Speaking of God’s kingdom and hell

September 17, 2011 — Leave a comment

“The kingdom of the heavens is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and concealed it. He was ecstatic. He sold everything he had and bought the field.” (Matthew 13:44, PAR)

No one chooses in the abstract to go to hell or even to be the kind of person who belongs there. But their orientation toward self leads them to become the kind of person for whom away-from-God is the only place for which they are suited. It is place they would, in the end, choose for themselves, rather than come to humble themselves before God and accept who he is…

One should seriously inquire if to live in a world permeated with God and the knowledge of God is something they themselves truly desire. If not, they can be assured that God will excuse them from his presence. They will find their place in the “outer darkness” of which Jesus spoke. But the fundamental fact about them will not be that they are there, but that they have become people so locked into their own self-worship and denial of God that they cannot want God.

We should be very sure that the ruined soul is not one who has missed a few more or less important theological points and will flunk a theological examination at the end of life. Hell is not an “oops!” or a slip. One does not miss heaven by a hair, but constant effort to avoid and escape God. “Outer darkness” is for one who, everything said, wants it, whose entire orientation has slowly and firmly set itself against God and therefore against how the universe actually is.

Dallas Willard

Francis Chan interviewed by Mark Galli
What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding contemporary Christians have about hell?I don’t know if it’s a misunderstanding or just an unwillingness to think about it, or accept the fact that it’s there, to live our life in light of it.
I think there is also some misunderstanding on degrees of punishment. I do see Jesus saying that judgment is going to be worse for some, like the rewards are going to be better for some. But that might be a slight issue.
But the main thing is that we have tried to block [hell] out of our minds. Yet because it’s written about so often in Scripture, I think God does want it on the forefront.

Is that what makes it compelling for you to continue to affirm the reality of hell? That it’s so frequently mentioned?
It comes down to God and people. I have to warn people. I don’t want people going there. And if they ignore it, there’s a much more likely chance that they’ll end up there. Obviously I take that in light of the sovereignty of God, but looking at it from a pragmatic perspective, it’s like canoeing before Niagara Falls if you don’t know it’s there or you’ve got yourself deceived that there’s no drop off. So one reason is my desire to love people and care for people and warn people.
The other is what I mentioned about God himself. I want to make sure that I’m being faithful to present him as he presents himself. I’m not ashamed of this, I don’t understand it completely, but I surrender to it, I submit to it. And I want to proclaim it boldly now.

I would say for me the most compelling thing is that it’s woven all through Jesus’ teaching. You can’t possibly talk about him and what he said faithfully and ignore judgment and hell.
Yeah. I read Scripture pretty simply even though I’ve been through seminary and everything else. I try to read with an open mind and be led by the Spirit. I try to picture myself stuck an island reading it over and over and ask, What would I naturally conclude? What would be the thing about God that I’d be most struck by? I would definitely be shocked and awed by his love, but I’m more stunned by his power, and his seriousness, his holiness maybe even more than his love. I don’t want to say his love’s no big deal. He loves us but nonetheless the reoccurring theme is about his power, his glory, his holiness.

In terms of the how we actually make use of this as a pastor and as communicators, should we use hell to motivate people into believing in Christ? Fear is not a very good or lasting motivator, yet Jesus seemed to matter-of-factly talk about hell.
I don’t think there is a general method. Jesus presents the good news in such different ways all the time. And even the apostles do that all through the book of Acts. The good news comes to bear in different ways. You need to know who you are speaking to. What is the area of this person’s life that refuses to be under the Lordship of Jesus? Is it arrogance? Self righteousness? Is it a sin issue they just won’t bow the knee to? Is there no fear? Is it a misunderstanding of the eternal state?
Obviously everything always comes back to the Cross and the Resurrection. I think there has to be some openness and leading by the Spirit on how we present hell and in what context.

I thought one of Rob Bell’s compelling statements was that sometimes we make the gospel sound like “Believe in Jesus or you’ll go to hell.” Which turns the gospel not into good news but into a threat. Have you thought about how we can talk about this reality without making it sound like a threat or spiritual extortion?
Well, that’s difficult. Because don’t you kind of get that when you read the Scriptures? That’s a struggle I have. When I read the Scriptures, it sure seems threatening. “Don’t fear man who can just kill your body. Fear God who can destroy your body and soul in hell.”
I see God in his love warning me of hell because he wants me to embrace him so badly. And I don’t see that as a bad thing. It’s like warning my kids about not being careful in crossing the street: “Do you understand what will happen?” Maybe I overdramatize what it’s like to be hit by a car. What if you got dragged under it? But I’m telling them because I so don’t want that to happen.”
And that’s what I was telling my friend, I go “yeah, you have a choice. But in some ways, it’s almost like you don’t. If you really look at all the facts, how could I choose the other if I believe this?”

I read a book by Augustine some years ago on some of his meditations on the fear of the Lord, and he said it’s not beneath God to use fear to move people closer to him, but he wants to eventually get us to a place where we can affirm that perfect love casts out fear. God might even use something that we would consider beneath us to use. But he doesn’t want to leave us there; he wants to move us onto something more confident, hopeful, and assuring.
There are dads who let their kids get away with everything and there is no sense of authority. And it’s because of that kids grow up also having a weak of God himself. He doesn’t have the right to do this. We kind of learn that from our dads, who weren’t strong enough to say, no, I can tell you to quit throwing a tantrum.
I see in Scripture a God who says. “Look, when I say something it goes, I don’t care if your feelings are this or that. At the end of the day, I am God and I say and do what I want.”

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