thoughts on hell

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.

Revelation 20:14

Hell is the place or state we choose apart from God’s grace in Christ. It is beyond my comprehension, and I really don’t want to dwell on it. But it is sobering. We get what we chose in this life in the end maybe so to speak, in spades. We either choose the light God gives us, or recede back more and more into the darkness, our own as well as that of this world.

I don’t see it as a physical lake of fire, but as something that is tormenting us more and more, as we live life apart from God.

Whether or not hell is forever (I think from the Bible it is, but you can make a case that it might be temporary either in annihilation at a certain point, or actual purification, though I think myself the latter is more far fetched), and I hope not myself, people receive what they deserve.

I like C.S. Lewis’s view of it as something we choose for ourselves in this life carried on into the next life. Humans were made for relationship with God and with each other. But sin separates us from God and from others. So in the eternal state we keep moving further and further on the track we chose in this life.

It is hell to live apart from God on our own. If we make our own light or depend on another light other than that of the gospel, then we’re indeed in for great deception. Jesus said that if the light in us is darkness, then that darkness is great.

Hell is living apart from God and God’s good will. Even as Christians we can live in a kind of hell when we seek to live life on our own, or unwittingly give into either self-deception or satanic deception. That’s a far cry from living in God’s grace in Christ in which we trust and obey and depend on God to see us through.

It’s a big subject, just a few scattered thoughts here. God grant us to rest in Christ. God took hell for us in himself at the cross, so that we never have to experience a shred of it here (though we still do at least from time to time), and none in the life to come. In and through Jesus.

make disciples

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

The command Jesus gave is to the apostles. Most agree that this command extends to the church today. It’s what the church is to be about, and what we’re to become. Not just believers, but followers of Christ.

This is done in a number of ways, but relationships seem much more important than many of us have imagined. Baptizing and teaching are clearly important, as the text indicates. We can’t minimize that for a moment. When one looks at Jesus’s life one finds that he spent a good majority of his time interacting with people, especially with his twelve disciples, called apostles.

To be a disciple is to follow Christ’s teachings, to follow Christ himself, to follow the teachings of those designated to be his apostles as given to them by Christ through the Spirit. For us today that essentially means what we call “the New Testament.” We’re to be well versed in that, and if we are, then we’ll have respect for “the Old Testament,” in being foundational to the fulfillment in Christ.

To be a disciple is to be a learner, but it’s not just head knowledge, but a way of life. The heart of which is love to God and to one’s neighbor.

This is what the church is to be about. Nothing more, nothing less. In and through Jesus.

the work of the Spirit: forbearance

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance…

Galatians 5:22

In seeking to be led by the Spirit, rather than fall into the default of the flesh, Paul’s words are set in the context of Christian community. The words certainly apply beyond that, even how we seek to engage our enemies. But are directly applicable in relation to each other in Christ, responding to what’s difficult for us by the Spirit rather than the flesh.

Traditionally the word in the NIV translated “forbearance” has been and continues to be translated “patience,” “longsuffering” in the KJV. One of my professors said it’s basically the idea of putting up with each other. Bill Mounce in his “gloss” of this word tells us:

patience, forbearance, internal and external control in a difficult circumstance, which control could exhibit itself by delaying an action

Collins Dictionary describes how we use this word:

If you say that someone has shown forbearance, you admire them for behaving in a calm and sensible way about something that they have a right to be very upset or angry about.

We don’t want to be thinking negatively about others, finding fault and picking at it. We have our own faults and weaknesses for sure. But we often do rub each other the wrong way; it works both ways for sure. Sometimes through misunderstanding, but other times whether or not we should be, we’re frankly annoyed.

When we find ourselves there, we need to determine that we want to be led by the Spirit so that we can walk by the Spirit, rather than act or react in the flesh. That should be our goal. God will honor that commitment of faith by helping us. But there may be a point where other feelings and thoughts submerge us. We then need to prayerfully seek the Spirit’s leading and help, not responding by the flesh. Part of that is moving in directions we know are good and avoiding what we know is not.

When we do stumble along the way, we can confess the sin to God, and if need be to someone we might have offended, and go on. We also have to be careful not to consider something thought, said or done as necessarily sinful. God knows, and is conforming us to the image of Christ. Satan is always present to condemn us. It’s these low points that can strengthen us in our commitment to walk by the Spirit, rather than give in to the flesh.

This leads to the important point that we just can’t go on our feelings or give in to disparaging thoughts. We certainly can’t control our feelings, but we can choose to seek in all things to be led by the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, to keep in step with the Spirit.

So back to our main point: The fruit of the Spirit is forebearance. The Holy Spirit of God will help us in our thoughts toward people and things that we find disagreeable or even offensive. God understands our struggle with it; Jesus himself experienced that. The Spirit will help us in love to put up with each other well, as we receive their forebearing love in return. In and through Jesus.

the works of the flesh, or the fruit of the Spirit

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit,you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:13-26

The “works of the flesh” as pictured above (and this is a sample list) are evident to us everywhere nowadays, especially when we consider the national (US) political stage. This has always been true to some extent, but it’s especially the case now. And unfortunately it can spill over into the lives of followers of Jesus who act and react accordingly, sometimes even against each other.

Paul was facing a religious controversy, so to speak. It seems true that there’s no two issues on which people can get more hot over than religion and politics. And when you study history, go to war over as well.

The kingdom of God come in Jesus calls for its followers to be completely different, to live in another way entirely: the way of the Spirit as opposed to the way of the flesh. I think the NIV footnote here is correct concerning the Greek word σάρξ, translated “flesh”:

  1. Galatians 5:13 In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit; also in verses 16, 17, 19 and 24; and in 6:8.

Unfortunately we in Jesus who have the Spirit can fall back into those old patterns and way of life. If we who live by the Spirit fail to keep in step with the Spirit, then we fall back into the ways of the flesh, and can become conceited and hateful toward each other.

Living by the Spirit is not simply shrinking back and becoming passive, even hiding. It’s our answer in Christ to what is all too common fare in the world. We in Christ must refuse to respond in kind, and that especially concerns our disagreements with each other. But even toward our enemies, our lives in our actions and words should be marked by “the fruit of the Spirit.”

This is not something we can produce on our own, but we’re responsible to yield control of our life to the Spirit so that the Spirit can bear this fruit in us. It’s up to us. Will we give in to the flesh and its demands? Or will we yield to the Spirit and endeavor to keep in step with the Spirit? There’s no middle ground, it’s either one or the other.

 

a truly Christ-centered life is for others

…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3b-4

We’re naturally centered in ourselves. That’s understandable. From birth, while babies hopefully bond with their mothers and fathers, they understandably live an existence within themselves, completely dependent on others to take care of their needs, and it’s a need centered existence. Hopefully with healthy bonding, growth beyond “just me” begins.

But too often in our sin and brokenness our existence is all about us, and our world revolves around what we want, and anything other than that we simply put up with, or try to make it somehow satisfy us.

Christ exemplified something completely different. In becoming one of us, even made, so partaking of our lowly humanity, Christ chose to live not only where we live, but completely in our existence. Becoming human was the way for God to reveal himself in the most personal, intimate way, again both right where we live and in our very experience.

Christ took on himself the nature of a servant being made human. He willingly out of love for us and the Father took the lowest place of slave. And then stooped to the lowest depths in the death of the cross. Our attitude toward each other is to be the same.

So often when we’re engaged in life it’s really centered on us. We make it about us. To Christ it was about others. In a conversation we enter in with our corroborating experience, or maybe so we think. But it then becomes about us. And often people trade off back and forth that way. That actually can be okay if at the same time we’re fully engaged in what the other is saying about themselves. And it’s good if we can just listen and let them talk on, and then maybe offer something from our own experience which might help them in some way.

But the point of this great passage and Christ hymn is that we’re to live with each other in the same way Christ lived with us.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

God wants to be known

This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

God. Yes, outrageous isn’t it? God, no less. And of all things, God wants to be known. Hard to understand, much less try to explain any of it.

People are meant to be in relationship with each other, but also with God. To really get to know each other. Yes, even to get to know God. Astounding for sure.

This hasn’t been a forte in my life. I can’t say I’ve excelled in really knowing people, and being known. You would like to think that’s so with immediate family, with loved ones. But even there I haven’t done as well as I would have liked, looking back on it. But that’s a big part of life, what life is all about.

I’m beginning to understand this much better toward the end of my life. And this all actually begins with God, in whose image we humans are made, and who started all of this in the first place.

But in the midst of all the maelstrom of life, with the questions and perplexities it brings, not to mention the trauma and tragedy, all of that can get lost. Lost even in the easy shuffle of what we humans have made life to be.

But God wants to be known. Yet God won’t push himself on us. By what God has made, God’s divine nature and power are clearly on display. But God wants it to be personal with each and every human. God made it personal, certainly doing so when God sent his Son to become one of us, God no less becoming flesh in Jesus. Then dying on the cross for our sins to reconcile us to himself. Do we dare doubt that God loves us, and wants to know us?

But given our struggle and weakness as humans, we will doubt. Nevertheless, it’s true. Truth doesn’t change. God wants to be known through all the experience of life, in spite of much of it. Are we open to that? All of this available as a gift in and through Jesus.

what gives meaning to it all: Love

Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3

A couple years ago, I made a decision which in retrospect ended up being like a born again experience. At work I used to sit by myself during lunch at a little table and read the psalms. I did that month after month, maybe piling into a couple years or more. Time flies. But I decided to call that quits, and instead, sit at a break table with a group of people I struggled to understand and relate to. A couple of guys were getting close to retirement, so I was with them the last year or more before that, at the table.

God met me there in a way that wasn’t better than in reading in word, but in a sense it was, only because I was in a place where I could start putting the word into practice. Just by being present, and learning to meld into the fellowship, or communion, as a friend. Although I work at a Christian ministry, this would make sense anywhere. After all, Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners.

The heart of this is learning to get at the heart of all that is: the God who is love. God is Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and as such, God is essentially a relational being. And to be relational and in relationships is part of what it means to be human. And in Jesus, the brokenness of our existence in not doing well in this, indeed relationships themselves can be redeemed and reconciled.

So it matters not at all what I might think I know, or even what I do, if love isn’t at the heart of it all. And for that to be so, I need to be open to being vulnerable, and I need to learn to love and receive love from others. People have to be together, and as Christians, Jesus is then with us. He promises to be present wherever two or more are gathered in his name. Then we can find and begin to experience and understand the real, unadulterated, pure love. And hopefully begin to live and grow in that. By God’s grace. In and through Jesus.