Awry, Amiss, Amok


Richard D. Bartlett – "Well in other news, I had a Big Thought (the start of one); maybe you'd like to ponder it… it's one of those things you might like to ponder."
Aaron J. Stewart – "Indubitably".
RDB – "Okay, creation vs. evolution right (and anything else on that spectrum) - neither of these theories shed any light on what happened the day before day zero … because we can't shed light on it because it is so far outside of our experience and capability. So what's the argument about? Who cares if we came from the breath of God or from monkeys? The journey seems to be almost entirely irrelevant, its the departure point that matters. (I’m not communicating very well I'm afraid.)"
AJS – "People see different departure points as a consequence of taking different journeys, i.e., the story you tell matters to the outcome and the way people live it."
RDB – "Well take the evolution point of view: before the big bang (etc) there was... nothing really... hard to say… or the creation point of view: before creation there was... something to do with God but nothing really... hard to say."
AJS – "Yeah but history – i.e. the bit we can tell - is a story, and people live stories."
RDB – "what I'm getting at is that when it comes down to it, there is some time in our past that we absolutely cannot fathom, regardless of how you look at it. That's why God's God and we are dudes. Which makes the creation story slightly pointless for me. Like, so what? Okay we magicked onto earth. Sweet. Bonus. I don’t see what difference it makes. But what I'm really getting at: when you apply that premise (that there are unfathomable things) to the future... I don’t particularly believe that there is any continuity from this life to the next - purely because it is so far out of our understanding."
AJS – "Afraid I'm not following your jihad… by 'continuity' do you mean 'reducible to consistent explanation?'"
RDB – "Not really, I mean how can the earthly me be punished for earthly sins in hell? Because when the earthly me gets to hell, it will be unrecognizable! Okay, the story goes, if you're good, you die and go to heaven, if you're bad you die and go to hell. But in what sense is that You in heaven the same you on earth?"
AJS – "Ah well you see that problem is solved by the eternal immaterial soul. Big ups for the floaty soul thingy. SOUL, brother, that's your answer... or at least it has been for 2000 years (Greek soul, that is)."
RDB - "Okay so there are some souls in heaven and some in hell. So why should I give two shits if I'm in one or the other? If someone has to go to hell, why not me?"
AJS – "Are you seriously asking? That sounds like an 'uh-oh, he's cracked' question."
RDB – "I've been thinking about this for a while, its not like I woke up a Satanist."
AJS - "Personally I don't believe in hell. I believe that people progressively cease to be human as they draw away from the image of God, and the end-point of that is complete cessation of being."
RDB – "That doesn't sound so bad. There's a line in Jude that says, "for them is reserved the darkness and the blackness forever" (basically). Which would be a sort of proof text I guess?"
AJS – "Yep, maybe."
RDB – "Well if Richard D. Bartlett were kept in blackness and darkness forever, he would cease to be Richard D. Bartlett."
AJS – "Exactly, he would in fact cease to be, period. This leads to another point. To judge the worth of existence after God has restored all things based on what we experience now is the height of stupidity."
RDB – True. So what's the incentive to being a Christian, in terms of the afterlife?"
AJS – "Ha - incentive. Economic beasts, aren't we? Two things i would say:
1. It is not 'incentive' we experience primarily, like working out Pascal's wager, but rather the sense of 'call', or 'being shaped' by the story of Christianity and God and the world. We are, as it were, drawn in against our will.
2. Part of that story is that what we experience now is a huge degradation of what life and experience and joy ought to be. As we are drawn into it, we want to live in hope of this betterment to come, and we find ourselves wanting this not only for ourselves, but for all those around us as well (and for the creation as a whole). In other words, the story matches and awakens our sense that 'things are not what they ought to be'."
RDB – "Well all this talk adds weight to my theory that the popular concept of religion as an insurance policy for the afterlife is a load of crap."
AJS – "I agree. So, if we are to speak on 'incentives' at all, it is a rather more positive and hopeful thing than an insurance policy against hell."
RDB – "Well that’s where my logic was going to. Nice when that happens."

And, as Neitszche would say: —.


Anonymous said...

Interesting blog Richard - like reading it!

So then, what's the point of religion?

I've been pondering that question for a while now.

What's your conclusion, Richard?

Richard D. Bartlett said...

As far as I am concerned, the point of religion is to do good right here right now. Heaven and hell are well out of my scope, at least for now.

I don't have much interest in coming to a conclusion, to be honest. At the moment it seems like the whole universe boils down to yin & yang and life is the journey towards a perfect understanding of that fact.

Anonymous said...

Some thoughts re Heaven & Hell:
The fall of mankind came about as a result of partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge - that is the knowledge of all good and all evil. One understanding of the afterlife - in either Heaven or Hell - is that it will be with the full knowledge of both sides. Those in Hell will face eternal separation from God - for all time - with the full knowledge of having blown it! And knowing what they spurned! The full knowledge of good (Heaven) will mean the total restoration and full knowledge of who/what mankind was created to be "prior to the fall."
What you ... were created to be had sin not ever entered the equation.

Richard D. Bartlett said...

That's a good point - though it doesn't address the problem of my personal continuity from this life to the next. That is, in what sense is the perfect Me in heaven related to the Me on earth? I feel that the two are so inconceivably different as to be distinct and hence, why me worry?

p.s. feel free to give yourself a name, I have a tendency to tell anonymous comment0rs to shut up, without explanation.

Anonymous said...

Further thought: Most of us are merely maintaining the flesh (eating, sleeping, staying healthy, etc) in this world. (Logically, a ridiculous pastime considering we all die anyhow) but.. Imagine yourself, without the necessity to spend so much time doing that maintaining.. what you,in a perfected state could achieve? I don't think the two selves betwixt/between will be so different. In fact I think they will be more alike than any of us dare to imagine.
P.S. Not sure how these sites work (blogger bunny), so apologies for anonymous tag - I don't care if you know who I am, but don't want that out in a public sphere - so feel free to tell me to shut up. No offence intended and none taken! (I'm shutting up now!)

Richard D. Bartlett said...

well all that maintaining is just a bit of ying baby!

Aaron said...

RDB there are some ways to tie up these threads:

[but first let me say that Anon makes some good points]

1. Religion = doing good: This is true, but in Christinity this is focused on our god YHWH: we are called to participate in YHWH's good works. "It is God" said St Paul, "who works in you..."

Thus, although 'Heaven' and 'Hell' represent the future, this is not in any sense opposed to the present, because YHWH's work encompasses both.

You are right to say that the popular conception of religion as an insurance policy against hell is wrong; but it would be equally mistaken, as a Christian, to say that we are all for the good here and now, and have nothing to say about the future. As I said recently, in Christ the future has already arrived; in YHWH's terms they are inseperably united. It is not for us to pick one over the other.

2. Continuity of identity: in my view this is a psuedo-problem. It exists if you think YHWH can only ensure continuity of personhood through some sort of stable, permanent 'repository' of personhood that's already built in. And that's what the pagan Greek 'immaterial eternal soul' was meant to be.

But the point of death in scripture is that the person dies. Not an outer shell, not just part of them, but the person themselves. The horror of being cast out of YHWH's household/garden is that our parents were lost to life. In biblical terms death means radical discontinuity.

But the joy of resurrection and YHWH's grace is not only restoration to the household, but transformation to an even better-than-original state of being. In Christ we are re-made so that we cannot die again. That is why, for us, death has no victory and the grave no sting.

Resurrection, then, means both restorative continuity (my personhood is redeemed from death), but also transformative discontinuity (my personhood is taken beyond its original fleshly state).

So the 'problem' of continutity goes to the heart of gospel. When we say that the 'I' of the future is the same as the 'I' of the present and of the past, we are again confessing with radical faith that in Christ, the present, the future and the past are united and transformed by resurrection - that is, by YHWH's good work.

Aaron said...

To re-phrase consisely:

1. The 'here and now' is also the future in Christ,
2. 'Continuity' is the problem solved by resurrection.

Anonymous said...

I'll subscribe to your consisely re-phrased points Aaron, and add that as we share in the (physical)flesh death of Christ, so we will share in the same resurrection experience of Christ. (Otherwise I'm just yinging around)

Brass Baboon said...

Hmm. I see the creation/evolution debate as something along the lines of the intro of a story.

For example, lets say, you skip the intro and wade straight into the chapter one. Behold, the two kindoms are at war. Each maintain that the other started it. Ignoring evolution/creation issue is like saying then "does it matter who started the war? you are at war now and that is what matters." the start does matter, as it puts the spin on everything up to the here and now.

It also involves that accuracy of the Bible. Genesis is written as a book of history. If what it says is wrong, the Bible is wrong. If the Bible is wrong, you have no religion worth a damn, and it's no more than a set of morals to live a 'good' life. So this does impact on the here and now also.

As to continuity, I see it more of like the difference between you in this small dark mountain valley, all you see are cliffs on either side, leering up at you you are scared(, and cold). There is no sun for you cannot see it. Compare this with you atop the mountain, your view ecompasing all around you, including the sun and that little ravine you were in. From this newer, more perfect (as it were) perspective, you percieve the world entirely differently. You have a new outlook. But despite the fact that you view things differently, it is still the same you. This analogy probably sucks badly, but I am using it as a cunningly crafted diversion from studying for tomorrow's exam.

Anonymous said...


I think the point of the creation story would be primarily the creator and his relation to the created things (you, me, birds, bees). Perhaps the point is how we respond to questions about why we're here, what we should be up to with our lives. I think how we view our origins does affect our perception of what we should be up to...

Regarding personal identity, both the OT and NT seems to indicate that resurrection is of the whole person. However there is discontinuity as is fairly evident in 1 Cor 15 (bodies appear to be different/transformed) and 2 Cor 5. But they're both hermeneutically awful passages which I don't understand very well.

Quite incidentally It occurred to me today that if there genuinely are demons then that is just as much a problem for me as if there is gods... neither side is going out of their way to solicit my services... most upsetting, I feel undervalued.

I think this is prolly more distressing to me than the evolution/creation thingumajig.

As far as hell and heaven and other stories people scare their children with (sometimes tantamount to child abuse IMNSHO) I agree with John A T Robinson's impression of people's perception of life after death - it seems good to me:

"'Making a good death' no longer strikes people as an intelligent aim in life. It's what they do here that matters. After that the ball can bounce as it likes"

Richard D. Bartlett said...

My problem Matt is that the "creation story" as we hear it doesn't tell us anything at all about what happened before Day One. And neither does any other story. So it seems evident to me that if we are going to accept Day Minus One as an absolute mystery, then it doesn't really make much difference how you explain Day One.

Pretty vague, huh.

Daniel McClelland said...

Somewhere in Isaiah you hear, very briefly, something about choirs and Satan's Fall. That was Before Creation (Or...uh... 'B.C.'). And before creation the Earth was shapeless and void. I do like a good sphere.

See, the problem(s) you have here is your sense of a time-space continuum. I like to think (and most theologians don't like that I do) of God as being in a spherical bubble: where he sees the full length between Creation and Christ's Second Coming stretched out - not in a line from beginning to end, but a fully 360 circle where the events are currently, previously, and later occuring. Perhaps this is too wacked out, but it is the only logical idea I can think of that could show his involvement in Time (as a narrative) without it having a beginning and end. Perhaps this is Fourth Dimension sorta stuff (or whatever dimension they're up to now. Probably ten actually, come to think of it)?

The other way I calm my "Before Creation" jitters, is the sentence "I am." Who is God? "He Is." When is God? "Always." Where is God? "Everywhere." Why is God? "Because that's all there is. And all there ever will be." "I am" is the most powerful sentence I have ever read, and easily the one I have dwelt on the most, nearly always out of fear of The End of The Beginning

Daniel McClelland said...

Do not get me started on Evolution.

This guy has a lot to suggest, without actually championing one view or another very often.

Aaron said...

Some comments in the order I think of them:

RDB, doesn't your position collapse into the one that says "I cannot say anything worthwhile about anything until I know everything about everything"?

More concretely, several have now pointed out that we must live a story of some sort or other. It seems that not knowing what happened before the story opens - not having a prequel - doen't make living the story we have worthless. Especially if we trust the Storyteller.

D: I like the Robinson quote; it would appear that scripture says very little about post-mortem existence. The broad strokes of course are there in Christ - in Him we see the future - but specifics are lacking.

Clearly, though, the point of resurrection is that it heralds (1) the hope of restoration/shalom, and therefore (2) reason to act in that hope here and now. 'Resurrection' was never an other-worldly concept, and so our energies should never be directed in an other-wordly way.

And precisely because our god is the god of resurrection, we don't need specifics in order to be trustfully content with a bouncing ball.

Anon, yes - it is Christ's this-worldly resurrection that provides the foundation for what I've just said. In whatever way we come to share that resurrection, you can bet it will be this-worldly, too.

Anonymous said...

A powerful sermon I once heard - in brief...
1. As God switched on the light of the Universe, he can switch it off again anytime he chooses - without consultation with humankind.
(Touches on I Am)
2. Q. Why doesn't he? Humankind have certainly given enough provocation - all are stubborn and unruly - amongst other things!
(Touches on Amazing Grace)
3. A. Because he gave his Word.
And his Word became...flesh...
(Touches on the coming of Christ)
If you ponder on it - tells a great deal about the reliability of God's word...and ...about the future!
I think that you can choose to rely on you, yourself and you... or you can choose to rely on God. Personally I think he has a better track record than me - thus far!
P.S. I even broke my word about "shutting up." Too interesting to resist. Will place foot back in mouth - immediately - I promise!

Aaron said...

Anon - yes, I think that's exactly right.

And this business of word-keeping is what occupies so much of Paul's discussions around the covenant history of Israel. What does it mean for God's integrity, asks Paul in early Romans, that Israel is now being rejected by Him, but the Gentiles welcomed?

Paul's answer always comes back to Jesus, and to the 'new' Israel formed and shaped around him. For Paul, issues of 'truth' are always those of word-keeping (rather than the abstract questions of existence we tend to ask). So when Paul says (in various ways) that YHWH has been found true, he means that God has kept His word in and through Christ. In other words, He has done His covenant testimony to Abraham/Israel. But for Paul this is contrasted with the lie of all men, who act as if God is not to be trusted (by living in non-redemptive ways), and especially of Isreal, who despite being God's own people, defied the reliability of His word.

Hence, Paul's conclusion - "Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar!" God's purposes will unfold according to His word, and we can either be found testifying in agreement and support with our lives, or testifying against God, saying that He is not to be trusted.

This is why Jesus prayed for the unity of all his follwers in John 17, saying that by their love for each other, the world would know that He was sent of God. He was saying that our unity and mutual love is the testimony to the world that God is true.

Quite a sobering challenge!

Anonymous said...


Surely a story must start somewhere.

So the day before the day the story starts may well be a little vague.

I can't see how to get around that.

But I think the difference between them is in the way they picture the world for us and that seems quite different... And that seems to me to be what is important.

Now if you should happen to believe in an omnipotent god and also that you crawled out of the sludge then your relation to that god might be tricky. Particularly if it was a chance event... I think a strong belief in a god who has an overaching plan tends to make you wonder how and why it all started...

Brass Baboon said...

Going back to the mr Daniel B M. If that Isaiah passage is about before creation, then is Satan not a created being (and therefore God)?

Brass Baboon said...

Also, Richard, going back to the Before DAY 1 thingimy.

Creation says: Before Day 1- GOD.

Evolution says: Before Day 1- either nothing or everything (the whole cyclic time thingimy)

They do have stuff to say before day one. They aren't terribly desriptive however, I'll agree wit you on that count.

Anonymous said...

But there can also be a mix of the two.
God of before creation created the world through the mechanism of evolution. But this option does create a bit of a mess.

Anonymous said...

One point about God choosing to turn on the light of creation goes to the heart of your question - RDB - about the before thingumy!
That there are things of God and there are things of man. So before and after (whichever methods God chooses to bring them about) are his alone to know. He didn't need to let us know about it, but chose to, through his Word and Christ. He invites your inclusion in the whole shebang (as part of creation and personally) and asks only that you trust him to keep to his Word. So, in the end it boils down to.."do you believe God's Word - is he reliable?"
That brings us back to Aaron's points...with which I do so goodness you think like me!

Daniel McClelland said...

Interesting point Matthew. Yeah, I guess Creation happened, then Lucifer got all cocky, then he got to cast to Earth. I dunno eh. Can't claim to be an expert.

Richard D. Bartlett said...

After some refining on the ears of partygoers last night, I guess my point is that it is a good and neccesary thing to admit and accept Infinite Mystery, and to deny it either by glibly saying 'God did this and then this and now we are here' or 'some random stuff happened and now we are here' is the height of arrogance, and it is entirely insulting to my intelligence and dishonest to my sense of wonder.

And then once you accept the existence of massive, impenetrable mystery, you are primed for the two tenets: everything ever right now for you, and, you are but dust and ashes, which are in many ways central to Christianity (and Buddhism. and yin/yang. and...)

Anonymous said...


Translate that into plain english would you...



Richard D. Bartlett said...

really? I totally thought I had done really well with that one long sentence. It says exactly what I want to:

- I must accept mystery
- my experience of explanations of the world's origins do not meet this criteria
- accepting mystery puts one in one's place

Anonymous said...

Which is exactly the conclusion I had expected from you, Richard.

I mean why believe the Creation account in the Bible anyway.

It only has God as Author, but what would He know, right?

Much better to trust your own feelings, your own experience.
(although how an arrogant little snotnose of a mere 21 years can claim t have any experience is totally beyond me.)

You are a very arrogant, silly young man, Richard. I hope you'll grow up soon.

Call me an old fart, but when it comes to arrogance, you really take the cake, son.


Richard D. Bartlett said...

If you were listening, you would see I have no intention of discrediting the Creation story, and if you must know, I happen to believe it. My issue is with the use of the story which seems to be, "Look, the origin of the entire universe is a very simple thing, end of story." Which I believe is tantamount to saying, "Look, this whole God thing is very simple, I've got it all concisely explained in this book of systematic theology."

I won't call you an old fart, but I will tell you and your high horse to fuck off.

Anonymous said...

So what exactly are you saying?

You seem to contradict yourself time and time again.

We weren't there at creation, nor before.

God has given us His account of the origin of the world as we know it.

He didn't tell us much about the time before Creation.

When posed with the question of "how did we get here - in fact how did any of this get here?" we can only turn to the Bible's account.

That is the only, authoritative answer we have access to.


BTW you've recently told AJ to be nicer online, and yet you continue to be a right nasty piece of work yourself. I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning...


Richard D. Bartlett said...

Who do you think you are telling me I'm snot-nosed and arrogant and then getting all uptight when I tell you to fuck off? You're the one who lowered the tone, dickhead.

And I'm bored of this topic, incidentally.

Aaron said...

D, given your implicit claim to greater maturity and humilty (especially before scripture), I'd expect you to find a better way of speaking to RDB than this, which is entirely unedifying for all concerned.

Hoever right you may be, practice what you care for, brother.

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is why someone of Richard's intelligence is so blissfully unconcerned that he has such a pluralistic belief system.

There's no consistency anywhere - he's all over the place, and doesn't seem to care that a lot of his beliefs are contradictory and incompatible.

But I guess that's a sign of the times.

Hail postmodernism!


Richard D. Bartlett said...

So which am I - intelligent or silly?

I thought I better clear that up because, y'know, inconsistency is the devil's breakfast.

Richard D. Bartlett said...

And FYI, I never told AJ to do anything. I gracefully suggested a way to make his message more effective and he gracefully accepted my suggestion.

You seem to be getting good mileage out of that whole Not Paying Attention gig.

Anonymous said...

Why must they be mutually exclusive?

You are both intelligent and silly.


Aaron said...

For what it's worth, I don't think that consistency is the biggest deal in the world.

For instance, it's often the case that we need to be apparently inconsistent, in order to hold two things that seem to be in tension - a classic example would be God's power and man's decision-making.

What matters, I think, is the [direction? state? disposition?] of one's life when dealing with a particular 'factoid'. If one is ernestly trying to honour God with the little scaps of badly-put-together bits-and-pieces with which our minds and thoughts are filled, then out of that will come true servanthood with which God is pleased.

In other words, it's not the completion of some logic-driven abstract theory that God counts as worthwhile in his sight, but rather the actual doing of the bits-and-pieces of life.

Now, this is where knowing someone really counts. For all that RDB sometimes makes me and my sensibilities uncomfortable, I judge that in the main, he deals with factoids in what appears to be a genuine attempt at servanthood under God.

What I am trying to say is that rejecting a call to be logically consistent in theory is not necessarily the mark of someone who is rejecting the call to live and believe a biblical faith.

Abraham went to kill Isaac in order to obey a command that was apparently inconsistent with everything else he'd been taught. He found a way to reconcile it, according to Paul in Hebrews, but you can bet he really struggled with the logic!

I do not wish to denigrate theory. It is an important discipler. But theory and the form of words sometimes serve us poorly in our attempts to represent the world and what we know about it. A much deeper way to judge someone is whom and how they worship.

Once that is sorted, words take their place as a means of confession, for which we can be truly thankful.

So please, look for the confessions of RDB.

Anonymous said...

I really like reading your posts online, Aaron. I don't know you personally, but from what I read I conclude you are astute, insightful, and always very gracious. I don't always follow your line of reasoning, but that's probably a fault of mine (getting older...:)

However, the analogy you make is not a very good one.

Abraham was being completely consistent when he went to obey a command from God, illogical though the command may have seemed.
His life before and after was marked by his unqestioned obedience to God (even though he thought he'd help God out from time to time...). And he didn't really have a choice did he? - God did command him!

Richard however, makes his own choices. He chooses how he responds, how he treats people, what image he projects.

"By their fruits you shall know them" etc, and from the comments Richard posts and how he treats people online, I wonder what kind of person he really is.

I see a silly, arrogant young man with a massive chip on his shoulder.

He really doesn't seem to know how to deal with others in a civilized manner and cannot handle criticism without resorting to some foul retort.

Genuine attempt at servanthood?

A servant is humble. I have yet to witness that trait in Richard, but that may come as he matures. Foolishness of youth and all.

Richard may claim to serve God, but surely it's on his own terms!

A servant of God also loves his brethren like himself - but
where is the love?

His obvious delight in continued swearing and nastiness towards some polite fundie brother (for requesting he stop swearing) is not very loving (Dan's blog). In fact, his whole demeanor towards anyone who dares defy him or his (il)logic is one of antagonism.

A complete contrast to yourself.



Aaron said...

Well, it's true that I haven't followed the record of unpleasantness elsewhere.

But I do see RDB in real life reasonably often, and my perception of him is somewhat different to yours.

Online relations are so easily fraught with uni-dimensionality!

But thank you for your kind words about my 2 dimensions online.

As for Abraham - well, how often we rationalise something into being what we really want. And Abraham surely faced the temptation to conclude that it was not YHWH's voice of command that he had heard, but that of some lying spirit (such as delivered messages at other times). He must surely have wondered (in a doubting way) at YHWH's logic.

Of course, he did not in the end act in disbelief, and instead trusted God. But my point was that the demands of consistency could, if pushed too far, have easily pursuaded him that it could not have been God's voice that he heard. And honestly, would we blame him?

Sometimes, we have to strictly relativise consistency in the determination of truth. That's all I was trying to say. :)

But lest we end up talking about talking about talking, perhaps - if you're in the Welly region - you might consider going out with us for a beer!

Richard D. Bartlett said...

Aaron, you're the man.

Daniel, I thought I told you to fuck off.

Aaron said...

Thank you.

But for your next you get to buy the beers.

I may need to be inebriated to keep defending you.

Aaron said...

whoops: for your next *outburst

Dan said...

For the record, the above 'Daniel' is not me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Richard.

I finally see the light!

You're not being nasty to others because you're an arrogant young man, but because you're making a point - each word carefully placed for a particular reason. How terribly clever of you. And here we all thought...

Sorry mate - no can do. Jesus said to love one another, and you're not doing that. If you disagree with someone about something, surely you, with your excellent grasp of the english language, can find some more appropriate words to use.

But I will leave you in your foolishness.

I do hope you'll grow up sometime - I sense a great potential for good that's being wasted at the moment (like every weekend?)


Richard D. Bartlett said...

I sense a self-righteous know-nothing gimp.

What it is this great potential I'm wasting? Do you think I could grow up to be just like you!? Gee whiz, can I?

I've never denied being arrogant or foolish or young. So what is your point? Do you spend your days trolling the personal scratch pads of arrogant foolish young men everywhere, correcting heresy in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ? Ah yes I remember, Matthew 97 verse 22, "Go now and make massive assumptions about people you don't know, take theoretical arguments personally and provoke them with insults, then saddle up on your high horse and cast aspersions on their character by My Holy Name."

Well if you took that chapter in context, you would see it also instructs you to go eat balls.

Sambo said...

But I will leave you in your foolishness.

I do hope you'll grow up sometime - I sense a great potential for good that's being wasted at the moment (like every weekend?)"

This, according to Daniel, is how Jesus loved everyone. By acting like a dick.

Anonymous said...

Richard and Sambo - thank you for your gracious remarks.

Sambo - as you grow as a Christian, I'd encourage you to take someone like Aaron as your example, as opposed to Richard.

Keep reading the Bible, and remember, we'll share heaven one day.

Richard - thank you for showing me how the love of Christ dwells richly in you too. Keep up the good work, brother

Aaron - I really appreciate your contributions online,and enjoy reading your posts. Thanks, seriousy. I won't be joining you for that beer (Wellington is a bit too far across the sea for me).

vaya con dios,


Richard D. Bartlett said...

I can't believe you come off out of this thinking you're looking like the good guy!

As I recall, we were having a reasonable discussion when you decided to demonize your opposition, unprovoked, and started calling me names and do whatever you can to make me look like a twat on my own website! Now follow that up with a healthy dose of sarcasm and condescending grand-standing and you have earned yourself an indefinite commenting ban!

In other words: you are nothing. Nothing.

Goodnight, dickhead!

Anonymous said...

What happened to hell Aaron?

Sambo said...

Perhaps I should take Jesus as my example instead? Or do you put all your faith in man, Daniel?

Richard D. Bartlett said...

Daniel can't reply to you anymore Sam. His comments keep mysteriously deleting themselves.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

what about Rev. 20

Sambo said...

That is mysterious indeed, Richard!

Perhaps I would care more if his words held any worth.

Aaron said...

Dennis - I currently think that hell was a real place outside Jerusalem called Gehenna (the valley of burning) in Hebrew. It was used as a place to burn rubbish - outside the city, where it was unclean.

When this word 'gehenna' is used and translated 'hell', it is always associated with some sort of (as we would say) political judgement on Israel or other nations. In effect, it is God saying "I'm going to throw you people on the rubbish heap".

This burning gehenna-hell was used by Jesus and the apostles to warn Israel of the judgement due her apostacy and rejection of God's fulfilment of His word in Jesus. This imagery would not have spoken to any Jews of individualised post-morten conscious torment, but rather of national judgement.

That judgement came in AD70, with the razing and burning of Jerusalem and its idolatrous temple by the Roman armies. Israel was finally thrown on the rubbish heap by God, fulfilling Christ's words: "You are the salt of the world. But if the salt loses its saltiness, it is no longer good for anything, but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."

Of course, in this sense hell has not gone anywhere. God will still judge nations for radical departures from the commission He gives them - to be His images.

There is another word in Hebrew, sheol, which unfortunately has also been transalated 'hell' in English. But it simply means 'the grave', or 'the unseen'. These two should not be confused, as the grave itself is never associated with burning judgement, but only with images of complete absence from life, and of sleep. Someone in the grave is, as we say of sleep, "dead to the world". That sums up the Hebrew view of sheol very well.

It is the gates of the grave that Jesus said would not prevail against the church; that is, the grave will give up its dead to resurrection, through the ministry of the church with Jesus at its head. Thus, the early church developed a series of dramas that described the 'harrowing of hell' - that mythic time during Jesus' death when he "decended into hell" and freed the dead saints. That's the origin of the confessional phrase.

So, the early church had a very clear idea that 'hell', considered as sheol (or hades in Greek), was radically transformed by Jesus' death and resurrection. And so Paul says, "Where, O grave, is thy victory? Where, O death, thy sting?"

But I do not believe (currently) that scripture anywhere presents the idea that individuals qua individuals (please note that there ARE places in which individuals are used as REPRESENTATIVES of Israel, like the parable of the talents) face eternal burning for rejecting their comission as humans.

Rather, the picture is twofold:

1. The wicked and evildoer may face sudden calamity, even when all seems well, and will be swept away to death and destruction with no recall,

2. When in the culmination of all things God comes in judgement and puts all things to rights, it will be the righteous who are raised to life - a life incomparable to the shadows we know now - and the wicked will be left in the grave, to be no more.

So, gehenna is the undoing of nations. Permanent death, de-creation, is the undoing of life and the ultimate end of the wicked. To draw away from that life while still walking - to refuse the image of God - is to walk toward hell while still alive.

If we truly had an appreciation of the life that God intends to give us, and the dignity inherent in bearing His image, we would not need the thought of eternal toment to scare us into heaven. And it is the church's job to demostrate that life and dignity.

Lastly, the 'traditional' (according to whom?) notion of hell is of course a Catholic invention, and as a Truly Reformed ex-Catholic, Dennis, I imagine you'd want to give it up.

Aaron said...

I recommend that before you start arguing with me, you read Samuel G. Dawson.

And if you do you'll notice that I got some facts wrong. Ooops.

Anonymous said...

As to my question re Rev . 20 then?

Aaron said...

Dennis, you don't get to use 6 whole words to respond to 15 paragraphs and expect another reply.

There's enough in what I said, and what Dawson says, to answer your question.

Come back with something more specific.

Please. (My mother taught me to be polite)

Aaron said...

5, even!

Anonymous said...

you say I think that Hell was AD 70 in the sacking of Jerusalem. OK how about the words of Jesus in Matt.25: 31 to 46.
Or was that short term hell (around 40 years then the bliss of annihalation)?

Aaron said...

Currently I see that passage as fitting within the general expectation that YHWH would come and judge between Israel and the Gentile nations, as they had always expected He would.

As such, it flows beautifully with previous context, beginning in Matt 24 with Jesus' account of how the temple would be destroyed.

As the last prophet to Israel, the vineyard owners' son come to his unrulty tenants, Jesus is announcing the master's very close presence. This has an even wider context, going right back to the covenant curses and blessings of Deut 29-30, through the prophets, and most especially Malachi. John the Baptist has brought news that the axe is at the root of the tree and bad braches about to be burned, bringing Malachi's prophecy very near - even while going out to the desert to re-enact the exodus, pointing to Jesus as the one around whom this new exodus revolves - and therefore the one whom Israel needs to trust and follow.

Jesus in Matt 25 is simply telling the disciples what the times look like for Israel. It is the culmination of her covenant history with YHWH, because her borders are about to be re-drawn and her constitution re-written through Jesus himself, who would welcome all the nations into God's new family.

The 'eternal' spoken of at the end is simply a way of speaking about the permanance of the new convenant life that will be established in Christ. He is the Adam - the new man - who cannot fail or fall, the Son in whom the whole creation is guaranteed its redemption and its future. Israel, however, was on the cusp of being denied entrance to this new life, being threatened with destruction for her rebellion. She, of course, was part of the old Adamic order, the old Adam who'd fallen, and she needed to enter the new order with Christ.

She would not. Therefore Israel as a covenant entity was destroyed, rather than being transformed in Christ. Israel was excluded from the life of God, while the gentile nations were welcomed. (Notice that Jesus in 31-46 is speaking in terms of the ethnos, the peoples or nations, rather than of individuals as such. This is not a picture of an individualised end-of-history judgment.)

It's a bit odd to speak of 'short term hell' or 'the bliss of annihilation'. That sort of language simply doesn't fit the way the concepts work. But the language of Jesus fits very well indeed with the entire old covenant history of Israel, and the drawing to a climax of that history in himself, with judgment (either condemnation or vindication) as the consequence of his own appointment as God's true Son, the real and faithful Israel.

Sambo said...

Just say, "Yahweh" :(

Saying, "Yod He Vav He" is funny.

Anonymous said...

1. are not nations composed of individuals , se vs Good News Bible says" and the people from all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd seperates the sheep from the goats".vs33 goes on... "He will put the righteous people on his right and the others on his left etc etc. I think you are under estimating individual resposibility involved in failure to believe.

2. Where do think the branches are burned?

3. I mentioned annihilation as this is your presumed position if you don't believe in hell.

4. Since Jesus probably said Matt 25 in around AD 30 and clearly teaches (to most of us, on a straight forward reading,an actual hell rather than a visit to a suburb of Jerusalem to be trampled underfoot) and temple destruction was around 40 years later, hence short term (better than eternity anyway).

I don't understand what you are on about. Where are the undregenerate going to spend eternity to your understanding Aaron?
Regards Dennis

Aaron said...

1. Yes, and individuals died in Jerusalem. But the individual deaths had a much wider significance than just 'person so-and-so died': God was dismantling the nation of Israel.

2. The burning is an image, picturing the destruction of a thing. An image does not require us to look for an actual place of burning - that's not the point. What we should look for is an actual event of destruction.

3. I'm still uncertain about the annihilation of particular people; though I suppose it is my default position. The process is that someone gets so far from the image of God, even under the reign of Christ, that they cease to be. God will not raise them when He raises the righteous. They'll be simply gone.

4. The destruction pictured by gehenna hell-fires is not short term. Do you imagine that Israel, constituted as the 12 tribes under Torah (or even Judah alone) will now be reconstituted and welcomed by Christ? Of course not - in her previous covenant identity Israel is divorced, dead and buried. And this is not a piddling event: Israel's old covenant calling and identity lay at the heart of how Israel understood God would deal with the world. Having that revoked is like us having our entire political, social, economic and legal systems destroyed. The world would seem utterly unrecognisable.

Your confusion might be because I refer hell-imagery to actual religio-political structures, the 'ethnos' of the earth, not the eternal destiny of each individual. I believe that's the way it's used in Scripture.

Have you read Dawson?

Anonymous said...

I have not read Dawson but would be interested.
Annihilation is untennable in my reading of scripture.
You still haven't really answered the two texts I referred to other than to consign them to 'imagery'. I think this is wishful thinking on your part.

Aaron said...

Sorry Dennis, I'm lost. Which two texts haven't I answered? And why isn't placing the use of particular language in the narrative context of scripture an answer? Isn't that exactly what we're meant to do?

I'm not sure about annihilation. I simply haven't studied it enough. My main point is that 'hell-fire' imagery is not applied to post-mortem individuals, but to politico-religious structures - although of course, when politico-religious structures are destroyed, so are the individuals that cling to them. But it ain't post-morten eternal torment.

Here's Dawson's article.

Daniel McClelland said...

Um... that Daniel isn't me either, just so you know.

Anonymous said...

evening all,
I'm afraid I have run out of time to read through all the comments, though i have browsed here and there, so maybe i should not comment. However, being who I am I will continue.

Early on, RDB, you mentioned the verse in Jude that says "They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever."
I read that and interptret 'darkness' as in dark vs. light = evil vs. good. (Aaron seemed to let this slide.)

Matthew 13:49-590 reads, in much the same context,
"(49)This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous (50)and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

This seems to indicate, first, that there is someone doing the gnashing of teeth business, and second that that 'someone' is in fact the unrighteous who will experience it. I do not understand how this fits in with a few of a sort of annihilation, Aaron, if you could explain, or prehaps just listen.

I realise you ,may say that this too applies only to 70AD, or something like that, Aaron, but tying back in with Jude, the place of darkness, weeping, etc. is eternal, not just temporal, or on the other hand not really there at all.

If we lose the idea of hell, heaven has no meaning, as RDB seems to think. In that case you may as well throw the bible out and go hire a slut because you have a fifty fifty chance of something cool happening later on maybe.

Also maybe this is not the best forum, even though some would say otherwise, for this sort of discussion. Maybe we should take it to people who have devoted their working life to studying the bible, ie: Rev. De Vos, who I'm sure would be glad to comment. Otherwise people may inadvertantly be put into spiritual danger. I think there is clear Biblical backing for that idea, but I will have to look it up closer, maybe Matthew 18 applies.

Anyway, school night tonight, g'night everyone have a lovely sleep.

Aaron said...

James, I'm perfectly happy not to comment further if you feel there is danger in further discussion.

I would say, though, that it's a bit of a worry if a major defense of the conscious-torment version of hell is that people need to be scared into heaven. That's no faith at all.

Anonymous said...

You have not convivcingly advocated your position Aaron and in the face of clear scripture that is a cheap shot if that is what the Bible teaches Aaron then leave it be . People would certainly not 'choose' heaven without the work of the Holy Spirit ... perhaps a case of carrot and stick. There would be many more in hell by default if annihilation was true.

Anonymous said...

I never said we are hscared hinto heaven. Now you mention it however, God knows the human psyche pretty well and maybe that is just one of the ways he convicts us of the need for Christ: fear.
Hgood day to hyou hall.

Sambo said...

To get into Heaven though is only through Jesus.

I dont think you can be scared into a personal relationship with Jesus. I just don't think it would work out between you.

Afaik, 'gnashing of teeth' equaits to, 'ZOMG IM SCREWED. SHOULD OF LISTENED'. Times number. Plus number.

Anonymous said...

Hmm...if there's no consequence, what's to stop people from continuing to reject God?

If all you can say, "'ll just stay dead...and nothing worse..." then most people would suggest you keep your Christianity and let them eat drink and be merry. You can't prove that what you promise (resurrection) is true, yet they know for a fact that they're going to die.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Aaron said...

Roger: because the world's a rotten place for many, and the story of God's compassion and solution touches us and awakens the hope that it will be improved and made right.

Scripture makes constant warning to those who eat and drink and make merry wihout regard to (or in actual oppression of) their fellows. It is no coincidence that it is often the poor and weak who find in the gospel a story of care and love that they can grasp and believe - and it is they who end up improving the lot of the world, because they have known its pain.

The test of gospel power is not whether the rich, comfortable, and well-fed middle classes feel inclined to take up their crosses.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but my point is - if you go out into the world and tell people to repent...because...?!

I can understand a non-christian saying - "well, if the worst that's going to happen is annihilation, no problem - pass that bottle would you..."

As for promising to improve their lot whilst here on earth, convince me. They could just as well argue that it's all chance anyway, sometimes you're the pigeon, sometimes you're the statue. Why bother becoming a Christian?

You're removing the consequence from their destructive lifestyles.


Anonymous said...

Oopsie, not quite done yet...

"The test of gospel power is not whether the rich, comfortable, and well-fed middle classes feel inclined to take up their crosses."

Arguably the rich and comfortable need the gospel more than the poor since they're more tempted to continue to reject God (it's far easier to recognize a need for help when you're in dire straits than when it's all rosy).

What do you have to offer them? A good life on earth, they've got it.

Future restoration in the resurrection - whatever do you mean by that, good fellow? - look at me, I make $100,000, have a beautiful wife, two great kids, nice house, great car, holidays, etc etc etc. So what I'm an atheist (I'm not, just trying to prove a point).

Convince me to change my lifestyle and follow Christ.


Anonymous said...

It's like Richard said in the second message in this thread, answering the question "what's the point of religion?"

As far as I am concerned, the point of religion is to do good right here right now...Heaven and hell are well out of my scope, at least for now.

The question stands unanswered - why? What's the point?


Aaron said...

Roger, are you seriously asserting that
(1) there is nothing to hope for in becoming a Christian, and/or
(2) scripture contains no threats of dire consequences, in this life, for those who don't obey God?

Let me put it the other way around: do you truly think that there is no point to Christianity until you die?

Anonymous said...


Not at all. I hope to be resurrected with Christ and live with Him on the new heavens and the new earth, whatever form that may take.

I'm just playing devil's advocate.

I'm arguing, from a non-christian point of view, that since you cannot threaten me with anything worse than annihilation, which, as a non-christian, I expect anyway, what's the point of becoming a believer?

A non-christian doesn't believe in heaven, he/she believes for annihilation. No responsibility for sin, no dire consequences.

By confirming that, you're giving them the easy way out.

Sure some non-christians will have a crappy life, but hey, that's life. Others have a fantastic life, much better, in human terms, than most Christians'. Pigeon and statue thing.

In order to show people why they need Christ, you must show them their sin, their rebellion towards God, and the eternal consequences of that rejection. Then show them the way out: Jesus.

If you can't convince them of their need for Jesus' work, you won't get very far.

To summarize,

From a non-christian point of view, if:

-I'm happy as I am
-bad stuff happens to some good people.
-good stuff happens to some bad people.
-and, we cease to exist after death

then why become a Christian?

I believe that God's perfect justice requires Him to punish each and every human being for their sin. What form that punishment may take is conjecture. But I believe it will be both personal and eternal. Now faith in Christ's atoning work means God will forgive some of mankind, personally. But those that continue to reject Him will suffer, personally. His justice requires it.

This life is just a journey of a mere 80 years or so. In contrast to Richard's assertion, I believe the end goal is much more important, since we'll spend the rest of eternity at our chosen destinations.



Anonymous said...

..for when you eat of it you will surely die..

For the wages of sin is .... death.

Aaron said...

Roger, I don't find in Scripture a notion of personal, conscious, post-mortem burning. That's my starting point.

If a non-Christian won't believe God on the basis of what I can hold out from both

(a) the story of God and the creation, and all history since, and
(b) the embodiment of the hope and life of that story in me and my community, then

I don't feel compelled to invent something eternally bad that believing in God prevents.

Now I know YOU aren't doing this, because you believe the eternal-burning bit is already in Scripture. I don't. But I'm just trying to show why I don't find your argument convincing.

And the paragraph on justice doesn't sway me, either (but now's not the time to explain why...).

There is always an unfolding of the 'yet-to-come' in Scripture. As I understand it, people's basic choice is to

(1) refuse the God-driven 'not yet' by living in rebellion for the here-and-now, or
(2) take up your cross, give up life outside God's family, and enter a new one - looking to the unfolding of that new family as God works in history.

That's the sketch; there are many details (not the least of which is God's renewing grace for the whole world in Christ). But 'hell', as far as I can see, is no part of the picture.

Look, I'm not trying to convince you of my position, as I was never trying to convince Dennis. I have simply responded to specific arguments that people have taken to prove the eternal-burning version of hell (Dennis' was Matt 25).

I've already acknowledged above (to James) that this may not be the best forum for such discussions - that they may be damaging to some. I'd like to stop.

One day, I may bring this up on my own blog. Maybe. You're welcome to discuss it with me then. Or, send me an email or something. aaron[at]ajstewart[dot]co[dot]nz.


Anonymous said...

Hi Aaron!

Agreed - this may not be the best forum for this topic.

The traditional vs conditional debate re hell has been going on for a few years now. After reading both arguments, I'm sticking with the traditionalist viewpoint. If you're interested, the Evangelical Alliance in the UK put out a report in 2000 (Paternoster Press) called The Nature of Hell which summarized both sides of the debate. It's a very good overview of the different passages and interpretation either side bases its arguments on.

I also recommend Robert Petersen's "Hell on Trial".

John Stott, whom I greatly admire, had written on why he believes in the conditionalist argument in his "Essentials".

I guess it's a case of agreeing to disagree.



Aaron said...

Roger, thanks for your graciousness in this conversation. I appreciate it greatly, and I certainly won't mind discussing the issue with you further - elsewhere. :)