“If the crucifixion of Christ can be made beautiful, then there is hope that all the ugliness of the human condition can be redeemed by its beauty.” Brian Zahnd
What could possibly save the world from our path en route to destruction as we experience disintegration in every realm of our human existence: spiritually, physically, socially, psychologically, and environmentally?
What truth could possibly break the world’s spell of “power as truth” and convince us to embrace the counterintuitive paradigm of sacrificial love? For Pilate, ultimate truth was “I have the power to crucify you!” For Jesus it was “I have the power to let you…and then to forgive and redeem you.” Could we dare believe that the Gospel of the cross and resurrection is the pivotal “axis of truth” around which every other truth must rotate? Jesus said:
“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
“Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” Jn 12:31-32
Jesus claimed that the cross was the means by which He would draw all men to Himself. His truth was that the world will be drawn into redemption, restoration and wholeness through the power of sacrificial love and forgiveness, not the power plays of this world.
Therefore we must now ask this question: Is the doctrine of eternal conscience torment for most of humanity a doctrine consistent with this axis of love through sacrifice? What “truth” does it reflect?
Brian Zahnd, in his marvelous book, Beauty Will Save the World, said:
“Ultimate truth is not power enforced through violence, but love expressed through forgiveness.” (pg 69)
Do you believe God wants to move us from the worldly stance of “the power to kill is truth” (Pilate) to that of Christ’s “love through sacrifice is truth”? But if the Story of God ends with hopeless “eternal torment” for most of humanity it appears to have defaulted back to the world’s paradigm of power and violence as truth. Is this a logical and consistent outcome of God’s history in light of everything revealed to us about His nature? Does the doctrine of eternal hell match the definition of ultimate truth?
Brian Zahnd challenges us to examine a truth or doctrine by moving beyond the intellectual test to give it the test of beauty:
“Is this beautiful? Is this thought beautiful? Is this action beautiful? Does it reflect the beauty of Christ and the cruciform?” “…If the common man doesn’t recognize what we do in the name of Christ as beautiful, we should at least reexamine it. If a particular doctrine doesn’t come across as truly beautiful, then we should hold it suspect.” (pg 31)
I am not sure what Zahnd believes as far as the nature of hell. I don’t know if he would say that he believes that all hope ends for every non-Christian person at death creating the assumption that most of God’s crown of creation will be lost forever. His statement of faith only contains the Apostle’s Creed (which does not mention an eternal hell).
But whether he confesses to the traditional doctrine of an eternal hell or not, I want to share with you what he has to say about the truth and standard of beauty. His words have a way of trumping any notion of the traditional view:
“Since human society is part of God’s good creation, it is something God intends to save. Salvation is not just me “getting saved” (though it includes that). Salvation is both personal and social. Salvation is God saving what He has lost. Salvation is the Lord’s salvation, and the Lord’s salvation is not an evacuation project but a restoration project.” (pg 98)
“The world is not just an aggregate of individuals, it is also civilization and human society as a whole, and God intends to save it. …Jesus does not just save human individuals; He also saves God’s intention for human society. Why is God so interested in human society? For the simple reason the apostle John famously records: “For God so loved the world.” (pg 99)
In light of Philippians 4:8 how do you think the doctrine of eternal conscious torment measures up to that standard? Is is lovely? Is it beautiful …in the end? Does it reveal that “He makes all things beautiful in His time”?
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Zahnd goes on to say,
“Christ came to give a bloody world a new narrative, a new way of telling the human story. Instead of a world organized around power and violence, Christ came to give the world a new organizing principle, a new axis. Christ came to bring to the world a new government that would be organized around love and forgiveness”. (pg 69)
Does not the future world of an “eternal hell” organized around vengeance, wrath, unforgiveness and the continuation of sin and death sound like a giant step backwards from this new paradigm that Jesus established? Would you ever be inclined to describe an eternal hopeless hell as beautiful? Most people say they just don’t dwell on it or think about it. But who God is and what God does is something we are told to meditate on “day and night” (Psa 1). Could the test and standard of beauty be diagnostic in showing that we have adopted a foreign “doctrine of men” inconsistent with the character of God and His image and law stamped upon our hearts?
Again the point is made for a new vision for the future:
“Beauty will save the world. This is the surprising beauty of the cross when seen through the prism of the resurrection. The cross made beautiful is the ultimate triumph of God and His grace. If the crucifixion of Christ can be made beautiful, then there is hope that all the ugliness of the human condition can be redeemed by its beauty.” (pg 31)
Indeed this kind of beauty is demonstrated to possess a profound power to save. The question we ask is what happens when the Church puts qualifications on this power of love to save all mankind and it re-images the Story of God by returning to the power of sin, death and hell where God must force upon most of mankind a violent hopeless fate worse than any nightmare?
If we cannot square this doctrine with Philippians 4:8 or honestly call it beautiful then could Brian be correct to challenge us to hold it suspect?
For beauty to save the world it must first penetrate and save the Church. We need a restored sense of the beautiful before we can share the beautiful truth with the world.
Zahnd translates John 12:28 as follows:
“Jesus prayed, ‘Father, glorify Your name.’ A voice from heaven said in reply, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ Or we could hear it like this:
‘Father, make your reputation beautiful.’
to which the voice from heaven replies,
‘I have made it beautiful, and I will make it more beautiful still.'” (pg 64)
Update 1/13: Brian Zahnd endorsed the recently released Docu-movie “Hellbound?” with the following:
“Hell is a four letter word for… What? Kevin Miller’s brilliant (and entertaining!) documentary helps us wrestle with this increasingly relevant question. Smart. Even-handed. Important. ‘Hellbound?’ documents a much needed conversation.”
~ Brian Zahnd, Pastor, Word of Life Church (www.brianzahnd.com)
And here is his version of “The Gospel in Chairs,” a very hopeful and inclusive portrayal of the love of God:
“God Is Like Jesus” — http://brianzahnd.com/2011/08/god-is-like-jesus-2/