Why Can’t We Care About Both Hell and Social Justice?

Here’s a question I’ve had for a long time:

Why do so many popular Christian leaders today insist that we either have to be focused on either this life or heaven and hell?

This post isn’t about the Rob Bell controversy. Long before Love Wins was released, you could easily two find two sets of Christians arguing about which life–this one or the next–we should give our attention to as a church.

One group insists that we cannot, ever, downplay the importance of heaven and the threat of hell and instead talk about social justice. This group might argue that people who focus on social justice do so at the expense of the Gospel, and maybe they even do it because they’d rather not talk about unpleasant topics, like God’s wrath toward sin.

The other group tends to argue that thinking about the afterlife takes away our time and energy from addressing the problems of this world. Sometimes they’ll go so far as to accuse heaven-minded Christians of letting their post-mortem expectations render them emotionally dull to the concerns of this world.

This is always presented as either/or. Either you think about heaven and hell or you can actually give a damn about the “hells” of this world.

My question is simple:

Why can’t we do both?

If God so loves the world and calls us to do the same, then can we not care about both how people live right now and be concerned with what awaits them in the life to come?

Why can’t we care about how the poor are treated at this moment and with whether they’ll inherit the kingdom to come?

The early church had all things in common and looked forward to the coming Resurrection. Why can’t we do the same?

Have a happy discussion.

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One thought on “Why Can’t We Care About Both Hell and Social Justice?

  1. Fr. Anastasios Hudson March 27, 2011 / 2:03 pm

    Yes! I agree completely. In fact, I very often give sermons where I try to blow apart false dichotomies: faith VERSUS works (as if the two could be opposed?!), Bible OR Tradition (as if the Bible passed down in a vacuum, or conversely), ritual VERSUS “freedom in Christ”, now VERSUS later as you comment on.

    Let’s face it: people like to make slogans, and create theologies based off false oppositions, picking apart the Gospel, which is all-encompassing. The Gnostics did it in the 2nd and 3rd century, and St. Ireneaus (in Against Heresies) likened the way they used Scripture to a mosaic. In the example, a man makes a mosaic of a king, and then rearranges the pieces to be an image of a dog. “Ah, but really this is a picture of the king!” No! You perverted his image. So do many with the Scriptures by proof-texting.

    Today we Orthodox Christians celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Cross. One of the hymns we read goes like this:

    “The Church has been revealed as a second Paradise, having within it, like the first paradise of old, a tree of life, Thy Cross, O Lord. By touching it we share in immortality.”

    Notice how the Church NOW is paradise. Sure, not the fullness of Paradise to come, but a foretaste. By virtue of Baptism we put on Christ, and enter into new life. This means NOW, not later. Our eternal destiny correlates with what we experience now, just in a higher and more complete sense. It is an extension and amplification of what goes on now. So no, let’s not do an either/or. Let’s do a both/and. Paradise starts in the Church, and continues into eternity. Our life now on Earth should show that we are heading towards Heaven, and this means that we are living all the virtues, especially charity.

    I know you are familiar with St. John Chrysostom, and he wrote on the topic of fasting and then tied it to almsgiving. We fast for our souls, and then give alms to show the love of Christ to our bretheren. It all goes hand in hand.

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