If reality is grounded in Christ, and being in Christ is by definition being in community, does that mean reality is intrinsically relational? This would make sense to me. If this is true, then, does that mean that real being is only possible in community? If both language and actual being demand community, them perhaps true human existence can only be had in community.
If human existence is grounded in participation in the reality, and reality is grounded in Christ, then what happens if one does not participate in Christ? Thinkers like C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright seem to head towards a less literal interpretation of hell – hell being a total loss of all existence and human identity. Effectively it means simply continuing on living without participating in reality – this is the road that I see Bonhoeffer ideas going down. The question is, however, does this fit with the Biblical data of the afterlife?
Given the Jewish understanding of the afterlife, which is the view that Christ and the Apostles would have held, it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to say that it does indeed fit with the data. The Jewish view of the afterlife was that of a shadowy sort of non-existence – think of the Nazgul (Ringwraiths) from ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I think this is a fairly solid view of the negatiove afterlife given Bonhoeffers view. It’s not a literal fire-and-brimstone kind of idea, but to my mind it’s a much worse kind of existence.
‘What is our suffering when we recollect that God has Himself felt it so keenly as to give His only begotten son in order to remove it? Our suffering for sin has not touched us, and cannot touch us, as it touches Him. So we can never take it to our hearts in this way. When we realise the full depth of our sorrow as it is seen borne and suffered by God Himself, any complaint of ours as to the form in which it confronts and affects us is silenced. Our lamenting is comes too late is always relatively too weak. Indeed, it is always ineffective and in the end untrue. For what is the use of our lamenting when the heart of misery is to make good? Who can complain when God has to complain, when the right to complain is His right alone? It is His heart, not ours, which is suffering when we think we are the sufferers and that have a right or obligation to reverse the relationship and behave as though we have to suffer, as it were, in the void, divinely, eternally, or on our own account? In the recognition and confession of the mercy of God, what we are accustomed to take so seriously as the tragedy of human existence is dissolved. There is something far more serious and tragic, viz., the fact that our distress – the anguish of our sin and guilt – is freely accepted by God, and that in Him, and only in Him, it becomes real agony.’ (Karl Barth, ‘Church Dogmatics, II.1, p. 374)