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Limbo, Hell, Suffering, Israel and More

emoticon:scanner Apparently the pope has just abolished limbo. Smile

Limbo was a Catholic invention to solve a moral dilemma. What happens to the souls of innocent babies who die without being baptised [1] ?

According to the principle of original sin, newborn babies inherit sin and share in the judgement of the fallen world. It is morally repugnant that innocent children should go to hell for being born into a world they didn't choose. I'll talk about the wider issue of hell in a minute. The Catholics solved this moral dilemma by inventing limbo, a place that isn't hell (which would be unfair), but also isn't heaven (which they can't enter because they haven't been baptised). As far as I can tell limbo was conjured up with only the scantiest biblical support and seems to be in the process of disappearing again.

Before I use the word 'protestant' again, I'll just explain my background. My earliest memories of Church are being part of a Church of England church in the 1970s. This was during the charismatic/evangelical move during which a lot of people experienced baptism in the spirit [2]. The vicar was filled with the spirit, but his bishop wasn't. In the end he felt that he couldn't honour his vows to obey God and his vows to obey the bishop, so the church split. Many of the congregation came with him to form a church that was part of the charismatic 'new church' movement, but still owed a lot to its church of England theological background. I have been part of charismatic 'spirit filled' churches ever since, and I am currently part of the Jesus Army in Northampton, UK.

The protestant (in the sense above) position is that every baby born is infected with original sin. Sin is essentially selfishness. No-one with any experience of children would deny that they can be extremely selfish, as well as extremely cute and even selfless at times. In fact, growing into awareness for very young children means growing into an awareness that others even exist. Hopefully a process of becoming less self centred.

However at a young age children have not developed free will, and are not responsible for their actions. Before this age of responsibility (which obviously varies with the individual), children can not be held accountable for their sin so they go to heaven.

This is a good common sense position, but I'm not sure what biblical support their is for it. Luckily being a Christian doesn't include a requirement to say goodbye to your common sense.

But a lot of people struggle with an idea of a God because of suffering and the idea of hell at all, not just for little babies. How can we reconcile the idea of a loving omnipotent God with so much human suffering, and eternal damnation ?

This is an extraordinarily difficult question. It is particularly difficult to answer when faced with any instance of personal suffering, like the death of a child or loved relative. How can any attempt at an answer be made which doesn't seem to belittle the pain that an individual may be experiencing ?

A standard explanation for human suffering, is free will. We live in a fallen world and are free to make our own choices, for good or evil. Unfortunately many people choose for evil, and the freedom to do that causes suffering for others. Disease and natural disaster are symptoms of this fallen world. A lot of natural disasters are attributable to human causes. Drought and third-world disease usually have wars and the greed of first-world countries at their root. This planet produces enough food for everyone, and it is our corporate greed that means people die of malnutrition and related diseases.

Cancers and other awful sicknesses are also the product of this fallen world. Their is no explanation that can make sense of this. How could a loving God allow this to happen ?

Well, God could sweep it all away and institute paradise now. Having given us free-will God wants us to choose what is right and good for ourselves. He won't force that upon us. We have an opportunity to love what is right and hate evil, and whether we do or not is up to us.

The biblical concept of the fall is not just something that applies to human nature. Creation was intended to be perfect, but when sin came into the universe, creation fell along with mankind. Redemption is not just about redeeming humans souls, but the transformation of creation. "All the creation longs for the sons of God to be revealed" [3], creation is waiting for harmony to be restored.

God is a God of justice. He hates evil. He hates human suffering with a burning passion beyond anything we can know. How could their be justice if their was no price to pay for sin and evil ? If there was no judgement for those who perpetrate such terrible crimes, who perpetuate such misery, how could justice be real ?

Except there is a problem. Who bears responsibility for third world drought ? There are some individuals I guess, those who broker deals knowing that thousands will suffer. Much of the pain is down to the world trade system though. We buy coffee and minerals at low prices, effectively raping the ecology of poorer nations to line our own collective pockets. Us, we, me, you. Whenever you buy coffee, or minerals, or use the energy that pumps pollutants into the atmosphere we help to perpetuate the system of this world that causes misery and suffering.

We didn't choose to be born into it, but neither do many of us choose to do a lot about it. It is in the air we breathe, our very genes, the fallen nature.

Some people do try and escape this, they join Greenpeace, become eco-warriors or aid workers in other countries. I salute their effort (very genuinely, they are compassionate and passionate people: the most important characteristics in the world). But their is a problem, how do you escape your inheritance ?

And if we all share a part in the guilt of the world, isn't it right and just that we should share a part in the judgement on the world ?

This is the God of the old testament. He is just and demands that the price be paid for evil, for selfishness and the pain it causes. But God loves the world, he wants to redeem it or he would have swept it away millennia ago. The old testament is the story of how God created a nation for himself to be his people, as he intended from the beginning. That nation was the physical nation of Israel, set apart to be his. He instituted the law, by which the price for sin would be paid for with the blood sacrifice of animals. He also had a wider plan, the messiah promised to the Jews.

Jesus was the fulfilment of this promise. He is God's son, perfect and blameless. On the cross he paid the price for sin. God didn't pretend that sin had never existed, he still demand justice. Jesus paid that price. A blameless sacrifice for the debt of the world, once for all. We can accept or reject this. He is the way to exit the 'kingdom of darkness' and enter the 'kingdom of light', to use old fashioned religious language.

So Jesus came to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth. Through forgiveness we can escape the sickness that infects the whole earth and start finding our way into selflessness. Jesus came to establish the church, which is supposed to embody this new kingdom (and unfortunately fails so spectacularly at times). This is a kingdom of justice and equality. If the church doesn't practise equality, then it isn't a true church. This (and all the reasons above) are why Jesus said that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The church is now God's nation, his people, and it is open to everyone. The church inherits the old testament prophesies about Israel. This is the new Jerusalem. So Christians who think that modern day Israel is relevant get it badly wrong. In fact there is a case for saying that middle-class, well-meaning (do-gooding) wealthy American Christians perpetuate and exacerbate the problems in the middle-East. Don't get me wrong, I think that Israel has a rough deal. It is surrounded by nations that have sworn to destroy it, paranoia is perfectly understandable [4]. Modern day Israel has little to do with the nation of God of the old testament though.

One day God will make it all right. There will be justice, for the victim and the aggressor. I don't understand how, I certainly don't know when, but I know enough of God to know that it will happen.

""Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."

~Helen Keller~

[1]I would say Spirit rather than soul, but that's another debate. The Catholics particularly have this problem because they predicate salvation on the physical act of baptism, when biblically and spiritually salvation comes through faith. Additionally they do baptism 'wrong' (along with most of the mainstream protestant church). Baptism was originally by full immersion, and symbolised a joining with Christ in his death and resurrection: going down into the grave and resurfacing. This is a symbolic act that is obviously not fulfilled by 'sprinkling'. The Greek word 'baptismo' should be literally translated 'dunked'. The Catholics got round this problem by saying that the bible should be read in Latin (rather than its original language !!?!!?). The protestants got round this by not translating the word 'baptise' and inventing their own meaning.
[2]A tangible and overwhelming experience of the power and love of God.
[3]An approximate quote... Smile For conjectures about the relationship between the biblical fall of creation and the 'old earth, young earth' debate see Biblical Truth.
[4]Rockets into civilian areas aren't justified, but then the Hezbollah hardly worry about that either.

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Posted by Fuzzyman on 2006-11-04 13:30:46 | |


The Old Blog Archives

There was so much ancient wisdom distilled into my old blog, that I couldn't let it just creep ignominiously into the pages of cyber-history. More to the point I'm still getting some hits from google with the old entries. Here are the archives of my previous Blogger based blog.

The Old Voidspace BlogThe Old Techie Blog

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