Friday, April 15, 2016

What is the prospect of life apart from God?

You don't hear much about hell these days.  Not even the fire and brimstone preachers of old have much enthusiasm for the proclamation of eternal fire, of eternal pain, of the weeping and gnashing of teeth without consolation...  And I suppose I fit in as well.  None of us want to talk much about hell and so how we talk about Christ has changed.

The Gospel is not so much the rescue from death and hell as it is a way to live a better life, to enjoy a greater comfort, and to know a deeper existence.  It all sounds good.  Who would not want a better life?  Isn't that what we seek for our children and what we hope for ourselves?  Sure it is.  We want things to get better and we want progress (less work, more play, less worry, more money, less duty, and more delight).  Don't we all want to enjoy life more, to enjoy a greater degree of comfort within our lives?  I sure do.  I expect you do as well.  And surely we are not so shallow as to presume that a deeper (aka more spiritual) life is not better than a trivial life?!  As Jesus said, even the grandest of pagans want to enjoy a deep, meaningful, and spiritual life (though certainly not a religious one!).

But that kind of Gospel is a hard sell.  It does not play well in a world in which we really don't need religion for much of anything anymore.  Charitable institutions are largely public sector and even for profit organizations.  Welfare belongs to the state.  Private education is too costly.  Religion is still the domain of dogma and constrains our unnatural natural desires.  The idea that we can sell Jesus as a bit more to enlarge a good life, a dose of comfort to enjoy more security in life, and a deeper life is an old but failed idea.  If God is only good for getting what we want (happiness, success, and a sense of meaning), then when we get them, we can ditch Him, right?

Worse, this is not how the Kingdom of God is witnessed in Scripture nor is it how Jesus presents Himself and what He has come to do.  Repentance more than anything else is the acknowledgement that we need God though He does not need us.  We need Him because the mountain of sin has buried our purpose, stolen our identity, and cast the dark shadow of death over the whole lot of us.  We need Him because we are debtors who cannot repay and whose eternal future is the debtor's prison of hell until that debt is paid in full (that is, forever).  We need Him because we are lost in a world filled with dead ends and detours and only He who has forged the way in righteousness and through death can guide a lost and condemned people out of our morass.

The Gospel does not promise a little better life.  The Gospel promise IS life -- life to the dying captive to death, life to the sinner under sentence of death for his sins, and life to the unrighteous and wicked who know not the good, the holy, the blessed, and the eternal.  We are under a death sentence which does not end with physical death but only begins in earnest with our departure from this life into the bane of eternal death.  The Gospel is about the God who chose us when we did not chose Him and instead ran from Him and His creative order.  It is about the largess of grace and mercy so deep and wide that the profligate sons and daughters we are find unexpected welcome in the arms of our heavenly Father.  It is about the payment of real debt with real currency of Christ's flesh for the life of the world and His blood shed.  It is about this life as prelude to the great life to come when death and sin and hell will be erased from our memory so that God can fill us all in all.

Why should we and how can we convince people to be saved when we admit that they can get just about everything they need or want without God?  The Gospel does not enhance this life -- it redeems it.  We do not need a better life.  We need a life -- one not bounded by death, defined by sin, and burdened by wickedness.  We need a real life that is not measured in calendar days but in suffering that paid once for all so it does not end.  Christ is not the purveyor of some hidden wisdom or secret to success that will make life better but He is the redeemer whose rescue releases us from hell's claim upon us, from death's captivity, from sin's dominion, and from the despair of it all when finally we realize the truth.

To do this, we need to begin talking about hell again -- not only about sin but also about hell.  This should not be a hard sell.  In a world where evil has stolen the headlines over and over again and we see atrocities on the evening news, it should not be such a stretch to believe that absent a God whose love forgives and redeems there will be an eye for any eye and a tooth for a tooth for all eternity.

BTW I timed this on purpose to be published on tax day!  Ooops. . . forgot you got until the 18th.  Oh well...


Carl Vehse said...

"Not even the fire and brimstone preachers of old have much enthusiasm for the proclamation of eternal fire, of eternal pain, of the weeping and gnashing of teeth without consolation... "

The lack of enthusiasm from fire and brimstone preachers' proclamation of eternal fire, of eternal pain, of the weeping and gnashing of teeth without consolation may be due to their congregations already experiencing such punishments in a Demonicrat regime, with the possibility of eight more years, which seems like an eternity.

Recovering Lutheran said...

To do this, we need to begin talking about hell again -- not only about sin but also about hell. This should not be a hard sell.

I'm not so sure about hell not being a hard sell. It's true that much of the pain and suffering people see in the world seems to have been scripted by Satan. But many people - perhaps a majority - don't see it as such. Some examples: racism has been renamed "multiculturalism", the slaughter of babies sold as "reproductive health", and Jim Crow laws have been repackaged as "safe spaces". These people do not merely endure evil - they welcome it. For them an eternity separated from the love of God is paradise.

Carl Vehse said...

Yes, one does not hear many sermons about hell today like the sermon delivered by Rev. Paul Ford (played by Karl Malden) in the 1960 movie, "Pollyanna":

Death comes unexpectedly!

And the God, Jehovah, will execute his vengeance on ye... who despise His dying love and trample His benefits underfoot. The unconverted soul, the foolish children of man do miserably delude themselves in the false confidence... of their own strength and wisdom. They trust to nothing but a shadow. But bear testament.

Death comes unexpectedly!

Now, you say, ah, no, I had not intended it to come now. I had laid out matters otherwise. I thought my scheme good. I intended to take effectual care, but death came unexpectedly... like a thief, outwitting me, too quick for me. Oh, cursed foolishness, that I had fathered and pleased myself... with vain dreams of repentance. But sudden destruction caught me up.

... and now He will deal with you.

Now the Great King of Heaven and Earth... will abolish and annihilate this pride! Will crush the hardened wretch... of the polluted infinite abomination, and rain on him... a deluge of fire and brimstone!

And where is their strength, then? Where are the great Leviathans who defied God then? Where is their courage, these, these, these, these proud spirits?

Yes... death comes unexpectedly. And the dread judge has the key of hell. He shuts... and no man opens.

In hell... you will be reserved in chains of darkness forever and ever. This place of atonement, of damned souls and misery, with nothing to relieve you, no comfort, no water for your parched tongues, no place to rest or take a breath, but the everlasting, infinite convulsions of misery... forever!... and ever!... and ever!

Now, Isaiah [34:11] has warned us, on the day of vengeance, the earth shall be laid to waste. And the cormorant and the bittern shall possess the land. The raven and screech owl shall dwell in it. And who is man... to think he can withstand Gods mighty wrath? Great mountains cannot stand before this wrath.

Yea, He can lay the earth to pieces in one moment... or shatter the whole universe with one stroke of His fiery sword! How dreadful is the state of those who are in daily danger of this great wrath, this abyss of death and despair.

Yet, this is the dismal case... of every soul in this congregation who has not been born again, however moral or strict, sober and religious you may otherwise be. There is no security for the wicked... because there are no visible signs of death at hand! Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering. And there are innumerable places on this covering so weak... they will not bear their weight. And these places cannot be seen. The arrows of death fly unseen as noonday. God has many different unsearchable ways of taking the wicked from this world.

Who here in this congregation listening to this discourse... will soon be visited by this covenant of darkness?

There you are... sitting there, calm in your knowledge of health, secure in your well-being. Yet who could suffer the agonies of the damned tomorrow? Yes, even today... or maybe the next hour, the next minute.

And if we were to know which of you it was, what an awful sight it would be. A soul... doomed... to the everlasting bottomless pit... of a divine wrath!

Yes, death comes unexpectedly! Amen.

Carl Vehse said...

Instead, we Lutherans in Missouri Synod congregations are lulled with articles like the April 14th Reporter's "‘#thisisMYchurch’ gains traction, fosters online discussion" which states:

#thisisMYchurch is a social media campaign.

“Social media is where the young people are getting their information and where they go to find out what’s going on. It’s where they go to share things they think are important, interesting or funny with their friends,” said Peter Slayton, social media manger for LCMS Communications. “We wanted to give them good stories to tell about the work God is doing through them and their church body.”