Tag Archives: eschatology

Our Hellish Doctrine

In Sunday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat, a Roman Catholic, gave us “A Case for Hell.” (Yes, The New York Times sometimes delivers sermons for us so that we are not without appropriate Sabbath reading.)

The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.

As Anthony Esolen writes, in the introduction to his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” the idea of hell is crucial to Western humanism. It’s a way of asserting that “things have meaning” — that earthly life is more than just a series of unimportant events, and that “the use of one man’s free will, at one moment, can mean life or death … salvation or damnation.”

As you can see, his argument comes down to sovereign human choice-making. I find that just a little less self-centered than the self-justifying universalist view he is trying to refute.

It is interesting to me that in his argument he makes no mention of Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant. Without Christ, his subtle indignation that anyone would suggest that Gandhi is anywhere but in heaven is more appealing. Only the news that’s fit to print, I suppose.

David C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City, and co-author of the forthcoming Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media).


Politics, Evil, and Hope

After last week’s column on the West Bank Fogel massacre (“Middle East Murder“), it struck me–or I should say weighed heavily on me–that there is a lot of evil making the news these days. It crowds into limited news time and forces itself on our attention.

Just after the beginning of the Jewish sabbath on March 11, terrorists from Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade (so-called) broke into a West Bank settlement home and butchered Rabbi Uri Fogel in his bed, along with his infant daughter, his wife, Ruth, and two of their sons, ages 11 and 4. This was not shooting from a distance; this was throat slashing and heart stabbing. Two children survived the massacre only because the monsters who flooded the home with blood overlooked them. The 12-year-old daughter arrived home after midnight from a youth event to behold what no human being should ever witness.

That same day, the earthquake and tsunami hit northeast Japan with a resultant nuclear crisis that has pushed even the misery of 450,000 people whom the disaster made homeless.

This volunteer fireman lost his wife, his son’s family, and his four grandchildren when he went to close a wall against the tsunami. Warning, it is very sad.

Then there’s Libya where the self-styled Mad Dog of the Middle East has been shooting and bombing his own unarmed people (as well as the subsequently armed ones) when he foresaw their protests sending him into exile as Hosni Mubarak’s room-mate.

And all of that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as far as human suffering in the world is concerned. It’s in Syrian dungeons, Thai brothels, Brazilian slums, and it’s on your street.

In this week’s column at Worldmag.com, “Overcome by Evil These Days?,” I indicate where the wise turn when they come to face the ubiquitous evil of a fallen world.

[C]onsider that this face full of suffering is just a small sliver of all the evil that infests the world—in dungeons, in halls of power, in cities and villages, and in private homes everywhere. We’re able to get through each day only by not knowing anything more than glimpses of what’s going on.

Confronted with this, we are tempted to seek remedies in political reform and military force, and these can accomplish real good. God established government to restrain and punish evil. But, this side of the Lord’s return, political hopes always exceed human abilities, and efforts to right wrongs almost always bring further unhappiness whether by unforeseen accident or opportunistic scoundrels. So we pursue justice and mercy, but for deliverance we look beyond what we can do.

When we get so deep in the mire of disaster and iniquity that our legs weaken and our hearts fail, we are wise to turn to the Lord who, knowing the full depth of all evil, addressed it on the cross. Jesus told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He defeated evil with a view to the New Creation that is yet to come and that will forever banish tears to the past (Revelation 21). But He gives victory over evil also in you and people like you in Japan and Gaza and Libya and everywhere under the sun. And He gives strength in suffering to His people as they faithfully await “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Note: I understand there is a difference between the evil of natural disasters and the evils of tyranny and terrorism. But in different ways they all result of the fall, but our hope in the face of all of them is eschatological and centered in Christ.

David C. Innes is associate professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City, and co-author of the forthcoming Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media).

Community and the Longing Soul

EPSA member, Pastor Benjamin Miller at Franklin Square Orthodox Presbyterian Church on Long Island, New York, said one Sunday,

We long for a bond of human community that nothing can break (no one moves away, grows cold toward us, dies), in which each is eagerly pursuing the good of everyone with an infinite and gracious love. But that is found only in God the Father through Jesus Christ.

This brings to mind Augustine’s prayer from the Confessions, “Father, you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Aristotle’s observation is true: we are “political animals.” We were made for community. “No man is an island, sufficient unto himself,” said Donne. But though made for community, we were not made for this world. What we long for in relationships, we cannot find in earthly, natural relationships.

The human bonds that sweeten our lives are blessings from God, but like all of his blessings they point beyond themselves to the One who alone truly satisfies. It is the failure to see this that in the modern world has led to utopian ideology and thence to monstrous tyranny. Mistaking the sign for the signified, seeking in this world what can be found fully only in the next, or in what transcends this world, is idolatry and leads necessarily to disappointment, misery and destruction.

With that in mind, the wisdom of the American system of government can be seen in its moderation. It secures for each citizen the freedom to pursue happiness, but does not guarantee that happiness. That is only God’s to give.

Indeed, God has promised us that happiness. He has promised you that happiness. He gives you himself, and does so only in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners and the Mediator of the New Covenant.

To Israel he said, “I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish” (Jeremiah 31:25 ESV).

He fulfilled this promise in Jesus the Messiah, the hope of all nations: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

— D.C. Innes, Assoc. Professor of Politics, The King’s College in New York City. This post appeared previously on the author’s blog, Principalities and Powers, August 12, 2007.