Imagine theres no heaven. Above us only sky…

WARNING- sweary-words to be heard in the following clip.

Avoid if of a sensitive disposition- or if you are under/over the age at which knowledge of profanity should not be encouraged…

If like me, your tolerance for such things hints at your backslidden sinful state, then click on…

I stumbled across this whilst wasting time when I should have been DIYing (I now have water coming through the ceiling beneath where I recently installed a new shower. AGHHH!)

It set me thinking again about heaven, and hell, and what we might encounter when we die…

Oh, and I liked the accents too.

So what do we think about heaven and hell?

It seems that we Christians have two options to choose from-

Option 1- lots of soft clouds, harps and gold- HEAVEN

Option 1- lots of soft clouds, harps and gold- HEAVEN

Option 2- fire, smoke, eternal torment- HELL

Option 2- fire, smoke, eternal torment- HELL

Hmmmm- which one do you fancy?

This, I suppose has been the evangelical strategy of church for a long time. Even though it has always troubled me- (back to those old Chick cartoons again I suppose!) It was not really that this narrow view of our impending fate was questionable within the theological understanding I was part of, but more that it was usually played down by most, and perhaps OVERPLAYED by some others.

But questions about the essential truth of this equation were never encouraged. Some of this was about Biblical truth, and the unassailable network that had been constructed around particular meanings, and some of it was about POWER- and the in-out stuff that allows us to decide who is OK, and who is not.

My concerns have always been for the following reasons-

  1. Is it OK to SCARE people into the Kingdom? Or are we just telling it like it is?
  2. Will a God of love REALLY throw all these people- good and bad, kids and those who have learning disabilities- any who died without a profession of faith- into a lake of fire to burn in agony for eternity?
  3. What about Jesus? What did he have to say about this? These words are often quoted– And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:45-45)
  4. And what about heaven? Does it not just sound slightly boring? A church service that never ends? (I have been in a few of those- or it seemed like it at the time!) Is this just the least-worse option?
  5. Then there is the ‘your-reward-will-be-in-heaven’ business. Do lots of good, as you will get a nice big mansion, with a throne view.

So where am I up to now?

Well I realised that lots of Christian traditions have different views about heaven and hell. Some people have always had the concerns above, and even dared to express them.

To give McLaren another plug, I read his book ‘The last word and the word after that‘ a few years51ez759rekl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou02_ ago, and it was another one of those painful experiences, where I found myself confronting things I had avoided for fear of losing faith altogether.

But the end result was a deepening of the sense of who God might be, and how he might engage with us all.

In particular I was amazed to discover that the view of heaven and hell I had accepted as a fixed Biblical position appeared to have its origins outside the Bible, and perhaps even outside the Judeo-Christian world (this is not an idea original to McLaren, it seems, but is well understood by many Theologians, but ignored as irrelevant by others.)

A quote from Brian (pinched from an interesting blog post here)

One of the discoveries that led to the book came to me several years ago, but I don’t remember exactly how. I remember noticing that a number of Old Testament writers didn’t seem to believe in an afterlife. It was obvious in Ecclesiastes, but you know – that whole book seems odd. It struck me in some of the Psalms especially. Then I noticed this lack of belief in afterlife in other places, and I realized that Sheol wasn’t the same as hell.

Then I began to notice that Jesus talked about hell a lot, which let me know that something must have happened between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. I was curious about what happened during that time.

What appears to have happened is that some Jewish sects/denominations (but not all) adopted ideas of heaven and hell from other religions- such as the Zoroastrians, and this synthesis of belief systems became the understanding through which the Jewish people engaged with God.

There were apparently significant differences in for example, the Pharisees understanding of heaven and hell, and that of the Saducees. The former believed in the resurrection of the dead and the latter did not. Interestingly, it seems that the Saducees rejected the Pharisaical views on an afterlife on the basis of a literalistic interpretation of the Bible, rejecting the exegesis and oral traditions of the Pharisees. Truth wars were raging then too!

It seems that these grouping effectively became political parties too- so religion was definitely mixed with politics!

Does this matter?

Well when you read again the questions put to Jesus in the form of tests by these groups, it seems at least possible that they were attempting to either bring Jesus within their own fold, or expose his theology to be outside their understanding of truth, and so reject him.

The wonderful thing about Jesus is that these attempts failed, because he saw the trap coming a mile away, and neatly stepped around it. He seemed to have no time for this way of seeing faith.

Is it possible then that at least some of the words of Jesus in relation to heaven and hell can be read in the light of the context in which he was engaging? Does this change our understanding of what he was saying, or how it was recorded?

STOP! I hear you cry. This is going too far- it is a liberal re-interpretation of the Bible that will end in heresy!

In my defense, I offer no fixed positions to invite you to join me onto, and thereby defend.

But I dare to believe that the life that goes on when we are done here will always remain to us a wonderful mystery.

And I dare to hope that Jesus may yet find a way to save those who we have lost.

Hell may or may not be the place that burns up that part of us that is unworthy and unwelcome in the presence of the Living God.

And I pray that by his mercy, I will fall into the arms of a loving God.

Gods great big hoover. Or the last noo noo.

When I was but a lad, growing up in Nottinghamshire, I watched this film…

We attended a local Anglican church, and things started swinging with a bit of Holy Spirit revival. We sang choruses rather than hymns, I learnt to play the guitar, we had healing services and people ‘spoke in tongues’. All in a C-of-E church in small town Kirkby-in-Ashfield.

And there are memories that I cherish.

And some that I do not. Some still make me twist inside with that old faithful adolescent companion- pervasive raging cringing embarrassment.

Some of the memories that I shelved as just plain dysfunctional I have in recent times reached down, dusted off, and managed to look at through the eyes of the 41 year old man that now I am. And some of it, I can now even laugh at.

One of these things is the aforementioned film.

You see, there was a lot of fuss about the ‘end times’ in the 1970’s and 80’s. I suppose there always is a section of people somewhere in every generation, in some part of the planet, who are proclaiming the imminent return of Jesus, and the time of judgment and tribulation.

So in our church- the chick cartoons were circulating. If you have never had the pleasure- check them out here– you can still buy them. There was one spelling out the ‘truth’ about the second coming, along with rapture, tribulation, and most memorably, the lake of fire in which sinners (like I surely was- I was a teenage boy after all) would burn for eternity. Here is a sample;

There was also Chuck Smith, who I believe still is a big cheese in Evangelical circles, who told the world that Jesus was coming again in, I think, 1980. Jesus did not, but Chuck seems to have been able to recalibrate. We watched a film that came from Calvary Chapel in those days all about the end times, and the signs of the coming age that could be seen in the world around us- particularly in the re-birth of the Jewish nation. Compelling stuff- most of which was nonsense, and this is not the film that I am talking about.

We were also taken to see a film in a church hall. Where this was, I have no idea- because I remember having to travel in the church mini-bus to get there.

And this too gave me nightmares.

The film began with a song by the late great Larry Norman. Should have got him to sing it…

…and then the terrifying story unfolded. All ‘biblical’ and straight from the pages of the book of Revelation, or so we were told.

A woman wakes up, and her husband has gone. Rapturously raised up to heaven by (as my friend Janet described it) God’s Dyson.

And so came the rise of the beast, and the time of tribulation. All in cheesecloth.

Quite why people thought this was good material for kids, I have no idea.

There are still many who would use versions of this story to frighten people into the pews. Babylon is built anew each time they do, say I.