Saturday, December 22, 2012

The word that dare not be spoken. . .

I have long read the thoughts of Msgr Charles Pope who is erudite, thoughtful, and, perhaps to the surprise of many Lutherans, quite Biblical.  He has posted of late about that place which dare not spoken -- HELL.  We can talk all you want of heaven but it is frowned upon to speak of hell or the prospect that there may be any folks destined for it.

We have come to live with the idea that the way of salvation is broad and straight and easy to find... and the path to hell is narrow, crooked, and hard to find.  How easy it is for us to manipulate the words of the Lord to fit our desires and values instead of paying attention to the hard truth He speaks.  Perhaps some will posit the Roman problem here with Vatican II.  I am not so sure.  I well recall the hope of Fr Richard John Neuhaus who certainly believed that there was a hell but certainly hoped that it would be found empty on judgment day.  Whatever our hopes and dreams, the reality is found in the Word of the Lord.  Jesus does not speak of hell as a possibility but as a reality.  As much as I am sad to lament it, Scripture makes no promise that those who will be saved will be a majority or even many.  Whether many or few will be saved is His to determine and it is not my purpose to preview or second guess the Lord.  Yet the reality is that that Scripture gives far more indications that few will be saved than many.

As we enter into this new Church Year, it is wise for us to remember the grave question, "when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith?"  (Luke 18:8)  We are easily given to the Wal-Mart temptation that the Church will be a mighty and pervasive franchise delivering salvation in great quantity to a willing clientele -- sort of like the crowds on Thanksgiving evening or before Black Friday dawn.  This may be a pious hope but it is not the operating principle which which the Church faces the present day and the task the Lord has assigned.

I am saddened by those who make hell into the motivation for bringing the good news of salvation to the world.  Surely the Lord seeks a people moved not by fear but shaped by hope!  But it is foolish and American wishful thinking to believe that hell either does not exist or it is rendered pointless by God's willingness to shrug His shoulders at unbelief.

Msgr Pope has written well on this subject.  While I may not appreciate all that he has written, I am encouraged that even in Rome the once forbidden subject is being spoken of in public again.  You can read him on the links below but I have listed here some of his summary points:

Just a few summary bullet points:
  1. The Biblical teaching, that there is a Hell, and that many go there is in no way ambiguous. When asked directly whether many would be saved Jesus answers soberly, and I would suppose with great sadness, that “many” were on the wide road that led to perdition, and that the road that led to salvation, was narrow, and difficult and that “few” found it.
  2. Jesus the main source – No one loves us more than Jesus Christ, and no one has worked more to save us than Jesus Christ. Yet no one spoke of Hell more than Jesus Christ, or warned of judgment with greater sobriety.
  3. Words mean things – However one may wish to interpret the biblical data, “many” does not mean few, and “few” does not mean many.
  4. Hell is, in a sense, necessary if human freedom is to have any meaning. All while Hell has mysterious aspects, understanding its existence must be rooted in the fact that God respects the freedom he has given us, even if he may regret the choices we make. But we are summoned to love, and love requires freedom, and freedom requires that our choices be about real things.
  5. That hell is an eternal reality is also mysterious, but is caught up in the mystery of the eternity itself. It would seem that as we move from this temporal world toward eternity, our decisions become forever fixed and final.
  6. Devastating – It does not require an advanced degree in sociology to understand that, to remove the unambiguous biblical teaching on the very real and possible outcome of Hell, is to remove strong motivation to seek a Savior and salvation. It is therefore no surprise that as the teaching on Hell has been largely set aside by the modern world, that recourse to the sacraments, prayer, Church attendance and any number of spiritual remedies have suffered significant declines during the same period.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Dear Rev. Peters:

You wrote, “I am saddened by those who make hell into the motivation for bringing the good news of salvation to the world. Surely the Lord seeks a people moved not by fear but shaped by hope!” Do we not teach that the Law, including the reality of Hell, is what drives people to the Gospel through the work of the Holy Spirit? Is it not only after we become citizens of God’s Kingdom that we are shaped by hope and love? Romans 8: 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

As biblical as the good Monsignor may be, I think he gets it almost right when he writes, “It does not require an advanced degree in sociology to understand that, to remove the unambiguous biblical teaching on the very real and possible outcome of Hell, is to remove strong motivation to seek a Savior and salvation. It is therefore no surprise that as the teaching on Hell has been largely set aside by the modern world, that recourse to the sacraments, prayer, Church attendance and any number of spiritual remedies have suffered significant declines during the same period.” If he means that the people of God were driven “to the sacraments, prayer, Church attendance and any number of spiritual remedies” before Hell was set aside by the modern world, then he is proclaiming typical Roman Catholic doctrine that does not distinguish between Law and Gospel. If he means that fewer people are coming to faith in the Gospel because “the teaching on Hell has been largely set aside by the modern world” he may have a point. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit will find a way to bring every one of the Elect into His Kingdom.

I suspect that, just to many Americans, to him the only thing that means anything is what happens in the United States. If things are different in the rest of the world, or other parts of the world, we don’t know about it, or dismiss it as being insignificant. Hell is much more believable to people who live in suffering and deprivation, than to us, who mostly live in affluence.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Pastor Peters said...

My point is that salvation cannot merely be running from hell in fear and there are those who do a fine job preaching hell but do not preach the gospel so that there is something to run to as well Aaa from.