Monday, July 4, 2011

Monday's Meditation: The Last Guy at the Party

The bartender probably shouted, "last call" just before I walked in the door, but I didn't hear him so I don't know any better. I'm a little late to the party here, since people have been arguing about Hell ever since Rob Bell’s promotional video a month before his book. Hell, they’ve been arguing about it for several millennia, actually.  Still, I decided to share just two thoughts because they have been so helpful for me personally.

First, C.S. Lewis wrote an absolutely inspired book on the subject of Hell, The Great Divorce. Recommending a book on such a personal topic is about as warm and caring as telling a sick person, "take two aspirin and call me in the morning."  But here’s the deal: Lewis' work is a first-person narrative that never chides, doesn't preach, and brings light instead of heat to the discussion. It is vastly better than Rob Bell’s book. God bless Rob Bell for raising questions about our motives when it seems many Christians are cheering for the fires of torment. We are all the better for giving serious attention to his questions. Sadly, Love Wins falls disappointingly short on answers.

Second, a hundred years ago I took lifeguard training from the Red Cross. One of the situations we trained for is when a panicked swimmer actually resists rescue because of, well . . . panic. The issue of Hell is a lot like that. I've haven't seen any comments during the debate this year on John 3:17 (That's 17, right after the overworked verse, John 3:16): "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Jesus doesn't condemn, he comes to save.

It shouldn't raise much debate: we plainly see people drowning all around us: drowning in sorrow, in fear, addictions, injustice, and ignorance. For many people Hell isn't after they die, it's today. The kind of salvation needed is the kind that lifts and rescues now and in the age to come. Only the most foolish followers of Jesus actually tell others, "you're going to Hell" for three reasons: (1) it rarely changes anyone's heart, (2) we don't know it all, and (3) we're not Jesus, so it's not our call to make. How foolish would it be for a lifeguard to stand on the shore and shout, "Hey! You in the blue swimsuit! You're drowning!" Better to run into the ocean Baywatch style.

Finally (OK, I said two, but this is a bonus), I'd like to suggest a game-changing question: when does eternal life begin? For my money, I'll go with Jesus' words in John 17:3: "Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." Only a fool thinks of eternal life in terms of time-orientation. Eternal life is qualitative: knowing the Father and knowing Jesus. How soon can that start? Forget about Hell: how many believers are waiting for eternal life to begin after they die when all the while they could enter in now?

Yep, the party’s just about over. There may not be anyone left to listen. Maybe I’m that guy, sitting at the bar talking to the clean up crew, and they’re thinking, “Dude, give it up and go home.” Either way, be careful, everyone.


13 comments:

  1. Good job, Ray. Lewis' writing is excellent in pointing out that everyone gets in the afterlife what they want, much like a judge giving to a defendant according to his choices, not according to the judge's preferences. I also agree that we have to suspend judgement re. those who seem not to believe in in Christ's Gospel. We can't always know what is, or has been going on deep in their souls. Best to trust them to our faithful God and hope for the best.

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  2. Kim Spidle OverpeckJuly 4, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    Thanks for posting that! It has been a subject near and dear to my heart for about a decade now, as I have been so concerned about the almost gleeful pride and borderline arrogance that many Christians portray....as they smugly and confidently see themselves standing above a fiery pit, and watching all those "resistant swimmers" burning in eternal fires. It doesn't seem like the heart of the God that I serve. He came to seek and save the lost...He IS LOVE, and love never fails. Rob Bell started out on the right foot...with "Love Wins". I truly believe, He does...He must...He has. How that plays out in the age to come I don't dare to even imagine...But I think it will be glorious and not sadistic. It will be redemptive and not torturous....The hottest fires bring the deepest and purest refinement. Maybe just maybe He is producing gold with the fires of "hell". Much of which is happening in the lives or people we know right now. God help us that we would begin to have his thoughts and act according to his ways. Thanks for sharing your heart! Always love your articles...this one just hit home a little deeper;)

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  3. Shepherd: Reading _The Great Divorce_ was one of those things that restored my faith, after I lost it.

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  4. Thanks Ray for the blog. I haven't read his book yet, but don't need to. Rob Bell is more the prophet than the teacher. Great at getting us to ask the important questions and leaves us to find the answers. I fear most Christians are more secure with knowing doctrine than the mystery with knowing God.

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  5. An unbelieving student pulled me aside Thursday night and asked (with tears in her eyes), "If we 'reap what we sow'; pay for our sin in this life, why would we be sent to Hell too?" Good question.

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  6. Stumbled on this Ray. Nicely done.

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  7. Stumbled on this Ray. Nicely done.

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  8. An unbelieving student pulled me aside Thursday night and asked (with tears in her eyes), "If we 'reap what we sow'; pay for our sin in this life, why would we be sent to Hell too?" Good question.

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  9. Shepherd: Reading _The Great Divorce_ was one of those things that restored my faith, after I lost it.

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  10. Good job, Ray. Lewis' writing is excellent in pointing out that everyone gets in the afterlife what they want, much like a judge giving to a defendant according to his choices, not according to the judge's preferences. I also agree that we have to suspend judgement re. those who seem not to believe in in Christ's Gospel. We can't always know what is, or has been going on deep in their souls. Best to trust them to our faithful God and hope for the best.

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  11. Heaven is found on earth. Got it.

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