Friday, April 04, 2008

Oh! Hell

I'm beginning a short series of sermons Sunday on "Big Questions." The reason is that I believe some of the biggest questions about our faith that people carry within them are unasked. As a result, people are vulnerable to being led astray, or prone to misunderstand what God's purpose and character are. I'll begin this week with this question: "If God is so good, so loving, how could he possibly send anyone to hell?"

My goal is to further expand the understanding of God's character within those who walk with me through the Scriptures, and to put hell in its place. The mature Christian needs to have a firm grip on what the Bible says about hell. We need to love and trust God to be Who He says He is throughout Scripture. We need to place eternal judgment in context with truth and grace - both being indispensable.

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-2).

After reading and studying on God's justice and His use of eternal punishment this week, I'm convinced that our view on this reflects our attitude toward the effects of sin. If we don't think sin is all that bad, if we see sin as just a mistake, a momentary lapse in judgment, and not the rebellion it is, then we cannot understand why God would take the extreme steps He will in judging sin.

Understanding how severe that punishment will be ought to motivate all of us to be more earnest in evangelism and more serious about living a Spirit-filled life.

I'm casting about today to try and find a way to help the congregation find the answer. On a subject like this it would be easy to turn on the "mute the preacher" button and just sit in a daydream for 30 minutes. How can I get people "into" the subject to the point where they answer the question as the Holy Spirit leads them into the Scriptures?

And how do you make sure that they (and you) do not go too far? Our cultural imprint is always with us. Movies, books, and folklore have all done their work in the years before the congregation shows up to hear the Word of the Lord. The last thing I'd want to do as a preacher is to expand on what Scripture says.

“‘Hell’ is one New Testament picture portraying the fate of the unsaved. But, as we have seen, it is not the only one; it is not even the primary one. Nor is it the definitive one. God’s Word is rich in illustrations and terminology describing the divine punishment of the Age to Come. All serve a useful purpose. The very variety of expression adds to our limited conception. Let us be warned—and stop where God has stopped. To do otherwise, is, according to Revelation 22:18, to risk the very punishment we seek to understand.” Edward Fudge, “Putting Hell In Its Place,” p. 17

So as easy as it would be to let Gary Larsen's Farside cartoons do all the heavy lifting, I'll keep praying for God to give me the insight and wisdom needed for the task.

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