “Kill them all, for the Lord knows his own” or as “Kill them all. The Lord knows his own.”
It eventually came to be most commonly paraphrased as:
“Kill them all and let God sort them out.”
- The nuanced context may be found here: Luther: To kill a peasant is not murder
- An abstract of a superb paper (a Master’s Thesis by Daphne M. Olsen entitled “Luther and Hitler: A Linear Connection between Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler’s Anti-Semitism with a Nationalistic Foundation”), on this issue reads:
Two of the most notoriously unshakable Anti-Semitics were the Protestant reformer Martin Luther and German Chancellor-turned dictator Adolf Hitler. But who exactly were Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler? Although four centuries apart, both Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler had a remarkable impact on both Germany and the world. Luther is renowned still today as the initiator and leader of the Protestant Reformation. Centuries later, Lutherans and Germans alike admire and honor him for his bold and daring actions against the Catholic Church in the 1500s. Hitler remains one of the most hated men in history. The similarities shared between Luther and Hitler were not limited to their hatred for anything Jewish, however. Both men were led by a strong sense of German nationalism and a yearning for unity among their fellow Germans.
What exactly was it about these two men that allowed them to start a rebellion and garner support from their fellow Germans? More importantly, what led them to live a life filled with rage and hatred, and why was it directed toward the Jews? Was there something about the German people in particular that allowed them to be susceptible to the leadership of Luther and Hitler? Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler are inseparably linked with their extreme anti-Semitism and nationalism. It is impossible to assume that Luther did not have any influence on Hitler and his views, for it cannot be mere coincidence that Hitler’s anti-Jewish sentiment of the 1930s and 1940s mirrors that of Luther’s anti-Semitism of the 1500s. This paper will explore the connection between Luther and Hitler; it will attempt to illustrate the similarities between their German nationalism and anti-Semitism, and explain how Luther laid the foundation for Hitler’s holocaust.
- Christ and the Judgment of God: Divine Retribution in the New Testament, Baker Academic; 2nd edition, 2009.
- It was the first and arguably the worst of the Nazi camps. Heinrich Himmler established it in March 1933. Under Theodor Eicke, the first Camp Commandant and later inspector of all the camps, Dachau became the model for a whole new level of mass brutality; many victims thrown alive into its fiery furnaces. It was also ‘murder school’ for the infamous SS.
- Earlier in the novel, Andy had been challenged to rethink hell through wrestling with what God as feudal Lord might be like in demanding brutal “satisfaction” for humanity’s sin–some promoters of the satisfaction theory of the atonement then and now drew on a feudal context in the 11th century and subsequently–based upon a violent view of the atonement:
Andy imagined what it would mean to be the son of a feudal lord in some ancient time who fell madly in love with the beautiful daughter of a serf. The lord of the manor would finally approach the daughter’s father at the repeated bidding of his son. “My son would have your daughter’s hand in marriage,” he would declare, and proceed with an announcement of all the arrangements to be made.
He imagined if, when the father presented this to his daughter, she refused the son’s intentions.
“But you must understand,” the lord of the manor would declare to the father, with his son present, “my son does love her greatly, and has a marvellous plan for her life that he cannot wait to unfold for her. But,” his tone would turn menacing, “if she refuses my son’s hand, then hear this: After a fixed time, which I forthwith decree as two months, if your daughter will not have my son’s hand in marriage, then we have together agreed that she shall be subject to the most abject tortures and mutilations for three days, after which she shall be fully dismembered and thrown to the wild dogs.”
Then the lord and the son would withdraw to await the daughter’s decision.
Could it be truly said that the son even loved the daughter if he could contemplate such retributive vengeance for not taking his hand in marriage? Could it ever be said that God truly loves us if He was perfectly prepared to exact everlasting conscious punishment upon us for failure to make a decision for Christ? “Once to die, and after this judgment.” Could such love and hatred abide together in the same bosom? Did God love the whole world—except those, of course, He consigned to hell, whom he “loved” with a pure hatred?
- See for example the era of Oliver Cromwell: We read in the article about him in Wikipedia:
. . . the measures taken by him against Catholics, particularly in Ireland, have been characterised by some as genocidal or near-genocidal,…
- A similar cast of cross-tradition characters contributed to an earlier look at a nonviolent atonement: Stricken by God?: Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ, 2007.
- He continues:
Uncle George is a caricature, but a caricature of a truth, the truth that we can construct a God who is an image of our tyrannical selves. Hellfire sermons are out of fashion, but they were in fashion a few decades ago and they may well come in again. Such sermons have a great appeal to certain unhealthy types of mind, but they cause havoc with the more healthy and sensitive.
Our notion of God is mediated to us through parents, teachers and clergy. We do not come to know God directly. If our experience of parents and teachers has been of dominating people who show little affection or respect for us as persons, but value us only in so far as we conform to their expectations, then this experience is bound to affect our notion of God and will influence the way we relate to God. Our notion of God is not only inadequate; it may also be distorted. Intellectually, I may know that God is not like Uncle George, but it is my feelings about God which determine how I approach him, and they do not change as easily as my ideas. Uncle George is not easily exorcised from my emotions and, although I may know in my mind that God is not like that, I may still experience a strong disinclination to approach him, without knowing why, and find a thousand reasons for not praying – I am too busy, I prefer to find God through my work, etc. We have to pray constantly to be rid of false notions of God, and we have to beg God to teach us who God is, for no one else can. ‘God is known by God alone,’ as one of the early writers of the Church said. What we are praying for is not merely an intellectual knowledge, but a felt knowledge which affects our whole being and therefore affects the way we see ourselves, other people and the world around us. This felt knowledge of God changes the patterns of our thinking and therefore of acting, breaks open the cocoon of our minds and hearts and liberates us from the constrictions which our upbringing and present environment are imposing on us.
Uncle George is one caricature of a false notion of God, but there are many others. We may get rid of Uncle George and put in his place a Santa Claus notion of God, a benevolent figure who enters our life occasionally to give us presents. He is nice to have around as long as everything is going well, but when disaster strikes we give up believing in him. Santa Claus is closer to God, who is love, than Uncle George, but bears little relation to the God of Scripture who ‘counts the very hairs of our heads’ and who ‘created my inmost self and put me together in my mother’s womb’.
The particular image we have of God will depend very much on the nature of our upbringing and how we have reacted to it, because our ideas and our felt knowledge derive from our experience. If our experience has taught us to think of God as a policeman like figure, whose predominant interest is in our faults, and if our encounters with him have been mostly in cold churches where we were bored out of our minds with barely audible services and sermons presenting God as God who disapproves of most of the things we like, then we are not likely to want to turn to God, no matter how many people may tell us that prayer is necessary.
To become aware that we have a distorted notion of God is to have made progress on our journey. As the journey continues, we shall discover other distortions of which we were not aware. Such discoveries can be very painful at first, but it is like the pain we feel when our limbs are at last free after being constricted; it is the pain of freedom. The journey to God is a journey of discovery and it is full of surprises. Here is an example of someone who discovered, through prayer, his own distorted notion of God.