Monday, August 19, 2013

Alone or in Solitary Confinement?

Sunday seemed like any other, until my pastor preached at our 11am service.  Much of what he said was about hell.  We’ve all heard most of it, probably often enough that the descriptions register but no longer make much of an impression.  Unless some things come together like they did for me.

Luke 16:19-31 is the story about Lazarus the beggar and the rich man, both of whom died.  The difference was where they ended up afterward.  And what they experienced as a result.  Like so many who don’t think they need God, the message of what would happen didn’t get through to the rich man.  When he experienced the pain of that, he wanted his brothers warned.  A warning they were as likely to ignore as he had.  There’s more.

Luke 12:7 (KJV)  But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.
Those who belong to God are so well known to Him that He knows every hair on their heads.  Yet the rich man’s name is never mentioned.  God didn’t even know His name.  2 Thessalonians 1:9 tells us that part of that result is separation from God.  People like the rich man and his brothers never consider the seriousness of that till it’s too late.  But let me get to what struck me, Sunday morning.

Pastor Schaller mentioned a picture he saw of patients at an asylum.  They were outside in the sunshine.  Someone pointed out to him that there was no conversation going on.  They were all in their separate personal worlds.  And that got me thinking about that, in relation to hell.  Think about where that took my mind.

Mark 9:46-48 mentions that “the worm dies not”.  In fact, it’s mentioned twice in those three verses, for emphasis.  Some suggest that talks about the fact that the torment in hell is eternal.  Which is part of it.  The original Greek word refers to maggots that feast on dead flesh.  It crossed my mind that much of what would get us into hell is succumbing to the desires of the flesh.  The consequences include spiritual maggots eternally eating away at that flesh we spent so much time pampering.  If that image doesn’t get your heart racing in panic, it gets worse.

Verse 6 of Jude tells us that hell is in total darkness.  We also know that hell is composed of fire.  The two combined sound like an impossibility.  But remember that light is a spectrum, not just a single condition.  At either end of the spectrum are infrared and ultraviolet light.  They’re still light, but some of it is not visible to the naked eye.  And flames give off gases, some of which can give off heat without throwing off visible light.  It’s not beyond God’s capabilities to have a burning fire with no light.

Just a side note.  But the thought crosses my mind that God is light.  So, since hell is a place permanently separated from God, it would have to be a place of darkness.  The Word says that believers are changed in nature, when we go from earthly life to eternal life.  Isn’t it likely that this change actually happens to all of us?  And, while those of us in heaven will see because God’s presence is there, those in hell won’t because of the absence of God?  Just a thought.

Matthew 13:42 describes hell as a place of fire and of “wailing and gnashing of teeth”.  Some of the latter can be from the pain of the fire.  But there’s another part of the agonizing.  There have been experiments in sensory deprivation.  And prisoners in solitary confinement, with varying degrees of a lack of human contact, have been observed.  Especially political prisoners.  In all of that, it became obvious that a large decrease in human contact could bring out elements of neurosis and psychosis – wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Think back to that picture of mental patients that my pastor mentioned.  We’re not inside their heads, so we don’t know the internal trauma or lack of it.  But there’s an external example of what some of the elements of hell can be like.  Certainly, although those patients can recognize that others are around them, their focus on their own internal world eliminates any real contact between them.  It’s a separation that doesn’t allow others in.  And, while most of us enjoy a bright, sunny day, those patients don’t seem to be very aware of any of the blessings.  When we think of what those patients are experiencing, it’s not really a huge stretch to go to those verses and begin to imagine how horrendous hell must be.

We’ve painted quite the picture of what hell will be like.  It’s quite a frightening mental image.  But that’s not where we want to leave you.  While God’s justice requires a place like hell, that doesn’t mean that He wants anyone to end up there.  God’s respect for His creation is great enough that He allows us free will to choose what we think and do and where we end up.  And His love for us gives us a substitute for us that satisfies His justice while giving us an option to avoid our just end.  If you don’t have a joyous relationship with Jesus Christ, I challenge you to read the Gospel of John to see how much you are truly loved by our God.  Accepting the gift that replaces God’s justice with His love is easy.  As easy as taking it when it’s offered, just like any other present.

If you’re already a Christian, that has its own challenge.  Not by my pushing you to do something, but by its very nature.  Can we call ourselves Christian, see so many going to eternal damnation, and do nothing about it?  If we really have made our connection with God, seeing so many aimed at unending spiritual pain should elicit a response that causes us to want to give others the solution that will give them the opportunity to experience God’s love, peace and joy forever. 

There are those who would suggest that sharing the Gospel is invading someone’s privacy.  Those same people would never suggest you’re invading someone’s privacy by pulling them from a burning building or saving them from drowning.  Just because salvation is a spiritual concept that most don’t really understand well, that doesn’t make giving someone the opportunity to gain safety any less important than getting them out of a lake where they’re drowning or away from a fire that promises to burn them to death.  If we saw a child playing with a loaded gun, we’d rush to separate the child and the gun, before something bad happened.  Sharing the Gospel isn’t invading privacy, it’s preventing something bad from happening.  So, as the kids put it, “Just do it!”.

Whether we already have a relationship with God or need to find one, think about what we’ve said here.  And read the Gospel of John.  Notice that I said read, not skim, not browse, not glance at.  We need to fully read it and meditate on the contents.  Because any real relationship is built on love and trust, not fear of consequences.  The Gospel of John delves deeply into God’s love for us and why we can trust Him.  No matter what, that reading is for our benefit.

What are you doing, today?

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