my meat and drink

Zut alors! this is for real

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Thanksgiving thoughts from an incident on the Spanish border

I wanted to write a Thanksgiving note to some of my American friends, something that wasn’t just platitudes and clichés.

I looked at what I’d said last year this time, for comparison, and it was all about what had just happened in Paris, what the media was calling France’s 9/11. My son called, and friends, to see if I was alive, because I was supposed to be in Paris, but had decided last minute not to go.

Have you ever wondered how you’d react if you were caught in unexpected violence?

Paris on Friday the 13th, enjoying a glass of wine in a café, perhaps your first trip to the City of Love, and suddenly there is gunfire, mayhem, blood and bodies. Or Brussels airport, dozing over your knapsack, and a bomb goes off?

Or you’re on a sleek high-speed train, dozily reflecting, as Le Pas de Calais flashes by, on the WWI legend of the angels of Mons coming to the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force amongst the coal slagheaps on a hot August night in 1914. And this reverie is interrupted by a top-naked man emerging from the toilet, sporting a white taqiyah, waving a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Where are those angels when you really need them?

In the Thalys train incident, the “angels” were a couple of military men who charged at and subdued the terrorist, along with their buddy, a Brit, and a French man. Thank you, fellas!

But we’re not all soldiers on leave. I’d wager that for most of us the sight of a real AK assault rifle, or anything like it, would be paralyzing.

I travel a lot on trains in Europe, and have been in small situations here and there. The Gare du Nord in Paris when it was evacuated for a suspicious suitcase abandoned on a platform, that did turn out to be a bomb. A train out of Avignon that was pulled to a remote siding because there had been a bomb threat and we were all taken off while dogs and stony-faced militia searched in and under the carriages.

But a couple of weeks ago it got a little more personal. I was travelling from central Spain to my home in Antibes, France, on a regional train. We were stopped at a station on the border while the train-gauge-switch-thing happened (pardon my technical jargon) so that the train could carry on to the French tracks. I was gazing out of the window, enjoying as always the bygone-era architecture of the station, when another train pulled in and suddenly there were explosions on the track. Flash boom and the night bright yellow, dark figures with weapons running crouched on the platform, machinegun fire. Movie stuff, but the smell was real.

We were told (I think) to stay on the train (in Spanish). It was all quite surreal, and I’m still not really sure what happened. Guys ran into our carriage. They looked like nasty perps but it would seem, since we’re all still alive, that they were on the side of good. They grabbed a couple of gym bags off the luggage rack and ran out again.

And after a while the train jerked and we went on our way, leaving a blaze of emergency lights and sirens behind, not much commentary from white-faced staff.

If I thought at all, I thought, this is it. I’m going to be one of those Fox News statistics. Maybe even CNN. And I thought about the fact that no one in the world knew where I was. Pretty inconvenient.

But later, past the first half hour, clattering along the French tracks, I was reevaluating things.

One is, I’m not sure I like how calm I felt. I don’t think it was a “Christian ready to face death” admirable calm. It should have been, but I suspect the greater reason was I just thought, “Good, I can be done with this lousy life. My will is in order. Heaven waits. No more pain. No more disability. No more loneliness. Bring it on.”

Not very noble.

With the delays (there’s a lot more to the incident sketched out here) I finally arrived home at two in the morning. Staring at me when I entered my little courtyard was the skeleton of my little olive tree, that had succumbed to neglect with my long absence. Now that was depressing. Olive trees are supposed to be the great symbol of enduring life, against all odds, all hardships. A dear friend, Jesse, had sent these words with the gift of such a small tree: “The truth of the olivier is in the grain of the wood. Whether it lives or dies, the grain shows all the twists and contortions of the years it has lived through.”

He was referring to the fact that I’m a well-known plant murderer. But perhaps also to the premonition of his impending death.

So when I picked up my dead olive tree, it shook me out of that kind of “Well, okay” dull state I’d been in since the Spanish border. It seemed so wicked not to want to fight for life when so many, my friends, your friends, dear ones, and strangers with their own dear ones left behind, have already died.

Life. Choose life. That has to be the greatest gratitude one can offer on Thanksgiving. Whatever the circumstances, whatever, choose life.

I decided I ought to make the dead wood of my little olivier into a tree of life.

I photographed it on the ramparts on a freezing sunrise.

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Now it’s inside, in my kitchen, with lights in the bare branches. My Thanksgiving to Christmas tree.

Choose life. But only God can make dead things live. Only he can give meaning to all these strange exigencies of life.

Maybe what I want to say on this Thanksgiving is, we don’t know, why someone is shot in Paris and someone lives, why some of us are more marked than others with a twisted grain, from things we’d rather not have experienced, or lost. We surely do know for certain that there is nowhere certain in this world, not one more breath in our body. But we can know that someone who knows everything has been that way before us, and he wants to show us his way.

Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16.33

Perhaps most of all we need, if we are to be thankful for anything in this world, to know that there is someone who has overcome the world, someone totally trustworthy. Because one day, one moment when we’re least expecting it, it will be for real. Our last moment in this life. Here’s a promise for which we can give all thanksgiving:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

Zut alors! Now that’s for real.

Ask. Think. Pray. Give thanks for life. And for those who care that you live. Now, and always. Thank God.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 107:1

Living Vibrant in the Maws of Suffering

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Is a vibrant life even possible in the maws of suffering? Can you be grateful at Thanksgiving with so much turbulence in the world, and perhaps in your own life? Could you feel the truth of God’s promises with the writer of this old hymn:

 

“When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,
for I will be with you in trouble to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.”*

 
Those lines were inspired by this Old Testament passage:
 

Thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;…
“For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
Isaiah 43:1-3

 

Is there any good reason we should believe what God says?

We’ve heard, often, the phrase, “The Devil is in the details.” It’s one of those—well, for want of a better word, devilish—lies.

Satan is in generalities, not details. That’s how his lies thrive. “What could possibly make you think that the great God Almighty is interested in some puny speck of evolved pond scum like you?”

But God is totally in the details.

Look at the passage above. “I created YOU, Jacob,” God says. “I have called YOU by name.”

Not some generic people. You, Jacob. And me. And you, reading this, if you belong to him. If not, please, keep reading anyway. You might like to hear a little story about what it means to belong to Jesus.

In his earthly ministry Jesus said:
 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. … Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” Matthew 25:31, 34-36

 

All of his interactions were at a specific level. He healed a blind man by making an eye poultice out of mud and spit. He healed a woman who had been bankrupted by medical expenses.

True faith is about specifics. Real people. Real problems. Real answers.

When I reach into the cup of blessings in my life, this Thanksgiving, one that springs to mind immediately is the opportunity I had two years ago to attend a training conference for speakers in Colorado.

There my path crossed that of one of the most encouraging, kind, vibrant, interesting people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. Her name is Michele Cushatt, and she gave me more incentive to “continue the race” than I’d had in years, perhaps in my entire life.

That she would take time with a complete nobody like me to listen, to probe gently, to offer pragmatic and grace-filled advice, is part and parcel of all she is, as a professional richly imbued with loving wisdom, instant wit and delightful humour.

I was reminded then, and whenever I see her photo or hear her voice, of Audrey Hepburn’s beauty advice:
 

“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness; for lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.”

 
Less than a couple of months after that conference, Michele underwent devastating surgery for her third bout with tongue cancer. While I have followed with intense admiration her phenomenal discipline in learning to speak again, her voice, whether spoken or written, will always be a thing of beauty because she uses it to share truth—however raw that might sometimes be.

The story she told at the conference, of her son’s first attempt at a cross-country race, was a life lesson no one can afford to miss. It became the story of her—and our—life-changing truth about being there for certain times in the life of another.

It’s good counsel particularly for anyone who doubts that the “little” things they say and do—how they interact with others at any moment of any day—have any importance or lasting consequence.

We are all, for someone, at some time, their vital cheering section, when they are down, out, alone, bleeding.

Michele Cushatt, whether she knew it or not, was there for me. She is living out the truth she wrote about in her first book, Undone: A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life, with the painfully true maxim: “Undone is beautiful.”

One of the lasting effects of her impact is most pertinent at this time of year, from Thanksgiving through to Christmas and the New Year. Michele loves to cook, and she’s written and spoken with poignancy and great humour over the years about food and life. As a consequence of her cancer surgery, she has suffered much, of thirst, of not being able to eat for extended periods of time, and now is left with virtually no sense of taste.

Since first hearing about this aspect of her post-surgery life, I have never eaten an orange, never tasted steak off the grill, never sipped a peppery Cabernet, without thinking of Michele, and others with similar privations. Without being grateful for their lives, without breathing a prayer for them.

There must be, no matter how deep their faith, a sense of irony in the words,
 

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” Psalm 34:8

 
Easier for us to say, when stuffing down turkey and cranberry sauce!

I can only presume that the Marriage Supper of the Lamb with be an even more glorious feast for those who have missed out in this life.

I remember Kara Tippetts saying, as she neared death, that sometimes she felt like a little girl whose daddy was taking her home too early from the party. I thought of both Kara and Michele when I took this photo from my home in Antibes, of a little girl watching her doll being sucked away by the stormy surf.
 
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We’ve all experienced something like that.

How will it be for all of us when we finally understand what another bruised brother in the faith expressed so well in “The Hound of Heaven”, where he has the Lord say,
 

All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”
Francis Thompson 1859-1907

 
Many people cross our paths so very briefly, and are gone. I never met Kara. I may never meet Michele again, until heaven (another specific for which we can be thankful: sisters and brothers in Christ can always say, with confidence, “I’ll see you again.”). But I’m richer for the contact I’ve had.

For whom, for what, are you grateful this Thanksgiving? Beyond, I hope and pray, for God our Saviour:
 

“The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no never forsake!”*

 
Thank God.
 
 
Meet Michele on her website here.
 
scm17-300-x-250To anyone out there struggling to find their voice, go to SCORRE. Ken Davis and his band of brilliants will blow you away—in the best sense of the phrase. It’s the get-out-of-your-corner-and-be-somebody version of tough love. You’ll never be the same.
 
Note: I have no affiliate links with any of the people, products or events mentioned here. I’m just grateful.

* John Rippon’s “A Selection of Hymns” 1787, attributed to “K”, probably George Keith or Robert Keen(e)

Hell revisited: How is there darkness in the fire?

 

Our reader Winston got back to us with a comment on our previous post, which was a response to his question about hell. We have addressed here the subject in the context of metaphorical expressions in general and their use in Scripture.

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The issue raised by Winston’s correspondent suffers from a misunderstanding of the idea of metaphor, as well as a rejection of the plain statements of Scripture. Two figures of speech may seem to be similar but are fundamentally different. Simile declares that something is like another thing; metaphor declares that something is something else. Metaphor is comparison by representation, and is more true to feeling than fact.

Consider a few modern analogies, for clarity. “America is a melting pot.” Now, of course, America is a chunk of land defined by artificially imposed boundaries. It has nothing to do with a cheap cooking implement, or a pot used to liquefy lead. Yet we all understand how the expression vividly describes cultural assimilation.

An example from sports: a football commentator remarking that a particular fullback “is a Mack truck”. No one thinks he’s got tires, axels, and a chrome bulldog on his nose. We just have the image of a massively solid, unstoppable ball player.

Parents will smile to think of how often they have said to an active, furniture-climbing toddler, “You’re a real monkey.” Not even a misinformed ape-to-acrobat evolutionist would suggest they really think their offspring is a hairy haplorhine primate.

These are such familiar concepts, part of everyday life and communication. But somehow, when we come to reading the Bible, all that logic and plain common sense get tossed out the window, and we enter a kind of foofy Twilight Zone where we suspect some incomprehensible meaning lurking under the plainest of phrases.

Some metaphors and similes in Scripture are so clear it’s true they rarely pose an interpretive problem. In the New Testament, the apostle Peter uses a simile, “All flesh is like grass” (1 Peter 1:24), to paint a vivid picture of how fragile and ephemeral our lives are.

He is likely echoing the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who uses the metaphorical expression “All flesh is grass” (Isaiah 40:6).

Now, none of us are suddenly seeing green wavy stalks standing in line at Starbucks, are we? The point is clear. We wither and fade and die, and in the scale of time our lives are only the blink of an eye.

Well, those are references to “all flesh” (“all people”, in other translations). God’s own people are called “the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 74:1; 79:13; 95:7; 100:3; Jeremiah 23:1; Ezekiel 34:31). That doesn’t mean we say, “Baa,” or eat grass or grow thick wool.

When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48); “I am the door” (John 10:7, 9); “I am the vine” (John 15:5), in no way can he be thought of as a loaf to be sliced and eaten, or a slab of wood with a handle, or a creeping shoot with leaves. These are metaphorical, figurative expressions, but the one being described—Jesus—is real.

In Revelation 5:5 Jesus is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”. But throughout that chapter and the next he is also called the Lamb. In one particularly figurative statement, the apostle John says, “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (5:6).

Ethelbert Bullinger, in Introduction to Figures of Speech Used In the Bible, says:

“Figurative language”  is ignorantly spoken of as though it made less of the meaning, and deprived the words of their power and force. A passage of God’s Word is quoted; and it is met with the cry, “Oh, that is figurative” – implying that its meaning is weakened, or that it has quite a different meaning, or that it has no meaning at all. But the very opposite is the case. For an unusual form (figura) is never used except to add force to the truth conveyed, emphasis to the statement of it, and depth to the meaning of it.”

 

Surely likening the Saviour to a lion, and to a lamb expresses the truths about his power, and his sacrifice, much more memorably than simply stating, “He was all powerful but became weak and was killed for our sakes” (though, to make it perfectly clear, Scripture does actually say those very things in other passages).

Again, the metaphors are powerful figures of speech, but the person being described is very real.

So with the metaphors of darkness and fire in hell, as described by Jude:

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire [emphasis added].

Jude 6-7

The metaphors differ, but the place they describe—hell—is real. Notice that the intent of both images, the darkness and the fire, is to convey punishment.

Jesus speaks of hell in Mark 9:

“It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” [emphasis added].

Mark 9:43-48

The Lord’s intent here is to convey the intensity of the pain in hell. Neither the fire nor the worm can be literal, but the pain most certainly is real.

Darkness is used in Scripture as a metaphor for three things:

  1. Ignorance: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” John 3:19-21

 

  • Sin:  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9

 

  • Misery: “Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.”  Psalm 107:10

 

We find darkness also as a metaphor for cosmic evil:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12

Satan has blinded unbelievers, as the apostle Paul tells us, and he contrasts this darkness with the light experienced by believers because they see the light of the glory of Christ:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

The “darkness” or blindness of unbelievers, and the “light” of believers are both figurative, metaphorical ways of describing wickedness and disobedience to God on the one hand, truth and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ on the other.

And he bestows that glorious light on his people as both a blessing and a responsibility, to take the gospel of the light of the knowledge of truth into a dark and ignorant world.

We often hear quoted that Jesus is the Light of the world, because after all he said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

But soon after he qualified that statement by saying, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5), and “You [meaning his faithful disciples] are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

Now we know that Christians can’t be identified by glowing filaments and glass bubbles. The light that should shine out of us is that of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the light of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22).

“Whoever follows me,” Jesus said, “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Metaphorically speaking.

 

God’s painful refuge

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“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.”

C. S. Lewis: The Great Divorce

This question comes from W.J.:

I need your advice on this topic.  Some saintly brothers say that hell that is mentioned in scripture is “imagery”, other saintly brothers say it is “literal”.  This confuses me, I would like you to please explain this to me.  What is your godly opinion? And why?  trust and thank you in the Lord.

 

Dear W.J.,

Hell is a literal place, but not a material place.

Consider, for instance, the chain that binds Satan (Revelation 20:1-2). The chain is literal—Satan is bound—but Satan is a spiritual being, so the chain must be spiritual, not material. But it is nonetheless a real chain.

When the Lord Jesus speaks of hell in Matt 25:41, he says of unbelievers:

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

So hell is a place for the devil, his angels, and the lost. The Old Testament word Sheol can mean the grave, but it is connected with the judgment at the end of time, when the Lord will separate for all eternity his redeemed from the lost. Consider these verses:

The wicked shall return to Sheol,

all the nations that forget God.

Psalm 9:17

And:

Apply your heart to instruction

and your ear to words of knowledge.

Do not withhold discipline from a child;

if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.

If you strike him with the rod,

you will save his soul from Sheol.

Proverbs 23:12-14

In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells the story of a wealthy, wicked man, and a poor man, Lazarus, who used to beg at his gates. The wealthy man dies and goes to hell (Hades) where he is in torment. Lazarus dies and goes to heaven. The wealthy man is able to see Lazarus from afar off, beside Abraham, and he cries out to them for help, for water to cool his anguish.

But Abraham said to him, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

Luke 16:25-26

Whether this passage is a parable, or the account of real people, the truth is clear: there is a great gulf fixed between the two places, hell and heaven.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 11:20-24 surely teach that hell is a place:

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Likewise, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus must be speaking of a place when he says:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock [the rock of Peter’s confession, that Jesus is the Christ] I will build my church, and the gates of hell [Hades] shall not prevail against it.

The apostle Peter also shows clearly that hell is a place, when he speaks of the spirits being in prison (1 Peter 3:19). The Greek word used is “Tartarus”, the deep abyss where the wicked are punished, i.e., hell. Peter speaks of the same Tartarus in his second letter:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell [Tartarus] and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…

2 Peter 2:4

The Lord Jesus also uses another word, Gehenna, which means “eternal fire”, as a specific place. See the parallel structure between verse 8 and verse 9 of Matthew 18:

Verse 8: “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.”

 

Verse 9: “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell [Gehenna]of fire.”

The same teaching is found in the Gospel of Mark, and makes the idea of place even clearer:

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire [Gehenna]. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’”

Mark 9:43, 45, 47, 48

And in Luke’s Gospel:

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell [Gehenna].”

Luke 12:5

So hell is a place, not merely an idea.

But what sort of a place is it?

Jesus uses expressions such as “unquenchable fire”, “outer darkness”, “weeping and gnashing of teeth”:

“And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 25:30

 

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

Mark 9:43

 

In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.

Luke 13:28

 

The rich man in Luke 16 is in torment, even though he is a disembodied spirit. It cannot be literal water he is asking for, but the point is that he is in extreme anguish.

It may be helpful here if we distinguish between a “literal” and a “carnal” interpretation of these scriptures. Spirits, after the death of their physical bodies, cannot be physically tormented. That does not make the torment of the lost any less real. The Lord Jesus used physical analogies for that torment because he spoke always to the limits of understanding of his hearers.

Hell, we can see, is not a destruction of being (spiritual or otherwise), but a destruction of well-being. That rules out any heretical notion of annihilation. The punishing torment of hell is eternal.

The Greek work “aionios” (transliterated “eternal”) is used 70 times in the New Testament. Of these, 51 refer to the future happiness of the righteous; seven to the future punishment of the wicked. [The other occurrences have reference to God, and always mean unchanging or perpetual realities.]

Consider:

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:46

 

“It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.”

Matthew 18:8

The Old Testament gives us a glimpse into the truth of eternal punishment for the wicked:

The sinners in Zion are afraid;

trembling has seized the godless:

“Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?

Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”

Isaiah 33:14

 

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Daniel 12:2

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches endless punishment in Matthew 18:8; 25:41; 46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Hebrews 6:2; and Jude 6, 7.

The Italian poet Dante Alighieri wrote of hell as a “painful refuge”. The torment of hell is less painful for the unredeemed than seeing Jesus in all his glory, God as “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29); as unbearable “light” (1 John 1:5).

Perhaps the most terrifying verses regarding this truth are found in the last book of the Bible:

Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Revelation 6:15-17

The great Greek scholar F. W. Robertson speaks of “God’s terrible permission”, allowing man to deny him to the point of self-destruction.

But Jesus says:

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

John 17:3

 

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

John 6:37

And so, in a sense, hell as a place or punishment need not concern us at all, if we accept the promises of the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Or it should concern us only insomuch as the horror of it should drive us to our knees in prayer for the unredeemed.

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

Hebrews 2:1-3