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.

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I understand this is a difficult subject and there are different views from folks who all value God's inspired word. I value your feedback, corrections and questions. Please leave a comment!