Monday, September 22, 2008

Death and the Smell of Jesus (2) - What if there was no hell?

DOWNLOAD MP3: Dave Bish - Death and the Smell of Jesus

• Death is God’s promise to us for our rebellion against him.
• Death will come to us, whether today, tomorrow, in five, twenty or fifty years.
• Death is not the end of the story.
• This is serious.

Paul describes people around him in v16: He is “…among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing…” Two distinct categories. Two distinct groups of people. Everyone dies, and God says: Either we die and are saved, or we die and perish. Perish meaning to face eternal conscious judgement by Jesus. That doesn’t go down well in the 21st Century, or indeed in any century.

Firstly, because we cannot endure the notion that hell is a real prospect for some. We should be discomforted by it. We should shudder and weep at the prospect of people facing eternity being judged by Jesus.

Secondly, we think it the height of arrogance to declare the eternal destiny of anyone. But, what are the alternatives to some going to hell?

1. All perish.

No-one’s ever won much of a hearing for that, but wouldn’t that be the honest conclusion? When we look at the Iraq or child abuse in Jersey, Robert Mugabe or our own deceptive hearts… surely hell for all would be an honest belief.

2. All cease to exist.

No heaven, no hell. Death equals The End. A convenient way to avoid judgement from God. It’s popular with the new atheists. Yet it’s the oldest trick in the book, to want the idea of judgement to disappear – the serpent did it with Adam and Eve. Covering our ears wont make the credit crunch go away, who are we to think it’ll make judgement disappear?

3. All saved.

This is obviously very popular and known technically as Universalism. But if you’re going to say this then you have to make room in your heaven for everyone– for Adolf Hitler and Paris Hilton, the annoying person at work, the terrorist, for your mother-in-law, for the whoever it is that you don’t like...

For all the intellectual arguments about wanting everyone to be saved we all really want to draw a line somewhere. A world where regardless of life or anything else everyone gets ‘saved’ jars deeply with us. The real issue is where is the line and on what basis is it drawn and by whom. Is it arbitrary, like lines on post-colonial maps of Africa, or on something meaningful – and in which case, on what? Is it:
  • Education?
  • Ethnic background?
  • Performance?
  • Religious devotion?
  • Class?
  • Income?
  • Taste in music?
An Exeter student wrote this recently:
"Someone please convince me! I'd be the happiest person in the world if I thought everyone was going to heaven, but it doesn't seem to be the case. I can't cope with hell, the thought horrifies me…
Hell is a horrific matter, something to consider only with anguish and heartbreak. She went on…
...I keep thinking surely if God is loving, and powerful, he could fix it for everyone? I'm just clinging to the possibility that God will do something as people die, or maybe even in between death and the last day..."
She wants…

4. A second chance.

Salvation by procrastination – don’t decide now, wait until after you die and then either pay for your own sins, or try again with reincarnation.

…and except for the ‘all perish’ option, ALL of these are ways that people invent to try and avoid God’s judgement, on their own terms.

Just like all the beauty-products and big screen entertainment, they bury the issue with distraction. When we invent alternatives – what is it we’re looking for? For some it’s just further rebellion. For others, it’s an honest question. C.S. Lewis:
"In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: 'What are you asking God to do?' To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficult path and offering every miraculous help?"
We want a fresh start and that’s what Jesus came to bring – freedom from mistakes and hurt through the historic death of Jesus of Nazareth, outside of Jerusalem some 2000 years ago.
The issue we try to avoid is exactly what we need to face. And we need our sense of smell to do that.