Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Do All People Go To heaven?

            In the movie “Life of Pi,” the young man ‘Pi’ though raised a Hindu, follows Christianity and Islam as well, in an endeavor to comprehend God amidst the diverse proclamations. In the end, the viewer is given the latitude to subjectively interpret the statement, “and so it goes with God.” I consider this as a classic case in point that enables one to soak in the various comforting or positive facets from each faith system to arrive at a dogma that supposedly satisfies ones inner longing for peace and wellness. But does one always introspect and examine these dogmas for its internal coherencies and truth claims?

            Having commented on the topic of sin, judgment, heaven, and hell, I find a need to digress and visit the dogma of “Universalism.” The main tenet of universalism is that all people will eventually be with God in heaven. In other words, one’s religion or world-view does not matter. One can believe in anything and do anything, but ultimately, along with everyone else, he too will be with God.

            On the periphery, universalism sounds very noble, just, tolerant, loving, and hence, acceptable. Volumes have been written and spoken ‘for’ and ‘against’ this view by eminent scholars. You can dig deep into this persuasion if this be your interest. But my specific concerns with the espousal of universalism are two-fold: (1) Validity of its truth claim, and (2) Interpretation of the various verses of the Holy Bible that are contrary to the tenets of Universalism (I will refrain from digging deep into this concern for now).

            This subject will be kept to a domain of introduction. The allied subject(s) such as “Annihilationism” (the belief that the unbelievers of the Lord Jesus will be annihilated or cease to exist post their death) will not be mentioned, even though a topic such as this should be of interest to a Christian, since this view of hell was supported by an eminent and well respected Christian pastor, scholar and theologian, Rev. John Stott. My one cent view is that annihilationism is contrary to the Biblical teaching. I wholeheartedly subscribe to a literal hermeneutic (interpretation) of the Holy Bible, hence my concerns are an outcome of this hermeneutic.

            If everyone goes to heaven irrespective of their religious worldview, then universalism implies that all religious worldviews are the same, or that these don’t contradict each other, or even that these don’t matter. But reality states that the essence of all religions is in contradiction with each other. For example, an atheist negates the presence of God, a Christian worships a Trinitarian monotheistic God, a Muslim worships one God (monotheism), and a Hindu worships a pantheon of gods (pantheism) etc. If the central figure of every religion is different, then how can one conclude that all these religions are speaking the truth? In other words, who rules this heaven – ‘No god (godless)’ or ‘One Trinitarian God’ or ‘One God’ or a ‘Pantheon of gods’? All these religions cannot claim to speak the truth while mutually contradicting each other. Truth in its nature excludes (contradictions).

            From within the Biblical perspective, if universalism is to be affirmed, then hell should cease to be a literal presence. But the Holy Bible categorically affirms the presence of a literal hell. So the universalists subscribe to a non-literal interpretation (E.g. allegorical) of the Holy Bible to dilute the literal interpretation of hell and the verses that are in contradiction to the universalistic tenets. Often, verses are pulled out of context and interpreted so to agree with universalism. The interpretative methods of a universalist is a serious concern.

            How does a universalist define sin? John Piper, a Christian Pastor, echoes the Bible when he states that sin is ultimately an assault on God. If all go heavenward, then is sin unpunished? Does universalism posit another dogma of sin – a sin that does not offend God but delights HIM, and a sin that does not offend a fellow human? Or does universalism posit an absolute forgiveness of all sins, irrespective of repentance, confession, and a desire to reject the sin in the future? Now this dogma would produce a plethora of painful complexities for a universalist to unravel (notions of sin, morality etc.).

            How should one comprehend evil from within the universalistic persuasion? If a young girl is raped and killed brutally, and if the universalist screams that the perpetrators of this horrendous evil go to heaven, then should the universalist even bother to punish the perpetrators of evil? Well, the problem compounds if the person raped and killed happens to be from within the close circle of the universalist. Would this universalist still agree and accept the actions of the rapists and killers given the fact that they are all going to heaven? But then the universalist may state that justice will be rendered on this earth. This still does not solve the problem for there is a good possibility that perpetrators of evil walk away scot-free, so in this case there is no justice rendered on earth or in heaven. What then is the stand of the universalist?

            To escape the clutches of this complexity, a universalist may refer to a “mild psychological view” of hell (the resident of hell can enter heaven upon genuine repentance), but then there is no substantiation for this view from within the Holy Bible. The Catholic Bible offers the concept of purgatory as a variant flavor of this dogma. This still does not solve all moral and ethical problems of this world. One can still choose to live a life perpetrating all evil possible knowing that his time in hell is only temporary. So is the universalist subscribing to an immoral world? The plot thickens!

            Finally, how does a universalist define God? Let me pour a torrent of questions. It appears to me that the god of the universalist is not offended by sins, so does this mean that his god is pleased by sins? Is a universalist worshipping an evil god? Or is he worshipping a weak god who is unable to stop evil? Is a universalist worshiping an unjust god? Or is this god an imperfect god? If this god is an imperfect god, then why give him the place of God, for this god is only equal to an imperfect man? An embarrassment of painful complexities and the plot thickens greatly!!

            Universalism, as an independent worldview, is acceptable within the parameters of freedom of thought and expression. But universalistic belief from within the Judeo-Christian worldview is untenable. One seems to gain much surface level peace, comfort, satisfaction and contentment to claim that all people will go to heaven. But this dogma lacks foundation and stability, and opens up numerous painful complexities that beg for true answers. I certainly believe that universalism does not find a place within the Judeo-Christian worldview.

            In the pursuit of meaning in this life, we should endeavor to protect ourselves from falsehood. Truth alone gives peace and meaning to life. I reckon it was Sir Winston Churchill who said that truth is attended by a bodyguard of lies. We could be like ‘Pi’ and explore truth from the various worldviews available today, but we should sieve away the lies that confront us. Our belief should withstand the test for truth and coherency. I seriously believe that dependence on the one true God and the diligent understanding of the Holy Bible will alone give us meaning to life and the ability to protect ourselves.

            Please enlighten me if you desire to contradict.


Sam Carr said...

What I would first question is your premise that the teaching of Christianity, or perhaps 'Reformed Protestant Christianity', actually does accurately follow or deliver what the Bible teaches us about God.
There's a lot of stuff that the Bible asserts to be true that is not accounted for in Protestant teaching.
A lot of our understanding of hell, the punishment for sin, and indeed our definition of sin itself, I think can fruitfully be reexplored from within the Bible itself, before we decide whether to parrot the church's dogmatics.

Raj Richard said...

Sam Annan, I think you have misunderstood my premise. My premise to understanding the Scripture is the literal hermeneutic. I am not in the business to assert Protestant Christianity or to denigrate another religion or a particular denominational flavor within Christianity.
Yes, I agree with you that doctrines should flow out of the Bible.

Andrew's Walk said...

Whether the teaching is of 'Reformed Protestant Christianity' or something else, the TRUTH is contained in the Holy Bible itself. One cannot generalise the term 'Protestant' teaching because it all depends on the 'shepherd' shepherd-ing the sheep! Pastor Raj, I agree with your findings and look forward to many more to come. Thanks and God bless.

Andrew's Walk said...

Whether or not the teaching is from a 'Reformed Protestant Christianity' the TRUTH can be expounded only from the Holy Bible. Pastor Raj, you have done full justice here. Much depends on the 'shepherd' shepherd-ing the 'sheep' as the take-home result from the church could be misunderstood. Pastor you have delved perfectly well on this topic, and I fully agree with your views. Look forward to many more to come...God bless!

Sam Carr said...

Perhaps I misunderstood. You seemed to criticize annihilism as opposed to Piper's standard approach. How do you reconcile the NT's own teaching on hell/punishment with the threads of universalism found in the NT?
The most powerful 'universalists' starting from Origen have a very high view of God. God is love. God is also omnipotent. Therefore it is impossible for God to fail even when faced with something as capricious as man's free will, and man's capacity for sin, therefore all will (must) be saved.

Raj Richard said...

@ Andrew, I agree with you that we need to transcend denominations and dig deep into the Bible. There's no wiser and better way than this. Martin Luther did a tremendous job in getting the Bible to the common man. But I seriously wish interpreting the Bible is easy and straightforward. God bless :)

Raj Richard said...

@ Sam Carr, If you say that all will (must) be saved, then how should one interpret the various verses from the Bible on "belief in the Lord Jesus-eternal life" vs "unbelief-eternal condemnation." Then, Christ talks about conscious punishment for the unbelievers (weeping & gnashing...), how should one interpret that?

Then you should also answer the concerns raised by me about sin, evil and God.

In other words, our belief needs to be coherent and valid.

Raj Richard said...

@Sam Carr: I am also given to understand that the famed Biblical commentator, William Barclay, was also an universalist. Many have the tendency to follow the famous (Stott, Barclay), but in my opinion we need to follow God and HIS Word, without falling prey to our emotions.

Sam Carr said...

I think the debate has been carried forward by greater minds than mine, so will not try to rehash the arguments here. However, certainly both William Barclay and John Stott are not just famous, but are conservative and seminal bible students. Then there's Clark Pinnock, also an evangelical. On the other side and still conservative one has Bishop Wright. So, it has little to do with being famous and much to do with being persuaded of the truth. Before we can criticize we have to first understand that scholarship, and that's a task in itself...

Raj Richard said...

@Sam Carr: There are great minds and great scholarship in all worldviews. I am sure you will not say that only Christian worldview has the greatest minds and the others not. I do not hold to this position too. Following great minds is not one's prerogative, for you and I know that all are sinners and hence imperfect.

Truth is absolute, you and I are aware of this as well. It's either Universalism is true or it's false. At this point in time, we seem to be in opposite camps, and that's just fine. We can always agree to disagree.

All I am submitting is my understanding and thoughts on this subject. But I am not saying that I am perfect in my thoughts and understanding. That's precisely why am saying that one can enlighten me with facts, if they disagree with my thoughts.

It's the same Holy Spirit who lives in each of those who believe in the Lord Jesus. Now HE will not lie and it is we who tend to go wrong because of our sinful nature. It is only by virtue of HIM who lives in us that we even strive to understand and communicate. My prayer is that each one of us will be honest in that comprehension and communication. May the Lord enable us to be just that.
Keep your thoughts coming, Annan. God bless :)

Sam Carr said...

Raja, the truth is what it is, whether I acknowledge it or not. I really don't believe that my small mind is capable of understanding God. Perhaps that's why I find most of the dogmas of most religions (the ones that I have studied) to be inadequate. Combined with my own inadequacy and sinfulness, it makes me very hesitant to be dogmatic. I've decided to be dogmatic about not being dogmatic.

Imo, the majority of the passages where Jesus talks about 'hell' etc. are lacking context. Where we do have a context, we can see that Jesus is laying it on the line for the religious ones, the ones who should have known better, the ones who are now leading the people astray, the false shepherds who have betrayed the sacred trust that God had given them.

Raj Richard said...

@Sam Carr: It's rather interesting to note that on one hand you have claimed to not be dogmatic. But on the other hand, you are dogmatic about the context of the Biblical verses, calling religious leaders as false shepherds betraying sacred trust. So you are not only being dogmatic, you are being judgmental as well. Being judgmental presupposes knowledge!

What is interesting in this situation of terming people as false shepherds is that those on the side of truth will deem the others on the side of falsehood as false shepherds. Those on the side of falsehood will also deem the others on the side of truth as false shepherds. This is a never ending quest of one-upmanship in a quest to assert religious superiority, which entails either leading people towards truth or away from truth. So, you are also placing yourself in your own very accusation.

The big question is "what is truth?" It's either your position or not, it's never a "both-and" logic.

Let's continue to dig deep as the Bereans did. Keep on annan. God bless.

Sam Carr said...

I think I did not explain myself clearly enough! If the truth is bigger than what my mind is capable of absorbing, or understanding, then whatever I believe to be the truth is only partial and in that situation either/or may have to give way to both-and. That's the basis of my agnosticism.

On the other hand, when talking about what the Bible says, the context is important, and when I try to understand Jesus' teachings, which should be at the heart of my understanding of God, then I should look at the context for guidance. The pericopial structure of the synoptics has led scholars to suggest that a sayings source (often called Q) has been used along with a 'doings' framework (basically Mark). However, there are places where the context is pretty clear, say Matthew 23, where Jesus specifically puts his teaching on the reality of hell in its rightful context. Therefore I believe that one can look to this context in other similar passages (where there is no clear context provided) especially given that the controversies with the religious leaders is a constant backdrop throughout the gospels. As I said, this is only my opinion, but it's a method that is sound hermeneutically too.

Raj Richard said...

@ Sam Carr: In my opinion, "both-and" is a good example used by postmodernists, for they tolerate mutual contradictions. When we choose "both-and," I reckon we are in a quest for absolute truth. That should be our position.

When we are in a quest for truth, we cannot assume that truth cannot be comprehended and assimilated. That to me, is a defeatist position. (why even pursue truth when we are so sure that truth cannot be found!)

What perplexes me is on one hand you repeatedly state you are an agnostic, but on the other hand you proclaim 'gnosis' while stating the contextlessness in the Gospels. You also proclaim 'gnosis' in the validity of your hermeneutic and in your source critique of the Synoptics (Q-document).

In a nutshell, you proclaim confirmed 'gnosis' during the process of your search, and seem to arrive at Agnosticism under the pretext that truth eludes a finite mind. My point is this, what if that so called 'gnosis' that you claim to be leading you (in the process) needs correction?

Finally, how can you deploy "both-and" especially when the considered systems contradict each other?

Having said these, I do agree that in some instances we are forced into partial agnosticism for the Bible remains unclear (E.g. Date and time of the 2nd coming of the Lord etc.). But the Bible is indeed explicit in the core doctrines.

P.S: You may want to give some examples of verses that do not have context.

Enjoying our discussions :)

Sam Carr said...

Raja, postmodernism has had good and bad effects on hermeneutics. Though I am not (I think) a postmodernist, the insights gained should not be tossed simply because they sound postmodernist. In fact, agnosticism is as old as philosophy itself and is certainly not just postmodern. My own brand of agnosticism does not go to my knowledge of God, imperfect as that is, but is rather directed to the dogmas of religion, including the strains of thought that have come from Augustine's own musings.

On hermeneutics and the understanding of the biblical text, we study in what is hopefully an ascending spiral of understanding. This is so because the Bible always has fresh insight to lend direction and impetus to the student's quest for understanding. It's with that proviso that I share my understanding of Jesus' references to hell, damnation, gnashing teeth, broods of vipers, etc. In fact, as you know, the 'brood of vipers' is a phrase that John the Baptist uses in a similar context. I don't see why you find my discussion of these texts so difficult. The nature of the gospels' constructions (whether one accepts source criticism or not) is still evident from the structure of the texts in question. Whether one accepts any higher criticism or not does not gainsay my basic premise, that when a context is offered, it helps to understand what Jesus was saying and to whom - and that's as noncontroversial a claim as can be made!

Raj Richard said...

@ Sam Carr: When dealing with absolute truth, "both-and" would not work within mutually contradictory systems. I am convinced about this.

I believe the Holy Bible is inspired, inerrant and infallible. So the Bible will never contradict itself even in fresh insights.

Please specify the texts from the Bible that needs to be discussed and we shall do so.

Meanwhile, please also answer the questions raised by me in my blog (wrt Sin, Evil, God).

I think this is the best way to move forward. I am only trying to be tangible in this discussion.

Thank you for taking time to comment, Anna. God bless.

Sam Carr said...

I'm not sure I agree with you Raja as to the impossibility of a both/and approach. Let me give an illustration. We know that 1 does not equal 2. Yet when faced with infinity both are the same. Thus 1/0 is infinity and 2/0 is infinity. The problem we essentially face is that we do not, perhaps cannot understand or comprehend infinity. Even mathematically, while infinity is commonly called into use, it always results in speculative results. Now, I am not very good at maths and I certainly stand to be corrected, still, this is just an illustration, and even if my maths is faulty, I think you'll get my point.

I didn't say the Bible contradicted itself. Again, when we see some statements in the Bible averring that all will be saved, and then other passages where apparently only some are saved, it might leave us with a headache, but both/and may also be a possibility. Or we could profitably dig into how we have defined/understood these concepts and ask if our current understanding is itself truly Biblical.

The title of your post relates to whether heaven is for all, or only for some, and that's what I have been concentrating on commenting on. I don't believe we can know much about either heaven or hell, other than that the Bible suggests that they exist. On sin, I think I did comment...

Raj Richard said...

@Sam Carr: I am not a philosopher, but from what little I have read, here is my 0.1 cent. The moment we bring infinity into the equation, we can start playing "possibility" games. So let us not theorize for sake of proving a point. As I said earlier, let us be tangible within our scope.

1. There is God.
2. There is no God.

Both (1) and (2) cannot be absolutely true for they are mutually contradicting.

If one says that they believe both (1) and (2) to be true, then they are talking relativism.

If you think hell exists, then please state your view of hell.

I dont think you have answered my questions about sin.

Raj Richard said...

In one of my previous comments I stated that "In my opinion, "both-and" is a good example used by postmodernists, for they tolerate mutual contradictions. When we choose "both-and," I reckon we are in a quest for absolute truth. That should be our position."

Forgive me for the typo in that statement of mine.

My statement should read as (correction in CAPS) "In my opinion, "both-and" is a good example used by postmodernists, for they tolerate mutual contradictions. When we choose "both-and," I reckon we are NOT in a quest for absolute truth. That should be our position."

Sam Carr said...

Raja, it's hard indeed to think of God without thinking of infinity. As you well know, hades and gehenna seem to be 2 separate things, with gehenna being used in a more final sense "post judgement". So, just as some angels were able to completely reject God, so too perhaps some humans can also, or so at least we are warned, and the fate of these is gehenna.
One possibility is that this is a real grouping and includes the 'most guilty' i.e. religious leaders who know better but who continue to lead their charges away from God. But then, I don't believe in a limited atonement, so I take these statements more as dire warnings that are designed to bring even the most guilty ones eventually to the cross of Christ. On the whole though, I do believe that there is a range of meanings, a range of contexts, many of which we are not told enough of, so I prefer to leave the entire matter to God and not break my head over it to try and bring it all together under some schema or the other... God is good, God is love, and we see God's character clearly enough in the Son to know what God expects of us, and I have enough trouble just getting on with doing that!

Raj Richard said...

Sam Anna, I do see both 'hades' and 'gehenna' as different, the former a temporary abode for those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ, and the latter the permanent abode for them.

I believe in the hermeneutical principle, "the sacred Scriptures interprets itself." Strong's concordance suggests at least 10 occurrences for 'hades,' from which I see Revelation 20:14 as a resolutional verse - indicating destruction of Hades. This only indicates that Gehenna is eternal and Hades temporal.

Of course, we need to think of all of God's communicable and incommunicable attributes. But God should be understood primarily from His revelations - Holy Bible.

I found your usage of 'infinity' to affirm 'both-and' approach to be rather stupefying. In other words, we can take anything and everything to a speculative instance to probably even do a "Reductio ad absurdum." Human mind can be anything that it wants to be, unless it's anchored in the life-giving source of God.

Finally, I believe in the fact that the Holy Bible has given us all that we need to know. Hence, when we doubt, may we not be dogmatic.

Always enjoy your thoughts, Anna. Apologies for my delayed response. I was inactive because of flu until now. God bless.