From the Pastor's Desk
Pastor's Message July 2021
Dear People of God at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church,
Hope this finds you well this day.
It is supposed to be as hot as %*^$ this week end, into the 100’s for us. We are not used to that around here. Have you ever stopped to wonder why %&#$ is considered a hot, burning place? Have you ever stopped to wonder about hell, alright, I typed it already.
You might be surprised that we have to consider that the idea of hell has a history of development in the scriptures, just like many of our current ideas. Hell was not part of the original witness of the Bible, just like heaven as the place of eternal rest and peace was not. It developed over many centuries in thinking about the nature of God and in interactions with surrounding cultures. That does not necessarily disqualify its reality but just a reminder that some of our beliefs are not as old as we would like them to be. There might be another reason to wonder about its reality.
During the time of Jesus in particular, the idea of hell as a burning place held a prominent place as the burning garbage dump outside of Jerusalem became equated with an eternal place of damnation. The place smelled and burned night and day and folks could not imagine a more fitting place for the unbelieving of the world.
Just like heaven, we don’t really have a lot of details about hell. According to the Bible, there will be crying there and gnashing of teeth. I heard one preacher tell me that hell will be a place where you will be reminded every moment of every day the times you denied Jesus and did not turn to Jesus and that is why you are in this horrible place. I have my doubts.
The great creeds of the church have us confess that Jesus descended into hell but some manuscripts have Jesus descending to the dead and not hell.
Who will be in hell? Answers we have probably heard: those who don’t believe in Jesus, that would include the whole of God’s covenant people and most of the people of the world and there are grave problems with that; people who commit the unforgiveable sin and there are grave problems with that; people who commit horrible sins and acts against humanity, especially children and while we would like that, there are grave problems with that as well. It also seems that we are never included in the folks who might just find themselves burning forever in hell. And why that is not a possibility should cause us grave concerns, maybe even more so. Why do we always come out looking so good?
Because we have been forgiven and all those other folks have not. We have asked for forgiveness and all those other folks have not. If they would just ask for forgiveness then they could go to heaven too and avoid hell, just like us. If they would just invite Jesus into their heart then they could go to heaven, just like us.
Because we have accepted God’s grace and so we get to avoid hell. Because we have lived by grace and so get to enjoy the benefits of heaven forever. Those other folks could do the same, they just choose not to. Bully for us.
The reason I have wondered about the existence of hell for a long time is because of the very nature of God, a God of grace, a God of unlimited forgiveness, a God of unlimited mercy, even towards those who show no interest in God at all. We don’t accept grace, it just is and God chooses to have it towards all that God made. We don’t chose forgiveness, God chooses to have it towards all of the earth’s peoples. If folks want to “accept” it, good for them but it does not change God’s opinion about them. THEY ARE FORGIVEN! I know that shakes our sensibilities about who might be a candidate for heaven but that is who God is and certainly not who we are.
C.S. Lewis, a noted Christian author wrote, “there may be a hell, but no one will be in it.” I have wondered if the very nature of God, and thinking about God, creates the possibility that hell as a place of eternal separation from God is impossible. There is no place where God is not, there is no place where people can exist apart from God, there is no one that is beyond the reach of grace and mercy and forgiveness so who indeed would populate such a place?
I know what the Bible says, how it mentions it from time to time, I know Jesus mentions it from time to time, I know what our creeds say about it, but I come back to my understanding of God from the scriptures as well and it is hard for me to reconcile a God of light and not darkness, of love and not hate, of mercy and compassion and forgiveness not eternal punishment, with such a place. Or maybe there is such a place, but who, for the love of God, would be there?
As always, I appreciate your conversation.
God’s peace on your day.