Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 9 – God All In All

Posted: July 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Hell | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 9 – God All In All

If the Christian vision of ultimate reality does not revolve around a concentration camp in the midst of paradise, what does it then involve? As I discussed earlier in the series, God is seen as everywhere present, filling and sustaining all things. Although that is both the present and future reality, that glory is now veiled. We do not fully or readily perceive the reality of the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

But that will change one day. It’s the tension between Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 11. On the one hand, the world is filled with his glory right now and has been from the beginning of creation. But one day, it will be filled with the full knowledge of the glory. It’s the image we see in Habakkuk 2:14.

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

As the waters cover the sea? My first reaction to that verse was that the waters are the sea, but as I learned more of the ancient Jewish perception of reality, I came to understand that the “sea” stood for chaos and evil. The “monsters” come from the sea. This is the image of God’s healing waters covering and healing a disordered reality as creation, which is already filled with the glory of the Lord, becomes filled with the full knowledge of that glory. We see similar imagery in Revelation when we are presented with the healing streams and are told there is “no more sea.”

If God’s all-sustaining glory is no longer veiled and suffuses all creation, then one thing is immediately apparent. We will all experience exactly the same ultimate reality. The glory of God, the light of God, the love of God will be inescapable. We will understand and perceive God suffusing all creation, even our own bodies. There will be no place we can turn where that will not be true. And if that’s the case, then we can’t speak of some people (or any created being) or places being treated differently from others. It’s not the case that some are punished and others aren’t.

No, the question becomes rather, “How will I experience the fire of God’s love? Will it be warmth and comfort to me? Or will it be a consuming fire?” We will not be tormented because we have been confined somewhere and tortured by some external agent. No, if we are tormented, it will be because we do not want God yet cannot escape his presence.

Or perhaps we will lock ourselves in our own interior world consumed by passions we can no longer express outwardly. I think of the dwarves in C.S. Lewis’ final Narnia book, The Last Battle. Huddled in the midst of a creation made new, with a feast before them, in the very presence of Aslan, they perceive themselves as in a dark, rank stable eating garbage and drinking dirty water. They will not be fooled again and render themselves incapable of sensing the reality around them. They are bound in delusion. I believe we all have the capacity for such delusion within us.

As I said earlier, hell cannot have the same sort of reality that creation – heaven and earth – has. It’s not a place where God is not, for no such place exists. It cannot be a place that is not renewed within creation. “Behold, I make all things new!” proclaims the Lamb. Hell can only be the experience of a renewed creation and of a God of relentless and consuming love by those who do not want either one and are not formed to live within that reality. The seeds of our own hell are within each of us. As the Didache opens, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.


On the Incarnation of the Word 56 – When Christ Appears Again

Posted: December 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 56 – When Christ Appears Again

This penultimate section looks forward to the “appearing” of Christ in glory.

And you will also learn about His second glorious and truly divine appearing to us, when no longer in lowliness, but in His own glory,—no longer in humble guise, but in His own magnificence,—He is to come, no more to suffer, but thenceforth to render to all the fruit of His own Cross, that is, the resurrection and incorruption; and no longer to be judged, but to judge all, by what each has done in the body, whether good or evil; where there is laid up for the good the kingdom of heaven, but for them that have done evil everlasting fire and outer darkness.

Much of the language commonly used in English discussions of Jesus today implies that he has gone off somewhere away from the world and will one day “come” back to it. That’s a distortion of the language of Scripture. “Ascension” describes royalty coming into their power. And that’s obviously the case with Jesus as he “ascended” to the throne of God to be seated at his right hand. “Clouds” or smoke are the imagery of the presence of God throughout the OT. I think we miss that as well.

But Jesus isn’t somewhere far away. He is with us always. He is our head and is the wellspring of the life of the Church. He is now veiled, and when he “appears” in glory that veil will be dropped and all creation will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord that already fills it. But Jesus is not coming back from some distant place. He is here now. He has already ascended to the power of his kingdom. It’s just a kingdom that operates very differently from any other kingdom we’ve ever encountered.

I also want to point out what Athanasius describes as the fruit of the Cross. (Certainly not the only one as the work of the Cross surpasses our imagination, but the main fruit.) It’s not forgiveness, which it would be if the primary problem was that we had done wrong by violating a law. Nor is it payment for a debt that could not be forgiven (as some put it instead). No, the fruit of the Cross is life. The instrument of death becomes the source of our resurrection and incorruption defeating the power of corruption and death that had before ruled man.

And, as Scripture always says, we will be judged for the works we have done in our body. We are our bodies and the things we do with them matter. Oh, they don’t change God’s attitude toward us. God has made that as clear as it can be made in Jesus of Nazareth. But the things we do in and through our bodies shape who we are as human beings. Are we becoming the sort of people able to experience the fire of God’s love as comfort and warmth? Or are we making ourselves into the sort of people who will experience that love as pain and torment when we can no longer feed the destructive passions we have written into our flesh? Through the grace and power and love of Christ, may it be the former!


On the Incarnation of the Word 45 – The Whole Earth Filled With the Knowledge of the Lord

Posted: October 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 45 – The Whole Earth Filled With the Knowledge of the Lord

This section invokes one of my favorite quotes from Isaiah 11 ( especially as held in tension with Isaiah 6). It’s something affirmed again in Habakkuk. One day the whole earth, already filled with God’s glory, will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. There is no place that is not so filled. There is no place of eternal separation from God as many Protestants like to proclaim.

But if a man is gone down even to Hades, and stands in awe of the heroes who have descended thither, regarding them as gods, yet he may see the fact of Christ’s Resurrection and victory over death, and infer that among them also Christ alone is true God and Lord.

Not even Hades, or death, is a place that is not filled with Christ’s victory and presence.

By these arguments, then, on grounds of reason, the Gentiles in their turn will fairly be put to shame by us. But if they deem the arguments insufficient to shame them, let them be assured of what we are saying at any rate by facts obvious to the sight of all.

Christ is revealed in all. There is no other reality.