According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What Is and Isn't the "Lake of Fire" in Revelation?


The Lake of Fire. Or is it?

Is the Lake of Fire Torture? Josh Butler
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/10/10/is-the-lake-of-fire-torture-josh-butler/

by Scot McKnight
Oct 10, 2014

IS THE LAKE OF FIRE TORTURE? by Josh Butler, author of the just-out and excellent book, The Skeletons in God’s Closet.

Joshua Ryan Butler is author of the new book, The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War(Thomas Nelson), and a pastor at Imago Dei Community (Portland, OR).

* * * * * * * * * *

Book Description

Is God a sadistic torturer? Coldhearted judge? Genocidal maniac? Unfortunately, our popular caricatures often make him out to be.

There are some questions no Christian wants to be asked. Many today believe hell, judgment and holy war are "skeletons in God's closet," tough topics that, if looked at closely, would reveal a cruel, vindictive tyrant rather than a good and loving God. And we aren't comfortable with the answers we've been given.

  • "How can a loving God send people to Hell?"
  • "Isn't it arrogant to believe Jesus is the only way to God?"
  • "Why is there so much violence in the Old Testament?"

In this book, we'll pull these bones out into the open to exchange popular caricatures for the beauty and power of the real thing. We'll discover these topics were never really skeletons at all . . . but proclamations of a God who is good "in his very bones," not just in what he does, but in who he is. We'll fling the wide the closet door and sing loudly, boldly and clearly:

God is good and coming to redeem his world.

* * * * * * * * * *

Many a street preacher has used the “lake of fire,” an image in Revelation, to depict God as a sadistic torturer who likes to roast unrepentant rebels like kalua pigs over an eternal spit once the stopwatch runs out.

But is torture really the point of this image? I would like to suggest, in contrast, that the lake of fire is an apocalyptic symbol for the smoldering rubble of Babylon. It depicts God’s judgment on empire, not the torture of individuals.

Let’s take a quick look at why this is a better interpretation.

Burning Down Babylon

The lake of fire shows up in Revelation, a book filled with apocalyptic symbols. There is a danger in interpreting these symbols too literally. To say Jesus is a lamb does not mean Jesus is on all fours, chewing grass and saying, “Baa!” When a beast rises out of the ocean, we do not expect Godzilla to come walking out of the Atlantic to trample down our cities.

If we did interpret these images this way, John (the author of Revelation) would probably scratch his head and say, “How did you get that?” We’d be missing the point.

We have to ask what these symbols represent. Jesus’ identity as Lamb draws upon the Old Testament history of sacrifice to proclaim that his death atones for the sin of the world. Beasts are an Old Testament symbol for empire, depicting the Gentile powers that arise to rage against God’s world.

So what about the lake of fire?

A good first question to ask is: “What context does the symbol show up in?”

And there is definitely a context. Just before the lake of fire steps onstage for its first appearance in Revelation 19; something dramatic has just happened: God has just judged Babylon with fire.

God is burning down Babylon. This is the immediate context for the symbol. God is judging an empire, not torturing individuals. This is structural judgment, not personal judgment.

Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! . . .
for her sins are piled up to heaven
and God has remembered her crimes . . .
She will be consumed by fire,
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.


God is waging holy war on the great city, not roasting people over a flame.

Babylon’s judgment has implications, of course, for individuals whose lives are invested in all that she represents. When the “kings and merchants” (political and economic leaders) see “the smoke of her burning,” they weep and wail, exclaiming,

“Was there ever a city like this great city?” (v.18)

But it is worth recognizing they are not in physical anguish because God is torturing them; they are in emotional anguish because their lives were invested in the empire. They are weeping and gnashing their teeth over the things they’ve lost in the fire.

God is not roasting them over a spit; they are crying because their toys have been taken away.

The Smoke Goes Up

The lake of fire’s backdrop in the Old Testament also confirms this interpretation. I explore a few significant passages that Revelation draws upon in my new book, but let’s look at one. When Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by fire from heaven, Abraham looks out upon the valley where the imperial powerhouses once were, and sees in their place, “dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.” (Genesis 19:28)

The great cities have been judged by fire, and all that is left is their smoldering remains.

Revelation alludes to this verse when Babylon is destroyed, saying, “the smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” (Revelation 19:3) God judges the empire by fire and all that is left, like Sodom and Gomorrah, is smoke rising up from the land.

In the Sodom and Gomorrah allusion, the “smoke from a furnace” is obviously not an underground torture chamber; it is simply a picture of the city destroyed—the smoldering rubble of empire.

When Revelation says the smoke “goes up forever and ever,” it is similarly speaking to the finality of Babylon’s destruction. Sodom and Gomorrah were eventually rebuilt after the smoke faded and rubble was cleared away. But Babylon will never be rebuilt, because God has won his victory over her forever.

The smoke going up forever tells us this: when Babylon goes down, she ain’t getting back up.

Empire vs. Individual

So why is this helpful? There is all the difference in the world between judging an empire and torturing an individual. Consider, for example, when the Allied powers bombed Nazi Germany to bring an end to World War II. Most people today think this was the right thing to do. And this is a picture of an empire being judged by fire from above.

But let’s say after the war ended, convicted Nazi soldiers were lifted high on stakes with piles of wood set aflame beneath their feet, and slowly roasted in agony over the torment of the flames. What’s more, let’s say they were lifted just high enough to stay alive indefinitely. Most of us would think this a cruel and inhumane thing to do—a picture of torture.

Bombing an empire and torturing an individual are two very different things. The former is done to end a war; the latter for revenge.

Judging an empire has obvious implications for its citizens. If you’re a Nazi soldier, it’s bad news when Germany gets bombed. It’s bad news when your side gets defeated in the war. It’s bad news when all you’re left with is the smoldering rubble of your once-glorious civilization.

You will probably weep and wail, feeling an internal sense of anguish and torment at all you sought to build that has now been lost. But this is very different from your victorious enemy throwing you into a concentration camp and torturing you.

Conclusion

The lake of fire is an apocalyptic symbol for the smoldering rubble of Babylon. It does not depict the torture of individuals, but rather God’s judgment on empire. When God has destroyed Babylon by fire, all that is left is a smoking pile of stones. A steaming pillar of debris. A sunken puddle of flame.

The great city that once destroyed the world has been reduced to ashes.

The symbol does not promote a caricature of God as a sadistic torturer, but rather reclaims hope for a world torn apart under the destructive power of empire.


Walking as Living Spectres and Ghosts in the Graveyards of Life




Earlier this morning I put up several collections of Halloween poems on my poetry site and as I did I could hear the many Christian responses of, "Oh! You can't do that! It's not Christian! You're worshipping the devil! It's the devil's holiday!"

But when you come right down to it, these collections of poems were about the hopes and fears, the superstitions, and churchly beliefs, of men, women, and children, in their day and age - if not the very poet himself, or herself, as they attempted to circumscribe the universe by pen and by will.

And given a thorough reading of poems of this nature one can learn a lot about what people think about life and death, God and man, devil and spirit, when stirred in a cast-iron vat of rhyme and poetic passage. Adding ingredients of heartache, dread, and crushing aloneness, to be ladled out in personal litanies of echoing despair, deep anger, boiling resentment, and hot unfairness.

For the astute observer, its important to pay attention to the raw emotions of people who have spoken, filmed, or sung about their inner demons. Of an uncaring, withdrawn society filled with evil witches and warlocks. To research and meditate upon a culture's perennial observations of life and death so that at some later time we might be better able to speak to the various subjects and themes that come from our worst fears and wandering beliefs.

Beliefs about what we expect of one another or God or, perhaps, don't expect of either. Or, fear to ask. Or, if asked, fear receiving the very response we knew would someday come for voicing our personal complaints and deep displeasures. Or, perhaps saying nothing at all to experiences of injustice, sharp unloving tongues, selfish attitudes, actions, and behavior. Becoming both victim and victimizer.

To pay attention to people's basic fears in the middle of the night as they lay awake in a cold sweat on a disheveled bed tossing and turning unable to sleep. And when slumbering dreaming those dark, ugly nightmares from deep within a pained subconscious. Otherwise, how can we expect to minister to people in the middle of the day when fear has been washed away by the common daylight of human companionship and goodwill?

So, in a sense, Halloween can be an everyday event of the year within our lives. It doesn't simply come-and-go on a dark hollow's eve between the hours of 5:00 to 8:00 pm as impish trick-n-treaters squeal, squawk, and dash about in dizzying delight from one house to the next. Or flee for their lives before fun-luvin' pranksters rising from carefully placed frontyard coffins that creak and groan. Or from scary ghoulish spectres greeting children in darkened doorways boding tasty treats and delights. Or from creepy hanging things dangling unseen off dark trees and wires by thread and bobbin.

No, in another sense (h)alloween is with us every day of the year. It is carried within our hearts overburdened by what we have said or haven't said. Did, or didn't do. Saw, but didn't respond to. Felt, but never voicing the hurts and pains carried deep within us locked up like the crypt of the undead.

Or, if we did, we didn't know how to express ourselves as recovering addicts to life's carousels of whimsical delights and never-ending mendacity's. Looking for the next rush that might invigorate a dulled life too dreary to contemplate its endless days and nights. Leading us further and further away from those deep-seated hurts from a dad, a mom, sibling, or friend, who deeply failed us when we needed them most.

Or, harmed us so that now we walk as the living dead. Zombies to life's beauty unseen, untouched, unfelt, and unheard. Wishing to feast on any so unwise or so foolish to come too close to us. Living with those buried hurts and bitter hatreds of the wrongs we suffered so meaninglessly, cruelly, or meanly at the hands of the very devil himself. Cruel hands pinched in our blood, sweat, and tears.

Nay, this is not a day that is so easily made fun of and then forgotten by some of us still living in ghostly shells knit of vaporous skin and hollow filaments. For some of us the night of the living dead lives each day of our nightmarish lives with no end in sight except more pain and lostness.

For those souls hell is already here with no angel or God in sight. Just the Devil and his cruel brigands of death. And yet, isn't this what the Psalmist felt when abandoned by God and by very mankind itself? Or the prophets who wandered alone prophesying doom and judgment upon a careless people gripped by pride and greed? Or even Jesus Himself bowed of hoary head and weary heart in the Garden of Gethsemane praying alone when He most needed another prayer partner by His side?


Yes, it would be naive to think that God's people have not gone through the deep pains of life. But for those who have, you'll find them on the street with an understanding smile, a helping hand, a serving heart. Behind the cash register, at the waitressing table, in the school room, or on the field coaching kids and adults.

You'll find some amongst those special pastors who fill a pulpit with warmth and wisdom while staying true to their humanity when knowing how deeply inhumane life once was for their own hard pasts. Or that kid's counselor at the youth center willing to help if they are allowed. Or the boss who'll make sure you succeed against every particle of your body that wishes to fail. Or that aunt or uncle who was there all the time but you saw them not.

Yes, looked at again, God and His angels are everywhere about us. But we've gotten so use to fleeing from the crypts and coffins of our lives that we've run right by them with sightless eyes filled with self-loathing and hatred.

Forgetting that the crosses of Easter are just as meaningful this time of the year as the ragged crosses staked into the ground on a Hallow Eve's black night. You just have to pull those raggedy stakes out-of-the-ground-of-your-life and turn them the-other-way-around, away from your heart and soul. And when doing so seeing the one Cross of this world that was placed for all the world to see on a hill named Golgotha. A Cross of freedom, healing, and empowerment.

To be drawn to another graveyard on Calvary's hill knowing that there is a Redeemer-God who received death's hells upon His very self so as to provide a resurrection through His Son Jesus to this life's sins and woes. That in the darkened graveyards of our existence can be raised not ghostly spectres, but what we might become in the power of the living Holy Spirit. And that the candies of this world are no longer the food and meat of a Spirit-filled warrior-believer seeking to live life as it was meant to be lived as a crucified, penitent, servant of the Holy God raised beyond the grave of death's hopelessness.

Nay, if one is going to feast at the table of slaughter-and-ruin let it be on the draculas and demons of our sinful heart slain before the Sonlight of this wicked world before the living God of all. It is He who rules the day and night and none other. Be they demon or ghost in this life it is yet our life to valiantly claim and not so easily lay down before the hellish feasts of another. To place a crucified stake in the ground of belief and say with all authority, "Here I stand with my God and my Savior. Though heaven and earth be moved this day I shall stand in the power of the Holy Spirit and be all that I can be till life expires." Amen

R.E. Slater
October 30, 2014

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If God Be For Us Who Can Be Against Us

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[j]35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.




Parable of the Grain of Wheat

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? Butfor this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”