The Flames of Heaven

On Love Really Wins, steve posts some very interesting questions about heaven and hell based on the recent sermons by Rob Bell called "the flames of heaven." Steve's post is called "Thoughts on heaven..." I originally composed this as a response to his post so it might make allot more sence if you read his short questions first.

I don't think I'm going to approach all those questions in this comment but I'd like to approach at least some. I've been thinking about Rob's "flames of heaven" theology ever since he hinted toward it in his sermon from last year "Celebration."

I want to find the healthiest way of thinking about heaven and hell. There's a nuber of different ideas among Christians. This might indicate to us that we will not actually know for sure until we've seen it in it's fullness. You'll notice that I quote Rob Bell's book Velvet Elvis allot (especially the sixth chapter). I do this for two reasons:
1. because the questions originally asked were formed from some of Rob Bells thoughts
2. Because I really, really like Rob Bell.

I believe that it's not only a healthy way of thinking about it, heaven invading earth, but I believe it's scriptural as well. In Revelation 21 we don't get beamed up to heaven but heaven comes here and God dwells, here, with His people. Rob Bell argues that this was the frame of mind Jesus was in. "For Jesus, the question wasn’t, how do I get into heaven? But how do I bring heaven here?”[1]

We have this concept of when everything is right, when everything flows in tune. We don’t know it experientially, we haven’t necessarily felt it in its fullness but we have come close at times. You know that feeling, the one where you feel like there’s no place you rather be? When everything is in its perfect place and there is completeness then we have heaven-here, the Kingdom of God. “The Kingdom of God is that order of perfect peace, righteousness, justice, and love that God gives towards the world.”[2] God gives this peace, righteousness, justice, and love freely to us. “Neither height nor depth… can keep us from the love of God.”[3] There is nothing outside ourselves that separates us from God because we have been forgiven. “Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people.”[4] Forgiveness is to the prerequisite. We are all justified. So if the problem is already taken care of then what keeps us outside of heaven? What keeps us outside the kingdom of God? “The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust.”[5] We can either choose to “trust that grace pays the bill.”[6] Or we can choose to live another way.

Rob Talks about it this way:

“If there is a life of heaven, and we can choose it, then there’s also another
way. A way of living out of sync with how God created us to live. The word for
this is Hell: a way, a place, a realm absent of how God desires things to be. We
can bring Heaven to earth; we can bring Hell to earth.”[7]

To help us understand this concept I’ll refer to an analogy which was once told to be by Rabbi Zalman Marcus in a lecture he gave for Christians who wanted to know what Jews thought about heaven and hell. When we light a match we can explain what fire is, what components come together to make it, but we cannot explain where it cam from. The Jewish mystics believed that fire is everywhere, in a reality that sits hand in hand with ours. Fire has always been and will always be. When we light the match we are bringing the right components together to bring the fire out, from its’ reality, into our reality. We can experience it here and now even though it is something “not of this world” [8] but of a world that exists aside ours. It is the same with hell, and for that matter, heaven. Hell exists side by side with our reality and so does heaven. We can chose the elements to bring these realities into our own. If we live lives of hatred, deceit, strife, selfishness, or violence then we will be the match on which burns the flames of hell; we will bring hell here. If we live lives of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”[9] then we will likely be the matches on which the flames of heaven burn, we will bring heaven here. These two flames burn eternally. “Jesus desire for His followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to Earth.”[10] When we light the flame we only see a piece, a fragment of the whole reality. The whole reality of the flame is everywhere but we can only experience and see what’s on the end of our match.

So we can experience heaven here, and it continues into eternity, and we can also experience hell, and it continues into eternity but only in part. We only see the heaven that burns on our own match. But as we bring the flames together they become larger and hotter. This gives us an image of community. If you and I are both working at bringing heaven here and we do it together our flame burns hotter than if we were alone. We come a bit closer to the full reality of heaven when we’re together than when we’re alone. Now, imagine nations of people all living in this way together. Imagine millions of people all bringing heaven here. Revelation 21-22 gives us an image of this fully realized heaven; “The nations will walk by it’s light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.”[11] According to Revelation, in the end, the flame of heaven will win out.

Now imagine this great flame of heaven burning brighter than you could possibly imaging (I know it’s hard to imagine something you can’t imagine), burning throughout the earth. Imagine love and peace and celebration everywhere. Now, imagine that you are someone who’s whole life has been bringing hell here, burning the flame of hell. Would that be heaven? I don’t think so. You’d probably be miserable, you wouldn’t even be able to join in the celebration. Maybe that’s why it says “Nothing evil will be allowed to enter—no one who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”[12]

So we have a choice. Either we can trust that God’s “grace paid the bill” and strive to live the life of heaven here, essentially bringing heaven here, by following Jesus. Or we can live a life of hell, living outside God’s will, and choose not to trust. We cannot bring heaven here without trusting God. It’s called the Kingdom of God because in it God is King, He reigns over His people. All the love and all the peace and completeness that we experience in the kingdom of God is from God. “The entire movement of the Bible is of a God who wants to be here, with His people. The Church is described… as being the Temple of God and how does the Bible end? With God ‘coming down’ and taking up residence here on Earth.”[13]

end notes
[1] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2005)147.
[2] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2000) 22.
[3] Romans 8:39
[4] Bell, 146
[5] Bell, 146
[6] Bell, 152
[7] Bell 147.
[8] John 18:36
[9] Galatians 5:22
[10] Bell, 148
[11] Revelation 21:24
[12] Revelation 21:27
[13] Bell, 149.


Agent X said…
I am only just recently familiarizing myself with Bell. I started reading Velvet Elvis just since Christmans. I like some of it alot. (I used a passage as the center piece of discussion in Bible study tonight in prison.)

However, as you are aware by now, it is Wright that blows my socks off. And I would suggest that you check out a little book by Wright, one of his really small ones, very easy to read, called Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship. (it is a book of sermons really) In the second half of the book, there are 2 or3 chapters on Heaven and Hell and Hell on Earth so to speak. It is probably very similar to Bell (I notice a lot of Bell is like Wright in some key ways)

If you want an indepth study of Hell, I suggest a by now classic called The Fire That Consumes by Ed Fudge. Fudge is from the Churches of Christ, and has written one of the few scholarly books on the subject that really carry weight. He takes the Anihilation view of eternal destruction (is that the right term, I forget). But it is one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind supporting that view.

I recently ran across a book published by Zondervan called Hell Under Fire, several authors contributed essays. They oppose Fudge's view and take a traditional view of Hell. There are some heavy hitting scholars represented there, one of them D. Moo. Although, I did not read it, and cannot personally recommend it.

Anyway, that is my initial response. Good blog, I really enjoy your work here. Keep it up.

wellis68 said…
Thanks Mike,
I'll check out that Wright book.
Anonymous said…
I think you have hit the nail on the head about what we are to be about, bringing the kingdom of heaven along with us wherever we go. Since the King lives inside us, wherever we go, we bring the kingdom. I think that also is why when Christians behave so poorly (unlovingly) towards others, the kingdom of darkness wins. As James said, our tongues set on fire the fires of hell. To me that means I don't necessarily go to hell for saying somthing hurtful (though I do sin, and as a Christian must repent) but rather that I have brought hell with me and given to the person I just said that to. By contrast, when I bless them, I have brought the blessing of heaven down upon them. I have shown them the love that God has for them in a tangible way.
I think Heaven is more that we can imagine, but if we think in terms of The Kingdom of God, it seems that Jesus was trying to get the message across that it is possible and neccessary for us to experience it here and now, and not just sit back and wait for the pie in the sky. When ever I prayed the LORD's Prayer, I always paused at "thy Kingdom Come" and wondered, was I praying for the end of the world? Reading some of these posts and comments have made me think of the Robin William's film "What Dreams May Come". Pastor Art just joked that Hell is the place where the beer is hot and the coffee is cold. (Hey, Jason, that's just a joke). I know, I know...Hell is no joking matter.
wellis68 said…
Yeah, I like your verse reference. I should have used it in my post, had I thought about it. Great insight.
wellis68 said…
Tell Pastor Art I said his joke is a good one... I'm gonna use it in the future. good thoughts. I always pause on "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." That line hits me hard every time.
Agent X said…
My dad recently posted a story about a preacher in hot water for his views on hell. If you care to check it out...