Has it ever troubled you that post-modern thinking is not a logically consistent mode of thought?
I mean, post-modernism claims that you cannot know anything... except the fact that you can't know anything. That kind of statement cannot be sustained, and in fact, a way of thinking based upon this maxim doesn't really work. Let me see if I can illustrate what I am saying.
Post-modernism seems well characterized by the analogy of the group of six blind-men who bumped into and encountered an elephant one day. The first blind man put out his hands and felt the side of the elephant and declared, "An elephant is like a wall." The second blind man put out his hand and grasped the trunk of the elephant and said, "No, an elephant is like a snake." The third blind man put out his hands and touched the tusk of the elephant, observing, "It's sharp! An elephant is like a spear." The fourth blind man bumped into and reached around a leg of the elephant saying, "an elephant is like a tree." The fifth blind man felt over an ear of the elephant. "How wide and thin!" He said, "An elephant is like a fan." The sixth blind man was hit by the tail and grabbed it saying, "An elephant is like a rope."
The point of the parable is that all are right and all are wrong at the same time because they cannot grasp the reality. Post-modernism claims that reality for people is like the elephant encounter that these blind men had. The only thing you can be sure of is that no one can actually be sure they understand it. They go on to say it is arrogant to claim certain knowledge about anything. The only viewpoint that cannot be correct (according to post-modern thinking) is the one which claims to actually be exclusive truth. They say this is the one line you cannot cross, you cannot have certainty that you are right and others are wrong.
The problem with this thinking, of course, is seen within the parable itself! The person who tells the story (i.e. the post-modern thinker) is actually another, unmentioned, character in the story. The narrator constitutes a 7th man, and he is the only person who SEES both the elephant and the blind men for what they really are! In other words, post-modernism, unwittingly becomes the most arrogant of all claims! It says there can be no exclusive claims, but this itself IS an exclusive claim. According to the parable, everyone is blind EXCEPT for the post-modern thinker! How much more arrogant can you get?
The person who says "no one can really know" is actually making just as bold, and just as arrogant, and just as grand a claim as the one who says "I know what this means." There is no difference between one who claims to know exclusive truth and one who claims "no one can know exclusive truth." The notable difference is that one position is not self-contradictory while the other is. Post-modern thinking contradicts itself by its own maxim, whereas pre-modern thinking at least is self-consistent with tis view that exclusive truth exists and can be known. Perhaps equally troubling is the attitude created by post-modernism of pride in having "more knowledge" about it than anyone foolish enough to claim to have found the answer. This makes them less likely to engage in honest dialogue because of their surety, whereas those who admit truth can be known ought to be able to discuss and debate the facts rationally.
So, lets say you begin where a post-modern person does, with the belief that nothing can be known apart from that which is personally experienced (and even that is subject to doubt because our senses can lie). Even in that way the Bible can withstand the post-modern investigation. They can try out what the New Testament teaches and see if it works in their own experience, and it will. When it does, then they have to consider how this book gained such insight into the human nature and mind to be able to have accurately portrayed something so complex as humanity and reality some 2000 years ago.
This would lead the post-modern thinker back to the idea which the text itself suggests, that it is of divine origin, and would engender a trust in the text and its author at ever deepening levels which will eventually lead back to pre-modern thinking in that respect.
My point is this: post-modernism cannot survive on its own; it will either lead back to a reasonable way of thinking or it will end with insanity, because it is not a logically stable position.
“Ah,” you may say, “fighting evil and injustice in the world is one thing, but sending people to hell is another. The Bible speaks of eternal punishment. How does that fit in with the love of God? I cannot reconcile even the idea of hell with a loving God.” How do we address this understandable recoiling?
Modern people inevitably think that hell works like this: God gives us time, but if we haven’t made the right choices by the end of our lives, he casts our souls into hell for all eternity. As the poor souls fall through space, they cry out for mercy, but God says “Too late! You had your chance! Now you will suffer!” This caricature misunderstands the very nature of evil. The Biblical picture is that sin separates us from the presence of God, which is the source of all joy and indeed of all love, wisdom, or good things of any sort. Since we were originally created for God’s immediate presence, only before his face will we thrive, flourish, and achieve our highest potential. If we were to lose his presence totally, that would be hell— the loss of our capability for giving or receiving love or joy.
A common image of hell in the Bible is that of fire. Fire disintegrates. Even in this life we can see the kind of soul disintegration that self-centeredness creates. We know how selfishness and self-absorption leads to piercing bitterness, nauseating envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and the mental denials and distortions that accompany them. Now ask the question: “What if when we die we don’t end, but spiritually our life extends on into eternity?”
Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever.
In short, hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity. We see this process “writ small” in addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First, there is disintegration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which leads to less and less satisfaction. Second, there is the isolation, as increasingly you blame others and circumstances in order to justify your behavior. “No one understands! Everyone is against me!” is muttered in greater and greater self-pity and self-absorption. When we build our lives on anything but God, that thing— though a good thing— becomes an enslaving addiction, something we have to have to be happy. Personal disintegration happens on a broader scale. In eternity, this disintegration goes on forever. There is increasing isolation, denial, delusion, and self-absorption. When you lose all humility you are out of touch with reality. No one ever asks to leave hell. The very idea of heaven seems to them a sham.
In his fantasy The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis describes a busload of people from hell who come to the outskirts of heaven. There they are urged to leave behind the sins that have trapped them in hell— but they refuse. Lewis’s descriptions of these people are striking because we recognize in them the self-delusion and self-absorption that are “writ small” in our own addictions.
"Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others… but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God “sending us” to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud."
The people in hell are miserable, but Lewis shows us why. We see raging like unchecked flames their pride, their paranoia, their self-pity, their certainty that everyone else is wrong, that everyone else is an idiot! All their humility is gone, and thus so is their sanity. They are utterly, finally locked in a prison of their own self-centeredness, and their pride progressively expands into a bigger and bigger mushroom cloud.
They continue to go to pieces forever, blaming everyone but themselves. Hell is that, writ large. That is why it is a travesty to picture God casting people into a pit who are crying “I’m sorry! Let me out!” The people on the bus from hell in Lewis’s parable would rather have their “freedom,” as they define it, than salvation. Their delusion is that, if they glorified God, they would somehow lose power and freedom, but in a supreme and tragic irony, their choice has ruined their own potential for greatness. Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom.” As Romans 1: 24 says, God “gave them up to… their desires.” All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself. What could be more fair than that? Lewis writes:
"There are only two kinds of people— those who say “Thy will be done” to God or those to whom God in the end says, “ Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it."
Thoughts from The Reason for God by Timothy Keller (pp. 74-77).