Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hell on earth, and then...?

"If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent."                                                                                                     - spoken by Jesus in Matthew 12:7

My son just finished a research paper on the fascinating life of William Wilberforce (1759-1833), "the greatest social reformer in the history of the world." (Metaxas, p. xvii)  He is best known for his 20-year battle - and ultimate victory - for the abolition of the slave trade in England.

We watched the movie "Amazing Grace" and read the book by the same name and became inspired by Mr. Wilberforce's great faith and perseverance in the face of great resistance. Another aspect that affected me deeply was realizing and contemplating the overwhelming injustice and suffering that occurred over so many years to millions of human beings.

The bulk of the English slave trade was carried out on ships that transported men, women and children (usually kidnapped) from Africa to the West Indies (called the 'Middle Passage' to be sold as slaves.
“One famous account of the Middle Passage comes to us via Alexander Falconbridge, a ship's surgeon in the trade...

'The hardships and inconveniences suffered by the Negroes during the passage are scarcely to be enumerated or conceived. They are far more violently affected by seasickness than Europeans. It frequently terminates in death, especially among the women. But the exclusion of fresh air is among the most intolerable... The fresh air being thus excluded, the Negroes' rooms soon grow intolerable hot. The confined air, rendered noxious by the effluvia exhaled from their bodies and being repeatedly breathed, soon produces fevers and [diarrhea] which generally carries off great numbers of them... But the excessive heat was not the only thing that rendered their situation intolerable. The deck, that is the floor of their rooms, was so covered with the blood and mucus which had proceeded from them...that it resembled a slaughter-house. It is not in the power of the human imagination to picture a situation more dreadful or disgusting.'” 
“Falconbridge told of a worse situation on a Liverpool ship that, though smaller than the one just described, took on six hundred slaves, who 'were so crowded that they were obliged to lie one upon another. This caused such a mortality among them that...nearly one half of them died before the ship arrived in the West Indies.'” (Metaxas, p. 97-99)
I'm certain the horrors of this business are beyond being articulated in words. However, these quotes are first-hand accounts that were used in speeches before Parliament in the fight to abolish the evil trade. The suffering and ill-treatment should be recounted; consider what they had to live and die through...
“The place allotted for the sick Negroes is under the half deck, where they lie on the bare planks. By this means those who are emaciated frequently have their skin and even their flesh entirely rubbed off, by the motion of the ship, from the prominent parts of the shoulders, elbows, and hips so as to render the bones quite bare. The excruciating pain which the poor sufferers feel from being obliged to continue in such a dreadful situation, frequently for several weeks, in case they happen to live so long, is not to be conceived or described.”  (Metaxas, p. 100)
And, of course, there is so much more - much worse abuse and injustice that these men, women and children suffered. I also read the book "The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano". This is Equiano's life story in his own words. As a boy, he was taken by force from his home in Africa, sold over and over, abused, almost dying several times before buying his freedom and residing in London, where he joined the abolitionists in their cause. His book was a best-seller. It is a captivating story. Truthfully, someone like me, a pampered American, can hardly imagine the terrors he experienced.
"Nearly every day some of my companions were brought up on the deck at the point of death. I hoped that I would soon die, too. Often I thought that the inhabitants of the deep were much happier than I. I envied the fish their freedom, and I wished I could have changed my lot for theirs."  (Equiano, p. 29)
The reason I share all of these descriptions, is to invite you into my thinking. When I consider the great suffering and, at times, completely wasted lives of these particular Africans at that time in history - literally millions of them - I also consider our ridiculous theology. I can't help but recall the doctrine of hell and the many, many times I have heard the teaching/preaching that states unequivocally that those who haven't heard of Jesus will suffer in hell forever. The vast majority of these Africans never heard of Jesus.

I wish I had the grace of William Wilberforce right now, as he always petitioned for justice without condemning. I'm sorry, but I just can't fathom that Christians would believe our Lord and Savior would allow human beings to suffer untold atrocities at the hands of men on earth, and then - because they were not brought the good news - are to be thrown into hell for eternity!

Those who believe this did not get their doctrine from the Bible. That theology - this traditional view of hell - came from men and the teaching of men through the centuries. Show me one place in the Bible where it teaches that Gentiles will go into the eternal fire for not hearing the Gospel. Even in the parable of the sheep and the goats, the judgment is based on what one DOES for another. Did you feed, clothe, visit, help the least of these?

By all means, obey Jesus and make disciples, explaining to them the Way of life. We are to be about the Father's work and sharing the Gospel to the ends of the earth - but NOT because if we don't all those people will be tormented forever in hell. Friends, it may be time for a new start. Go to the Word. Not man's words, but THE WORD. Go back and read the Scriptures as if a babe, and hear God's words as if you didn't have preconceived theology coloring the eyes of your understanding.

Take to heart the warning, "Do not go beyond what is written." (1 Cor. 4:6) and consider Paul's exhortation: "...judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts." (1 Cor. 4:5)

If you could choose what happens eternally to those kidnapped, tortured and murdered Africans - what would you choose? The comforting arms of 'Abraham's bosom' or the fiery torment that longs for a drop of water on the tongue? I know, I know, you are not God. But what would you choose? Is your mercy and compassion beyond our Lord's? Is our sense of justice greater than Jesus'? That is ridiculous!
"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." - Ex. 33:19, Rom. 9:15

"Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy." - Mic. 7:18
"But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." - Matt. 9:13

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." - Matt. 5:7

"He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy." - Titus 3:5
"...judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment." - James 2:13
"The Lord is full of compassion and mercy." - James 5:11

I doubt Wilberforce fought his whole life to liberate the slaves, thinking they would spend eternity in fiery torment. I, for one, trust in the mercy of the Lord. I would much rather fall into the Hands of God than the hands of man. Who are we to say whom the Lord will show mercy? His ways are higher than our ways.

Thank God.
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD."                         - Isaiah 55:7

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 2007.
The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano, adapted by Ann Cameron. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1995.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Mommy Moment

As I was driving home yesterday – in a hurry – I ran into a bit of a traffic jam on our expressway. That may not be unusual for most cities, but this is Interior Alaska – we rarely get bogged down in traffic, unless there is construction going on. Needless to say, I was annoyed and wondered what WAS the hold up?

As it turned out, everyone was being bottle-necked to pass by a trooper who was quietly, slowly driving down the left lane with all his lights flashing. He was escorting an extremely disconcerted mother duck and her adorable train of baby ducklings. I was able to get a really good look at the out-of-place duck family as I slowly passed the reason for my delay.

That momma duck was waddling at top speed down the side of the expressway with her bill in the air quacking loudly in distress. But she kept going. Her obedient children followed in a perfect line, not daring to stray as dozens of big vehicles passed by on this hot, summer day.

My impatient scowl turned into a smile and I was glad someone was watching over them. Then suddenly, I was overwhelmed with empathetic compassion for that mother duck. It seemed like I knew just how she felt. With her voice calling up to God, “Oh dear Lord, I've really got myself and my kids in a bad situation. I am so scared. Please help me! I don't know what to do!”

Actual tears came to my eyes as I put myself in her place. The poor mama was really in a dangerous predicament - but then there was that trooper car protectively driving beside and behind them. She didn't know it, but that officer would watch over them the whole journey – until they arrived safely into the river.

God does the same for us. I know when I've gotten myself into dumb, dangerous or impossible situations, God has gently and quietly guided me back to calm waters. He is especially tender with moms and their children.

“He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.” - Is. 40:11 
“The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.” - Nah. 1:7

In most cases, fathers and mothers are endowed with a God-given love and protective instinct for their children. The care we give our children - along with the ability to long-suffer through transgressions, sickness and hard work – is a picture and an example of how our Heavenly Father cares for us. For more examples of how God teaches us about spiritual realities through earthly experiences, please read “There's Water – and then there's the Living Water”.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” - John 3:16

Friday, June 12, 2015

Who can dwell with everlasting burning?

Here is an interesting question posed in Isaiah 33:

"Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?" (v. 14)

When we hear a description about people dwelling with everlasting burning, many of us think of hell. Because, of course, where else will people dwell with fire and burning, right?

Let's not guess about the answer. It follows in Isaiah 33:15-17 (and beyond) and describes in detail who can dwell with consuming fire and everlasting burning. The answer is:

"He who walks righteously and speaks what is right...

...who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes,
who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil -
this is the man who will dwell on the heights,
whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.
Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar."

What will happen to sinners and the godless in the face of the fire of judgment? The answer is also found in Isaiah 33 (among many other Scriptures), verses 11-12:

"You conceive chaff, you give birth to straw;
your breath is a fire that consumes you.
The peoples will be burned as if to lime;
like cut thorn bushes they will be set ablaze."

This is similar language to Luke 3:17 when John explains how Jesus will deal ultimately with His people (the wheat) and the wicked (the chaff): 

"His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable (meaning that it can't be put out) fire."

Who will dwell with the everlasting fire? Only the righteous born again in Jesus - everyone and everything else will be burned up.

For a more thorough study on God's fire, please see "Everyone will be salted with fire".

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The last enemy

I watched a movie recently that had an unusually dramatic emotional impact on me. It is called “The Book Thief”. It was only a fictional story based on the book of the same name, but still I wept bitterly and sobbed to God as I considered the darkness and suffering that exists in our world.

The film was about a young girl who is adopted by an older couple in Nazi Germany; the family attempts to hide a Jewish man in their basement. The narrator follows all of the characters in the film to their death. The horrors and sorrows of war and evil were conveyed so poignantly.

Interestingly, the narrator of the movie was Death himself. He seemed a bit smug when he stated with deep-voiced certainty, “No one lives forever.”

"The Grim Reaper" by Funerium

In one way, he was correct; our mortal bodies will either die or be transformed (1 Cor. 15:51-52). Ironically, not even Death will 'live forever'. One day he will also be abolished. Of course, they didn't mention this in the movie, but it is mentioned – many times – in the Scriptures.

“He will swallow up death forever.” - Isaiah 25:8a

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” - 1 Cor. 15:26

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” - 1 Cor. 15:54b

“...our Savior Christ Jesus...abolished death...” - 2 Tim. 1:10

“...there will no longer be any death...” - Rev. 21:4

How will God abolish, destroy and swallow up this 'last enemy'? He will accomplish this in the same way He will abolish, destroy and swallow up all evil and wickedness - in the lake of fire.

“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.” - Rev. 20:14

So, the first death will be destroyed by the second death. What kind of place is this lake of fire that can abolish the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23, 7:11)? Since God will make an end of sin (Dan. 9:24, Heb. 9:26), and sin gives birth to death (James 1:15), then it follows that death also will be taken out of the picture.

Goodbye sin, goodbye death! The darkness and old order of things will pass away (1 John 2:8, Rev. 21:4) – the world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:17). Indeed, all things will be made new! (Rev. 21:5)

Sorry, Death - your power is limited and your days are numbered – so don't be so proud. Yes, I mourned and cried about your reign in this world, but a day is coming when all God's enemies will be destroyed – and you will be the last of them!

[For more information, you can read my Bible studies about what will happen to God's enemies in “The Adversaries” and also "The Wicked He Will Destroy" ]