One Key Quote
“We spend so little time meditating on what’s to come and so much time worrying about how to satisfy the present internal longings of our hearts. We’ve got the order wrong. It’s time to set our hearts on what’s to come and allow this deep desire to redefine every aspect of our current existence and redirect every longing. We’ve been blessed with God-given imaginations, so let’s use them.”p.310
Chapter 20: Rethinking Hell – Throwing the Serpent out of the Garden City. God is intent on loving the hell out of his creation. The gospel message is not about avoiding eternity in hell and gaining eternity in heaven, based on a decision. We must understand hell in the context of the big biblical story which is about reconciling all things in heaven and on earth. This must involve the casting out of hell and evil from God’s good creation. Hell is a present reality when we choose evil rather than God’s way – it causes a destructive fire in the world. Idolatry always leads to death and hell, and the sparks of the fire often start in our hearts and choices. Hell, or Gehenna, was the rubbish dump outside the city of Jerusalem. We can’t live idolatrous lives and expect to stay in God’s city of peace. Anything that belongs to hell has to be left outside the city. God’s judgement is the only way to establish the city of peace. Hell is that place of evil outside of God’s city that can no longer violate his creation. We, therefore, need God’s judgement to protect his good order and hell reminds us of this coming judgement. If we choose to reject God and worship idols, we cannot be a part of his new heaven; God wants us to be, and his grace reaches out to us, but we can choose not to be if we choose our idols instead of God. Those idols finally destroy us. PH provides arguments to show that hell is not about the eternal torment of sinners – the fire is eternal because it destroys forever. Those who choose it have chosen the second death of complete annihilation.
Chapter 21: Home Sweet Home – The Marriage of Heaven and Earth. If we feed on God’s revelation in his Word, it fuels our imagination as we consider what heaven may be like, and begin to experience something of it now. The climax of creation is when Heaven, God’s home, becomes one with earth, our home. It is where we will enjoy God’s new creation in resurrected bodies. Firstly, when we die, and our body sleeps, there is ‘life after death’ (paradise) when we are with Jesus in the unseen realm which has both a spiritual and physical dimension, like an Eden with the tree of life, and as part of the communion of saints. Heaven, God’s home, is therefore both around us and beyond us. And so there is also ‘life after life after death’ in the new creation. We long for this destiny, when heaven and earth are recreated and joined, and we groan like a woman in childbirth. This is what all of life is working towards and it is this rebirth, reconciliation of all things, that the Bible story is all about, and the the death and resurrection of Jesus has guaranteed. When the time of that final new creation comes, the biblical images move from childbirth to a marriage, with two becoming one, sin cast out and death overcome. Then there will be such a marriage feast, a great party! Meditating on what is to come, and using our God-given imaginations to set our hearts on such a future, fuels our hope and brings perspective to our present troubles.
Reflect and Discuss
- Pete Hughes challenges some of the traditional view of hell but without undermining the reality of God’s judgement on idolatry and sin. How do you feel about this?
- What does the reality of God’s judgement teach us about our own lives, the church and our mission to the world?
- What do you think of his take on the biblical teaching of ‘life after death’ (the intermediate state) and ‘life after life after death’ (the new creation)?
- Do you think we should spend more time using our imaginations to think about heaven? What might the effects of that be?
- Examine yourself this week to see if there are any ‘sparks of fire’ that you are tolerating in your own heart and life that may cause fires in your world.
- Spend time this week meditating on what you imagine the new heaven and new earth will be like. Consider what the effects of doing this are.
We are nearly there! In the coming week, we read to the end of the book – just one last personal reflection in Chapter 22, and then the Conclusion, which he calls the ‘Outro’.
There is a PDF version of this guide here.