Madeleine Davies

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Taking on a psychologically crushing God

In Faith on May 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm

On Friday I heard a lecture entitled “Terrors of body and soul: crises of conscience 1550-1650”, delivered by a brilliant Oxford scholar Elizabeth Hunter. Quiet at the back.

Her paper explored the impact of the doctrine of predestination. Predestination in this context is the theory that, before the beginning of time, God chose a select few for eternal life in heaven, with the remainder of humanity destined for hell. As Hunter’s paper showed, it was a teaching that, while intended to provide reassurance of salvation, left many people tormented by the conviction that they were reprobates headed for hell.

To Christians today this sort of anguish might sound alien. Much Christian teaching today centres on the certainty of eternal life promised to Christians. Yet anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the afterlife remains hugely present both within and without the church. In recent months it has also been the subject of intense debate. The publication of a new book by Rob Bell, an American pastor, who suggests that contemporary teachings about heaven and hell may be wrong, has caused great controversy.

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