In my last post, I touched on the chronically flawed reading of passages of biblical books dealing with hell and the afterlife, particularly the account in Revelation 20, and how some conservative fundamentalist pastors (Mark Driscoll) use this chronically flawed, and critically flawed, reading to bash other pastors (Rob Bell) who teach and examine things that threaten doctrines to which they've sold their souls. I left a few additional thoughts in the comment thread which I'd like to include here in a post of their own. I've written about some of these things in the past here, with a follow-up here. Some good discussion followed those posts. (*a disclaimer about the Book of Jasher mentioned in those old posts - most researchers and scholars believe that the current Book of Jasher has been proven fake, and I don't question their conclusion as the evidence of forgery seems very compelling...there are no known surviving manuscripts of the original Book of Jasher referenced in the OT)
Now, imagine you're on the isle of Patmos circa the late 1st century AD, and God reveals a vision to you of the distant future. How do you describe what you're seeing to your contemporaries? It'd be extremely difficult, wouldn't it? To go a bit further, how do you describe it in such a way that it'll still be remotely understood a couple of millennia later, or even 10,000 years later, if that's the time it represents? It's now getting darn near impossible.
The comments which I left after the last post...
So much of Revelation is symbolism, and so much of all text about the afterlife in the various books of the bible is symbolic, that I think it's dangerous for any teacher to become dogmatic about eternity. We simply don't know.
In Revelation, for instance, just about everything short of flying five-headed spiders with fire-breathing monkeys on their backs is used in the symbolism.
I think a good way to look at it is this...Imagine a guy from a couple thousand years ago suddenly seeing a couple of elementary school-aged kids from today playing a game of ping-pong on a Nintendo Wii...and then trying to describe what he was watching in the language of his day..."In that day, children will wave a wand of power, and the mirror of light that isn't a mirror will yield to them, and the harp will play, and joy will abound."
And then, take that description of two children playing Nintendo Wii...
"In that day, children will wave a wand of power, and the mirror of light that isn't a mirror will yield to them, and the harp will play, and joy will abound."
...and imagine how we'd interpret it today if it were in Revelation. We'd probably make it into something ultra-spiritual. Imagine what Driscoll could do with such a verse. And it's two kids playing Nintendo Wii.
It's this kind of disconnect, and the commitment of fundamentalists to literalism despite such a disconnect, that usually leads to the dark side of the Christian faith which I speak of in the sub-header of this blog. When you think about it that way, it should make anyone extremely cautious about jumping on the bandwagon of literal interpretation, and I hope it would inspire ALL of us to seriously and meticulously examine all that we've ever been taught (and have often merely accepted) about heaven, hell, and our relationship with and to God.
We want everything about the non-essentials of our faith to be tidy, easily understood, and all wrapped up in a black and white box with a bow on top. We need to examine our own hearts to determine why, because the non-essentials of our faith will never be black and white, and neither will our earthly understanding of eternity. We'll understand it when we get there, and not a moment sooner. It's one thing to pursue the truth as the Holy Spirit compels us, but altogether another to settle for the "truth" as determined by someone else - and often through narrow-minded literalism.
An interesting quote attributed to Christ from the "Gospel of the Hebrews"...
He shall not cease from seeking until he find, and having found, he will be amazed, and having been amazed will reign, and having reigned will rest.
Seek. Don't settle.