Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thoughts on HELL


At some point in our lives, we have all seen the Bible tracts saying, "embrace Jesus or suffer in torment for eternity."  But the question remains, can a one-page Bible tract capture the heart of the Gospel? Many of us still have questions lingering in the back of our minds about such cut and dry statements. For example, what if a child dies before accepting Christ?  Does God send that child straight to everlasting torment? Personally, I would hope not. And so I'm encouraged when I read in Matthew 19:14, "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these"'.

Another example would be Jews who were burnt to death in the holocaust - Does God send them straight from earthly fire to eternal fire because they did not accept Christ as their personal Savior? Many of us find that idea extremely troubling and lacking in any sort of justice. And so we are comforted by Jesus' words in Matthew 5:3: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". I have yet to see this verse on a Bible tract, probably because "poor in spirit" has come to mean "those who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior". Yet maybe, just maybe, Christ intended "poor in spirit" to be taken as literal?

The Bible obviously talks about hell. So who is hell reserved for? To answer this question, Jesus once told a parable about a poor beggar named Lazarus. Day after day, year after year, Lazarus would sit outside a rich man’s gate and beg for food.  But the rich man could not suspend his luxury for one moment to offer Lazarus even the crumbs from his table (Luke 16:21). After they died, Lazarus went to heaven while the rich man went to hell. According to the Bible, this rich man may have even called Jesus Lord! Yet ultimately it didn't matter: "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.  Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.'" (Matthew 7:22-24).  

Little did the rich man know that, every time he ignored Lazarus, he ignored Jesus. Jesus warned that when we do not accept the "poor in spirit", we do not accept Christ. "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). However, the reverse is also true - the Bible says that some people can invite Christ into their homes and lives without even knowing it! "Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’" (Matthew 25:37-40).

As Jesus once said, "Don't be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God's Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to eternal life and those who have continued in evil will rise to judgment" (John 5:28-29, NLT). Lazarus could have "done good" and risen to "eternal life" had he offered this poor beggar at least some sort of help. As James 2:24 says, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone."

A similar story with a more positive ending tells about a man who took care of somebody when even a Priest would not. Unlike the Priest, this "Good Samaritan"was probably not well versed in theology, Scripture or converting lost souls. Yet Jesus still used this Samaritan's actions of "loving your neighbor" (Luke 10:27) and "showing mercy" (Luke 10:37) as a prime example of how to live and follow the "greatest commandment" (Luke 10:27).

All of us have failed in these areas in some way. And there is forgiveness when we fail (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet we are still called to attempt to "Be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), learning to find God in the least of these around us, such as in a wounded person with a different faith and ethnicity (as the Good Samaritan did).

I am thankful that Scripture affirms God's justice - God will show mercy to the merciful, and withhold blessings from the greedy. For this reason, someday I hope to be handed a Bible tract that says, "If you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you" (Matthew 6:14). 

In conclusion, I believe that God's grace extends further than our minds can grasp - to children (John 19:14), to the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), to "those who have done good" (John 5:28-29), to "Good Samaritans" (Luke 10:25-37), to those who inadvertently welcome Christ, God's Son, by welcoming "the least of these" (Matthew 25:37-40), to those who do not hold grudges (Matthew 6:14) and to those who accept God's grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The only other option is to believe two things:

1) The eternal torment of hell is reserved for children, babies, the poor in spirit, those who do good, good Samaritans, those who welcome the least of these, those who freely offer forgiveness, and those who accept God's forgiveness.
2) When Jesus suggested otherwise, he was mistaken..

And that, I cannot accept.

2 comments:

  1. To know God's love is to know God's grace. Grace is not something we can claim to understand. As humans, our sinful nature prevents us from understanding how God loves as He does. The free gift of grace is one that has been given to us- but further than that, it's one that has been purchased for us. Grace has not been made attainable to us without a cost. And that cost was the life of Jesus Christ. To accept Jesus Christ is to accept salvation. As Jesus walked the earth, he encountered some who accepted Him, and some who did not accept Him. To those who accepted Him He extended the invitation for eternal life. The situations depicted in the Bible are all depictions of people who encountered Jesus and accepted Him. Today, while we may not encounter Jesus walking through our towns, we still encounter Him. And if someone does good, is poor in Spirit (can we judge someone's Spirit anyways?), clothes the naked and feeds the hungry, yet encounters Jesus and does not accept Him, then He has gone against the very charge that Jesus himself called us to.

    Jesus explains that in order to have eternal life, we must be willing to lay down our earthly lives. We must be willing to die to ourselves and live for Christ. We must be born again (John 3; Matthew 10)

    Luke 12: 47-48- The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

    This parable paints the picture of God's grace. Those who have been given much- whatever that may look like- much will be expected. To those who do not know better- their punishment will be much less. The mentally handicapped, the babies, the children, and those who lived in the middle of Africa and had never heard the gospel... I believe this verse extends to them. How much further it extends, I don't know.

    And finally, Jesus rebukes those who attempt to earn their salvation through works. He calls us to one work: John 6:20- Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

    Blessings Pete!

    Korie :)

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    1. Korie, you mention John 6:20 when Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." I fully agree with this. But believing in Jesus also includes believing in his teachings. We should not separate Jesus from his teachings. God bless :)

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