I'm doing some studying for the teaching this weekend at South County United on the parable of the unforgiving servant [Matthew 18.21-35] and came across this thought from Robert Farrar Capon...
In heaven, there are only forgiven sinners. There are no good guys, no upright, successful types who, by dint of their own integrity, have been accepted into the great country club in the sky. There are only failures, only those who have accepted their deaths in their sins and who have been raised up by the King who himself died that they might live.
But in hell, too, there are only forgiven sinners. Jesus on the cross does not sort out certain exceptionally recalcitrant parties and cut them off from the pardon of his death. He forgives the badness of even the worst of us, willy-nilly; and he never takes back that forgiveness, not even at the bottom of the bottomless pit.
The sole difference, therefore, between heaven and hell is that in heaven the forgiveness is accepted and passed along, while in hell it is rejected and blocked. In heaven, the death of the king is welcomed and becomes the doorway to a new life in the resurrection. In hell, the old life of the bookkeeping world is insisted on and becomes, forever, the pointless torture it always was.
There is only one unpardonable sin, and that is to withhold pardon from others. The only thing that can keep us out of the joy of the resurrection is to join the unforgiving servant in his refusal to die.
Astounding. Simply astounding.
This raises another whole set of questions and thoughts...
Could it be that heaven and hell are in fact the same experience, but from drastically different viewpoints? Could the forgiveness embraced by one be the fragrance of life, yet to another it is the aroma of death? Could it be life to one, yet torture to another?
What if everyone is forgiven, yet it is your embracing of that forgiveness that makes your experience either your heaven or your hell?
Perhaps the nature of heaven and hell is profoundly more mysterious than we've ever considered.
Perhaps Rob Bell was correct when he said, The flames of heaven are hotter than the flames of hell.