Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Scary Evangelism Revisited

Back in March, I wrote the piece "Scary Evangelism" in which I said:
"...When I look at Jesus' ministry, and the ministry of the disciples in the New Testament, I don't see fear being used as a weapon to bring people to their knees. When Jesus talks about hellfire and damnation, it's usually as he is confronting self-righteous and self-confident religious people, not the common people who are twisted and turned by so many religious claims."
Reading what's assigned from Mark's gospel for this Sunday (Mark 9:38-50), I wonder if I don't have to eat my words. Jesus is frightening here, warning about "gehenna" where "where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched."

I use the Greek word "gehenna" here instead of the English translation "hell" because it seems to me that the doctrine or teaching that most of us are accustomed to about "hell" is too simplistic. There are several word pictures that are translated with the word "hell" in our English bibles, and many of us, I think, tend to take them too literally. It's clear that the Bible often uses stories, word pictures or "analogies" instead of scientific description to describe the things of God.

The clearest word on the consequences of sin, it seems to me, to be from Genesis 3, where the first man and woman are cut off from the source of life because they refused to trust and obey God's Word. This is picked up in Isaiah 59:2 where we read
"your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you..."
Then, in the New Testament, God's sentence is described as death itself. In Romans 6:23 it says simply this:
..."the wages of sin is death"...
I don't know just what "hell" is. I have a hard time reconciling everlasting punishment with a good God. Perhaps someone can help me with this. But I do know that in most cases, when the law and it's sentence comes down hard, it's followed by God's glorious promise. The wages of sin are horrible, eternal separation from God, from God who is the source of all life--but, what Jesus offers is not condemnation, but life. The wages of sin is death...
"...but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23b)
We find the same in Romans 5:12-17 --

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification*. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Though there are times when God, out of his great love for us, uses frightening picture language to get our attention, the point of it is to warn us of sins dire consequences -- eternal separation from God so that we will know our need of a savior.

Sometimes in this life we think we are quite self-sufficient. We become self-satisfied when we consider our lives to be "above average." But sin is sin, and no matter how much of it there is in our lives at any given time, is always enough to separate us from God and bring down God's punishment. I don't understand the details of that -- but I do know what God wants -- he wants us to be drawn to love him through the sacrifice of His Son.
*"justification" means that, because of Jesus, God looks at us "just-as-if" we'd never sinned.

1 comment:

  1. This is a note to Rick Lannove - Rick, thanks for your comment. It came to be for moderation. Because your comment so extensive and well researched, I'd like to contact you before I post it. I went to your website (http://www.ricklannoye.com/) and looked for a way to contact you but couldn't find one. Please let me know how we can email or chat a bit before I moderate and post your comment. I might even want to put your comment in a whole new post instead of just adding it as a comment here. A couple things I'd want to talk about are (1) what group or church you are part of or who you are accountable to as a Christian teacher and (2) what your view of scripture is. If you wanted to make a briefer post that would state your opinion, which I feel is too categorical and certain that "there is no hell," that would be fine with me. I think there are reasons why the Holy Spirit inspired the scriptures to be just as they are, and I do not want to encourage anyone to reject certain portions as not to be respected because they were somehow added by "Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted." I think the traditional Lutheran understanding, which puts the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ before everything else in Bible, provides a sufficient lens through which to understand what we might perceive to be overly literal interpretations of hell or any other doctrine. Peace be with you in the precious name of Jesus, our One Lord and Savior, the One God who loved us enough to be among sinners such as myself.