HAVE YOU NEVER HEARD OF GEHENNA? Hell’s bells. How about that for a put down? Twenty years ago, I think it was, at a “Growth Conference”, the fiery red-headed cleric was determined to silence my “misguided theologies” and I was, indeed, silenced. Stunned, actually. And there’s never a great deal of profit to be had out of arguing with someone who’s hell-bent on Hell!
But really! We live in 2011 and there’s plenty of “hell” to be seen and known here in this world. And if we’re going to do something about changing that fact we need to have a slightly more sophisticated approach to our reading of Revelation. Too many people still ask me whether their minor “crimes” have secured them a ticket to the fiery flaming pit.
So what’s to do? How’s a “slightly more sophisticated approach” to be had? Oh! I could blog until Kingdom come on this one (and I guess that’s been my blogging aim from the start) but, you’ll be glad to know, I’m simply recommending that every reader or local study group that can get hold of a copy of Maggi Dawn’s The Writing On The Wall – High Art, Popular Culture and the Bible should do so. Page 233 tells of F D Maurice, a professor of King’s College, London who got into hot water for suggesting
that there’s no such thing as eternal punishment in fiery flames, only a choice between aligning oneself with God as the source of love, grace and goodness, and refusing God. His rejection of eternal punishment was partly to do with his belief that the doctrine had as much to do with social control as it did with theology. Similar ideas were picked up by other writers, including C S Lewis in his novel The Great Divorce (1945), and eventually in the 1990s the Church of England caught up with Maurice and clarified their doctrine along similar lines. But although F D Maurice turned out to be a prophet before his time, in 1853 his move towards a kinder theology was not welcomed. His superiors regarded his views as heretical, dangerous and likely to unsettle the minds of the students, and they sacked him from his job.
Have you never heard of Gehenna? Oh yes. Too often. But there’s another (genuinely ‘gospel’) kind of writing on the wall and in 2011 we could all do with giving it a bit more prime time. Mine’s a mind more than willing to be ‘unsettled’, time and time again. In the Way, and all the way, to the Kingdom of God.