Would Satan like the concept of Twitter

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In the Rubin Dialogue, Prof. Dr. Thomas Söding, Catholic Theological Faculty, and Prof. Dr. Reinhard von Bendemann, Evangelical Theological Faculty, on each other. They reveal what answers the Bible gives to the question of life after death - and what it leaves open.

What are heaven and hell?

Reinhard von Bendemann: Hell is not a biblical term, it is derived from cave. In ancient Judaism it was assumed that the souls of the righteous and the wicked would be collected in caves until the end of the world. We commonly suspect the sky above us. But there are also texts in which the underworld is at the top because it represents an inhibiting barrier on the way to God. In general, Heaven and Hell are not about fixed lounges, but about the question of a healing end. Basically, one has to differentiate between a happy or an unhappy end after the individual end of life and after an eschatological end, i.e. the end of universal time. It can be designed in very different ways.

Thomas Söding (left) heads the New Testament chair at the Catholic Theological Faculty, Reinhard von Bendemann the New Testament and Judaism chair at the Evangelical Theological Faculty.
© RUB, Marquard

Thoma Söding: The Bible is generally very reluctant to color in heavenly joys. She does not know a land of milk and honey in the hereafter; a typical heaven symbol is a festive meal. Likewise, the Bible does not describe any journeys to hell in detail. There are few colored pictures like the deluge or the conflagration. In the Old Testament there is still the idea of ​​Sheol, which is comparable to the Greek Hades: a realm of shadows, a place of oblivion, in which the dead are, so to speak, undead. In the New Testament - as in early Judaism - the Gehenna, probably referring to a valley of death near Jerusalem, becomes the image of hell, in which sinners are delivered up by God to the agonizing consequences of their own injustice. Heaven and hell, however, are modern concepts of interpretation, which for the most part cannot be read from the Bible itself, but are imposed on it. In interpreting the Bible, we theologians want to make these differences clear.

Von Bendemann: Incidentally, Gehenna is not a biblical concept, it is taken from ancient oriental ideas. There are many metaphors for hell: places like the desert or tombs where demons dwell. When deciphering imagery, we have to be aware that a story cannot be broken down into dogmatic statements. A story stands for itself.

Just because the worldview is out of date doesn't mean the messages are out of date.

Söding: You also have to keep in mind that the Bible shares the ancient world view, which is fundamentally different from that of modernity. But we say: Just because the worldview is out of date, the messages are not also out of date.

Who goes to heaven, who ends up in the underworld?

Söding: There are no instructions for use on how to get to heaven and how to prepare for the underworld. It doesn't just depend on what you do. The New Testament says: At the end of time there is hope in the kingdom of God. The Old Testament is far more reserved about the resurrection hope. In the New Testament it is clear that God is not a god of the dead, but a God who creates life. The question remains: How do you come into contact with God? This is what the concept of faith stands for.

In Christianity this went through the Enlightenment.

- Reinhard von Bendemann

Von Bendemann: Even in the Old Testament, which was the Bible of the first Christians and is the Bible of Judaism, God is a God of the living. But only at the margins of the Old Testament do we get the idea that at the end of time there will be a judgment court with a double outcome - good or bad. In addition, the idea arises in Judaism that God can bring individual righteous people into a life perspective directly after their violent end of life. These are aspects that also exist in Islam. On September 11th, the assassins flew into the Twin Towers with the idea of ​​dying for Allah and having a secure perspective on life directly with God. This concept of direct access to heaven also exists in the New Testament - but not through violence against others. Only that got through in Christianity through the Enlightenment.

The picture shows a fresco from Babylonian Judaism in the 3rd century AD. It tells the story of Ezekiel 37: The prophet is placed on a plane in which he sees many bones. He observes how the spirit of life travels into the dead bones, whereby the spirit is represented in the form of Greek angelic figures, the psyches. The restored people are imagined with the minyan, the ten number one needs to celebrate a Jewish worship service. On the left, the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem is shown, which, according to Zechariah 14, splits at the end of the days, and according to the early Jewish-Babylonian conception, the resurrection of the dead follows from the split.
© Source: C. H. Kraeling, The Synagogue. Excavations at Dura-Europos. Conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters, Final Report VIII / 1, New York 1979.

von Bendemann: Most of the New Testament writings were written for smaller groups. When Paul writes in First Letter to the Thessalonians, “Gentiles are those who have no hope”, it sounds as if the Gentiles at the end of time are not in heaven. But he does not write this to the whole world, but to a mission church that was founded relatively young and which he wants to strengthen. We have to keep this in mind when we reflect on this in the 21st century.

Söding: I would read the first letter to the Thessalonians a little differently. When Paul says that the Gentiles have no hope of being resurrected from the dead, it does not mean that they will burn in hell. But that they cannot have the hope that one can have if one believes in Jesus Christ. For a long time, however, the Catholic Church read the New Testament differently than it does today. She believed that if you didn't believe, you couldn't be saved.

What is Hell: Place of Purification or Eternal Damnation?

Söding: If I only knew! If I may put it naively: I can't dictate to God. There can be no automatic salvation. Joseph Ratzinger once said: There is a moral duty to hope that all people will be saved. I can't do more than that.

In Christian theology, the question of whether everyone can ultimately be in heaven is very controversial.

- Reinhard von Bendemann

Von Bendemann: The question is always: Can everyone be in heaven in the end? In Judaism it would always be clear: Those who adhere to the Torah, i.e. the Hebrew Bible, belong to the righteous and will be rewarded for them at the end of their lives. There is the idea that a disrupted equilibrium of justice on earth will be brought back into balance at the end of life or at the end of time. In Christian theology, the question of whether everyone can ultimately be in heaven is very controversial.

Söding: Basically, you have to ask yourself theoretically: If everyone goes to heaven, including the villains, won't the whole mess start all over again? Doesn't there have to be a qualitative improvement in heaven? But that already belongs to the field of dogmatics.

You shouldn't think that the bad guys will be sorted out and the good guys will go to heaven.

Von Bendemann: In Protestant theology, Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher said: God's will to love and our dependence on God are so pronounced that one cannot imagine that in the end someone will still be in hell. He also said: Those in heaven would not be well if they could still see people suffer below. But when it comes to the point, what will become of all the villains in world history? Do you want to sit down with them somewhere in the end? And do all of them want to go to the Christian formatted heaven? The doctrine of all solution assumes that at the end a transformation step has to take place so that we can become heavenly compatible. And we don't know how to do that. The New Testament likes to use the Greek term mysterion to speak of.

Söding: There are also clear, harsh images for this: the Last Judgment, in which a distinction is made between good and bad. However, you shouldn't think that the bad guys will be sorted out and the good guys will go to heaven. The distinction between good and bad can be a dramatic process in oneself. It is also important to remember that any wrongdoing, as bad as it may be, is limited in time; it cannot be punished indefinitely. For a long time there was also the very popular idea of ​​purgatory as a place of purification.

Today we would call it black pedagogy.

- Reinhard von Bendemann

Von Bendemann: The Last Judgment was portrayed very darkly at times, we would call it black pedagogy today. This has had an opinion-forming effect for centuries and has also led to the intimidation of believers. The reformers criticized the ancient or medieval doctrine of the place of purification, the purgatory doctrine. But after the Reformation it all came back, in some cases much darker than in the Middle Ages. It was only with the Enlightenment that Protestantism mucked it out.

What does it mean that Christ descended into the kingdom of death?

Von Bendemann: This passage from the Apostles' Creed cannot be derived from any New Testament text. The idea of ​​Christ's stay in Hades is due to other mythological and philosophical guidelines. An exciting story can be found in the Apocrypha in the Gospel of Nicodemus: Satan and Hades argue about whether they should take Jesus into the underworld. They fear that he could raise all the dead and that Hades would become virtually unemployed - that's what happens in history. The line “descended into the kingdom of death” ultimately does not depict anything central to the New Testament as far as the worldview as such is concerned.

Please don't want to know too much about the underworld, from which no one has come back yet.

Söding: The question is, how far does God's arm reach? Is there a contact of God with the dead? You can't know that. There is hope of the resurrection of the dead at the end of days. The picture of a messianic intermediate realm in which the dead are supposed to live after the earthly death until the resurrection at the end of all times remains unclear. Basically, we theologians like to step on the brakes here: Please don't want to know too much about the underworld, from which no one has come back yet.