Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Judas Tree by Ruth Etchells

This is a lovely poem I came across some years ago. I am not entirely sure how to respond to it. On the one hand I want to say, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" On the other I want to ask, "Does it take seriously the very dire warnings that Jesus made that it would be better for Judas had he never been born?" Now I do not think that such language rules out Judas' eventual salvation but I worry that the poem somewhat undercuts it. Or does it? The image of Judas forever hanging on a tree of his own despair is indeed very dark. What do you think?

Any reflections on Judas and salvation just post 'em up! But for now - the poem. How do you respond to it?

In Hell there grew a Judas Tree
Where Judas hanged and died
Because he could not bear to see
His master crucified
Our Lord descended into Hell
And found his Judas there
For ever haning on the tree
Grown from his own despair
So Jesus cut his Judas down
And took him in his arms
"It was for this I came" he said
"And not to do you harm
My Father gave me twelve good men
And all of them I kept
Though one betrayed and one denied
Some fled and others slept
In three days' time I must return
To make the others glad
But first I had to come to Hell
And share the death you had
My tree will grow in place of yours
Its roots lie here as well
There is no final victory
Without this soul from Hell"
So when we all condemned him
As of every traitor worst
Remember that of all his men
Our Lord forgave him first

D. Ruth Etchells

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gregory MacDonald worships a false god

Dear Blog Readers,

Here is the first very critical review of my book (to be precise it is a review of chapter 1 and a part of chapter 7). It is by a Christian brother called Steve Hays. I have to warn you that is is VERY long and will take about 45 minutes to read properly

It is certainly worth a look. It seems that I am 'an idolater' who has worshipped a false god since even before I became a universalist. Oh dear.

For those who are interested I felt that the arguments ranged from good to worthy-of-taking-seriously-but-mistaken to poor. However, I have no intention of replying to the arguments in the review. Not because I cannot but beause I do not have enough time and it would be a wasted effort. As the author himself confesses,

I’m a Calvinist. And I’ve been doing apologetics for several years now, so my beliefs are battle-hardened. There’s no opening in my belief-system for him to exploit. No crack in the wall.

As they say, 'know thyself'. Reading the review I judge that Steve does indeed know himself and that consequently discussion is futile.

Nevertheless the review is recommended reading because I think that it may actually serve to expose the nature of the theology that Steve defends. Perhaps it illustrates better than any argument I could mount how one's view of God will impact one's attitude towards other human beings and the way that one treats them. Steve's review did not, to my mind, reflect so much love for the world as a deep dislike of humanity. Maybe I am not being fair here so you'd better read it yourselves and make your own minds up. I felt sad for Steve as I read it (though he would not want my pity). I do pray God's blessing on him.



Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Is Hell a Torture Cell?

Here is a very initial thought:

In answering this question it is helpful to know what torture actually is? Let's say for simplicity that torture involves
- the deliberate infliction
- of extreme forms of mental or physical pain
- in order to achieve some goal.
The goal itself may be legitimate (e.g., the extraction of critical information from a suspected terrorist) but the means is considered not to be.

Is Hell a torture cell? Well let's see

Does it involve extreme forms of mental or physical pain? It appears so - a painless Hell seems unlike any Hell I have heard of.

Is the pain used to achieve a goal? So it seems. And what is God's goal in sending people to Hell?
(a) to punish people because they deserve it?
(b) to purify them?
(c) to reform behaviour?
(d) to educate people on the true reality of sin?

Perhaps all of those things and more - must God have only one purpose? And these purposes are all good ones but, of course, that is not normally considered a legitimate defence for torture.

So God is using extreme pain to achieve a good goal. Does this not make God a torturer?

That depends. If God deliberately inflicts the pain from the outside of the person with the intention of achieving a good goal then the answer may be "Yes". Of course, even in this case, there is a big disanology with torture as normally understood. The pain is intended - in (b)-(d) above, at any rate - for the good of the person suffering it and for no other end. God is seeking the ultimate blessing of the one in Hell. The torturer is not doing that. Even so we might still remain very uneasy with God's extreme method.

But Hell need not be understood in that way. Hell could be understood not as the infliction of pain by God but as a condition in which God allows a person to experience the inherent consequences of their sin. Sin is a corrosive element in human life and God shields us in this age from its full impact. Hell could be seen as a place where God stops shielding us and allows the corrsive power of sin to take its course. This would be a very horrible experience that could serve goals (a) to (d) above but in this case it does not seem that God is torturing us at all. He allows the pains of Hell and uses them to achieve his goals but he does not inflict them. He is not torturing us but leaving us to experience the consequences of our own actions.

Such are my hasty initital thoughts. I am not sure about them yet but you're welcome to do with them as you wish.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Is God a torturer?

Is the God who sends people to Hell a divine torturer? That is a very difficult question to answer but the more pressing question for me is this:

Is the God of the evangelical universalism that I defend a torturer?

Why think that he would be? Well, one might suppose that he is tormenting people with dreadful agonies until they choose to accept him. In other words, he torturing them into getting saved. He stands over those he is punishing saying, 'Love me and all your pain will stop!'

Am I proposing a deity specializing in well intentioned but indefensible human rights violations?

I have some thoughts about that but for now I thought I would simply pose the problem to get reflections on it from guests. What do you think?