The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost Luke 12:49-56
Christ tells His disciples that He has come to bring fire (Luke 12:49). Then He tells them that He has a role in the coming conflagration. That role is the anguish of His bearing the wrath of God for the sin of the world. If we choose not to share in that salvation, we are on our own before the righteousness of God.
So, 578 words on Hell. Why not? Jesus talked about Hell. A lot. We don’t, most of us, but that doesn’t eliminate its reality. Hell is real and many will find themselves there.
Doing a study on Hell, as I have over the past several days, brings up unexpected complications and complexities, along with the fundamental reality.
That—the fundamental reality—is the eternal separation for some from the Kingdom of God. Those who refuse the saving grace of the Incarnate Son of God will find themselves rejected from the presence of the Almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This mild-mannered, self-effacing, Virginia gentleman believes categorically that our Lord warns us of eternal separation for those who refuse His grace.
Now come the complexities.
In the texts of Scripture, and especially in the sayings of Jesus, Hell is hard to describe. It can take on any of three scenarios. One is “the traditional view” that teaches eternal punishment for those in Hell, that their torments will never cease. The “annihilation” view says that those who refuse Christ will perish or be destroyed—that they will cease to exist. The “universal reconciliation” holds that all will eventually be reconciled to the saving faith of Christ and received into the Kingdom.
There are extensive verses that give credence to any of these. Some texts come from the Lord, others from the epistles, prophets and Psalms.
My own view comes under the heading of “Obfuscation.” That word means “to deliberately make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand.” Joined to that is the text from Isaiah 55:8: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways.” In other words, do we really think we can master the contours of God’s mind for the eternal state of human beings?
Yes, I recommend adding the word “Obfuscation” to your theories of biblical inspiration.
Now for the complications. Rarely do we find the Lord leaning on the reality of Hell as motivation for faith. And almost never in the epistles. Yes, references are there, but more often the motivation is the hope of forgiveness, the peace that passes understanding, the immense and immeasurable love of God for sinners.
Consider the prodigal son in the parable of that title. What draws him home? Not the fear of the father’s wrath but the knowledge that the blessings of life with his father are so great that he will return in extreme humility in order to enjoy his father’s world.
With this our Anglican teaching concurs. Article XVII of the 39 Articles, the one on “Predestination and Election,” raises up for us the truth that “predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God.” Contemplating this grace is “full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons.”
Poor Jonathan Edwards! His reputation has one sermon hung on it, “Sinners in the hands…” But even Edwards—especially Edwards--pointed with passion and perception to the depths of God’s love in dealing with sinners. His sermon, “The Excellency of Christ” is worthy of reading once monthly.
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While we must not ever presume to know who will find their lives eternally separated from God, we may conclude the positive statement: that faith in the risen Savior gives assurance of heaven. The mission of the church brings the opportunity of this assurance to those who had not had the opportunity to know and to believe.
No, WCT has no table, graph, or statistic on the population of Hell. Instead, I will relate the beginning efforts for one such nation to hear the good News. This brief tale will demonstrate the truth that God deeply wants to "show His love for us while we were yet sinners.”
I will call the people group the Amorites. Work continues with them, and should the leaders and the converts be known, they would face certain persecution. Around 1990 the research of the WCT team declared this group the largest and least evangelized nation in the world. That meant they had no pastors, no verse of the Bible, no radio in their language, and, as far was known, no Christian.
The initial team consisted of Presbyterians, two Baptist groups, Episcopalians, Assembly of God, and Quakers, and they came from four countries. Two were translators, two medical, one a dentist, and two who led prayer support.
The translator went to visit them and was roughly treated by a thug from the Amorite camp. Embarrassed by this and to show their hospitality, the translator's hosts then treated him as honored guest for almost a week. The words he learned helped his later translation of the Bible. The medical team worked in a different country but near them, giving opportunity for medical help and demonstrations of Christ’s love for them. The prayer team sent or mailed prayer requests regularly, trusting God to work His miracle.
One of the team learned of an Amorite convert in a different country. He traveled to meet him, taking equipment for taping. After several days of working together, the team member left with a master tape of the convert’s story, specific words needed for translation, and a reading of the Gospel of Luke used later for the Jesus Film.
The convert was well discipled and then returned to his village. There he cautiously made known his faith, and cautiously, several family members and friends saw and learned the faith of this man. Gradually other leaders came forward. Some were discipled there in their country, others had brief times of training in neighboring lands.
The rest of the story is not unlike the story of almost any small and young community of faith under threat of persecution. Some gave up their faith, others boldly were witnesses, others quietly showed the love of Christ, others moved to new places for starting churches there.
Mainly, the story is about the Father who yearns, wants, and searches for His prodigal children to return to His love, whose Son came not to judge the world but that through Him the world might be saved (John 3:17).
Photo: An "Amorite" clan
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Tad de Bordenave is an Anglican priest in the Anglican Province of Nigeria, Diocese of Makurdi. He is the author of three books, most recently, The Year of Paul's Reversal.