Thursday, August 26, 2010

What the Hell?

Hell is not a popular topic today, is it? I shudder at having to write about it because it's not very politically correct. But considering how many times Jesus talked about the reality of Hell, it’s probably something we should at least consider. There are at least 15 passages of scripture where Jesus mentions the concept of Hell, and all are instances that propose that Hell is the basically the antithesis of Heaven. The result of rejecting God and a place of final judgment and punishment. None of the illustrations make Hell sound like a good place to be. In fact, in many of Jesus’ Hell illustrations, He uses the term “Gehenna”, which was Jerusalem’s garbage dump, just south of the city. It was a place that was kept constantly burning in order to destroy the huge amounts of refuse accumulated every day. It was also full of animal carcasses and human remains from Pagan sacrifices, including children. Not a nice place, to say the least!

The most common objection I hear in response to Hell’s existence is, “Why would a loving God allow the reality of Hell? Why would He send any of His beloved creation to such a horrible place?” My thoughts have often drifted to ponder this question myself. And my conclusion and response has become very simplistic: He doesn’t. Now, before you accuse me of denying the existence of Hell, allow me to explain. I believe that Hell is a very real place. Just as real as Heaven and the world around us, Hell is a reality that unfortunately is the final destination for some people that walk this earth. But my point is this: I don’t believe that God “sends” anyone to Hell. Those that end up facing eternity in Hell, end up there by their own choice. So, am I saying that people actually “decide” to hang out in Hell forever, without any chance of parole? Well, maybe not intentionally, but yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Why? Because God is a “just” God.

So, what does God’s justice really mean? Well, basically, God is fair. Those that choose to believe in Him and do their best to follow His guidelines of life, get to spend eternity with Him, and those that reject Him for a lifetime, get more of the same in a place completely absent of Him. Now, I know what you’re thinking at this point. Sounds pretty narrow minded and judgmental, right? Well, I’m not God and thankfully, I’m not the judge. But if we are going to attribute perfect love and acceptance to the God of the universe, then we probably have to attribute the fact that He is completely “just” as well. If not, He would be a flaky deity and no different than many of the inconsistent Christians that claim to be His followers. I would be more apt to give Him more credit than that, wouldn’t you? Especially if it was compared to me and my spiritual walk.

But, here’s the point. I don’t believe for one second that God “sends” anyone to Hell. Obviously, people end up there, but I don’t think God waves a wand of judgment and, “poof”, you’re in Hell! “Mwahhahaha! Suck on that, you worthless sinner! Sorry! Too late! Can’t hang in Heaven! Even if ya beg!”

To sum it up; yes. I do believe in the existence of Hell. But I do not, for one second, believe that God is in the habit of aggressively looking for people to send to Hell. He’s not actively looking for loopholes so He can put another name in His “Sent to Hell” log. Instead, I believe that we serve a living and loving God, that is constantly looking for any reason possible to bring people into the eternal reality of Heaven. And this same God weeps when anyone faces the reality of Hell, because we were not created for Hell in the first place.

I believe that God is banging on the door of each and every heart, screaming to the recesses of our souls of His reality and that eternity with Him is more real that the temporary world around us. “This is your home! This is what you were created for! This is the way! Walk in it!”

Gehenna references: Matt.5:22, Matt.5:29, Matt.5:30, Matt.10:28, Matt.18:9, Matt.23:15, Matt.23:33, Matt. 9:43, Mark 9:45, Mark 9:47, Luke 12:5, James 3:6.

Monday, August 23, 2010

School of Pain

Well, the kids are officially back in school and the painful looks on their faces reminded me of that anxious and fearfully dreaded first day after Summer vacation. After explaining to them both that school is just part of life and that all good things must come to an end, I realized that this is just part of the natural pattern of life. We all experience times if great joy, "life vacations", and we all experience pain, "back to school". It's just an element of how God created us. Yeah, I know! Try explaining that to a teenager, right?

It's ironic,isn't it? We live in a culture, where we are constantly taught to avoid pain and suffering at ALL cost. Pain and suffering, whether physical or emotional, are meant to be avoided. Go to the doctor for this. Take a pill for that. So, how in the world are we supposed to teach our children that pain and suffering is just part of a Christian's journey, and should not only be expected, but even welcomed? In his book “On the Anvil”, Max Lucado takes a look at human suffering and compares the suffering of a Christian to that of being on a blacksmith’s anvil. As the blacksmith hammers the hot steel, it’s not exactly a pretty sight. It’s chaotic. It’s ugly. It takes much work. It’s hot and uncomfortable. But after the blacksmith has completed his job, what he is left with is a beautiful piece of metal; perhaps a sword or a valuable tool. The point that Lucado makes is that through our suffering, we become refined. We become better. As God allows us to go through the fire of pain, what comes out on the other side is beautiful. Yes, it’s painful, chaotic and ugly. But when the work has come to fruition, what remains is a tool that God can then use, on his terms. Beautiful. Useful. Refined!

In the book of Job, we see the quintessential example of human suffering intertwined with the nature and the sovereignty of God. We see life being played out in a great epic drama. On the big stage we see Satan suggesting that Job is only faithful because of God’s blessings in his life. Take away the blessings, and Job would surely reject and curse God. God begs to differ, knowing full well that Job’s heart was in the right place. “Prove it!”, Satan challenges. God sees redemptive history in front of Him. The big picture. He knows the pain that Job will go through, but in the end it will bring Him glory. And that’s what lies at the heart of this story. God’s glory.

So, God allows the heat to be turned up on Job’s life, and he makes it through the fire. Job became the steel. He was sent into the fire. Thrown upon the anvil. Beaten with the hammer. Tested and refined for God’s will. What remained? A tool to be used for God over the next several thousand years and for all eternity! Pretty awesome, huh? Do you think Job had any idea how his personal suffering would be used for the glory of God? Probably not. In fact, there is no evidence that Job had any idea what was going on between Satan and God. And he probably had never realized what God’s will was throughout his tragedy. All that mattered was God’s glory and Job's faithfulness. The point was made clear.

We all go through tragedy. We all experience pain. You may be going through some painful circumstances as you read this. Most of us do not go through suffering to the magnitude that Job did, but that's not the point, nor does it matter. The point is that suffering is suffering. Pain is pain. But as we feel the heat being turned up, and the hammer coming down upon us, do we ask God to stop the pain? Or do we just ask Him what the purpose of this particular trial might be? How can it be used for His glory? How can it be used in the big picture? How can we grow from it?

See, God has a reason for every tear we shed. We may never know what those reasons are, but that really doesn’t matter. What matters is that God receives the glory as we prove to be faithful. And our kids need to see this lived out in our lives. They need to see that we, as parents, teachers, leaders, can confront pain and suffering because it is an element of a fallen world. And they need to see that we welcome pain and suffering because it refines and makes us better!

So when your kids come home today, complaining about the "pain" of a new school year, I encourage you to talk to them about what God might be doing in their lives. remind them what's going on is not really such a bad thing, but only part of the process of refining the tool that God will some day use in incredible ways.

And if that doesn't work, you can always take them to McDonald's tonight :-)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What is Theology?

What is it that you think of when you hear the word theology? Wikipedia says that Theology "is the study of a god or, more generally, the study of religious faith, practice, and experience, or of spirituality". St. Augustine said that theology was the "reasoning or discussion concerning the Deity." And Webster defines the word as "the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially : the study of God and of God's relation to the world, or "a theological theory or system".

The origins of the word theology, take us back to the Greek word, theologia (θεολογία), which is derived from the roots, theos, meaning god and logos, meaning word,discourse or reasoning.

Nineteenth Century clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher, said that "Theology is a science of mind applied to God and is but our ideas of truth classified and arranged. And modern scientist and atheist, Richard Dawkins, said “What has 'theology' ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has 'theology' ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? What makes you think that 'theology' is a subject at all?”

But what is theology to you? How does it affect you in a personal way? Does it bring back uncomfortable memories of a class you had to take in high school? Does it remind you of an elite group of philosophers in the upper echelons of academia? Stacks of books? Scrolls? An old bearded man diligently writing by candlelight?

How do you think theology fits in with today's world? What relevance does theology have with our culture? And Once we have a grasp of what theology really is, how do we apply it in everyday life? How does it affect our faith and spiritual life?

What is theology? Let me know your thoughts.

Theology According to Charlie Brown