Saturday, December 15, 2007
A DREADFUL PROSPECT, A DESIRABLE END
God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day... He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment. He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on him; his violence comes down on his own head.
Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the Lord. O Lord, your hand is lifted high, and they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame; let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them.
The Lord... is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame... 'Therefore wait for me,' declares the Lord, 'for the day I will stand up to testify. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them -- all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.'
Do not fear those who kill the body and after that have nothing more they can do. I will warn you whom to fear; fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.
... our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in blazing fire... he will do justice upon those who refuse to acknowledge God and upon those who will not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal ruin, cut off from the presence of the Lord... Destroyed they shall be, because they did not open their minds to love of the truth, so as to find salvation.
Therefore God puts them under a delusion, which works upon them to believe the lie, so that they may all be brought to judgment, all who do not believe the truth but make sinfulness their deliberate choice.
... there were loud voices in heaven, which said: 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.' And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying: 'We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great -- and for destroying those who destroy the earth.'
(Psalm 7:11,14-16, NIV; Isaiah 26:10-11, NIV; Zephaniah 3:5,8, NIV; Luke 12:4-5, NEB; 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-9; 2:10b-12, NEB; Revelation 11:15-18, NIV)
The prospect of a judgment that is final and a condemnation that is irrevocable causes distress to all sensitive persons. The understandable recoil of mind and emotion has led many to ignore or deny these teachings. Yet for those whose knowledge of God and of final reality are derived from divine speaking rather than human speculating, there is no possibility of denying judgment and hell, which are all too clearly attested in the teaching of Jesus and of scripture generally. Moreover, they are not found there as an extraneous or unassimilated extra, but as an integral part of the whole biblical portrayal of the nature of God and of the reality he has made and is making. Seen in this light, some of our distress at the prospect of judgment is a measure of the discrepancy between the biblical revelation of the character of God and our own more sentimental notions. Here, as in so many other things, the revealed reality of God cuts across our preferences.
Yet there is a distress at the inevitability of judgment that is both valid and necessary (see, for example, Luke 19:41-44). Such pain is both an index of the momentous, even awesome character of human choice and responsibility and a measure of the horror. of grace spurned and destruction embraced.
In the Bible the certainty of judgment to come evokes joy as well as tears. Most honest readers of the Bible would have to feel dismayed by the way in which some passages rejoice in this prospect. Yet closer inspection shows that the authors are not motivated by the almost ghoulish pleasure at the terrors of judgment that has been evident all too often in Christian history. Rather, their joy is the result of a passionate devotion to the honour of God and a zeal for the triumph of his purposes. His judgment is prayed for and rejoiced in because it means both the vindication of his truth and holiness in the face of all that is false and wicked, and also the renewal and restoration of the creation, eliminating all that is rebellious and fully implementing his righteous rule. They know that the alternative to judgment is a creation which becomes a labyrinth of evil, in which all fixed points are finally obscured by layer upon layer of duplicity or wiped away in the escalating spiral of violence. (Any good spy novel will provide you with a glimpse into such a world.)
It is no light thing, therefore, to pray regularly for the coming of God's kingdom, for to do so is to pray for the execution of final judgment. The believer faces this prospect with tears and yet greets it with joy.
It is no light thing, either, to relate daily to persons who are being prepared for glory or who are preparing themselves for destruction!
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.'
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
The love of God, with arms extended on a cross, bars the way to hell. But if that love is ignored, rejected and finally refused, there comes a time when love can only weep while man pushes past into the self-chosen alienation which Christ went to the
cross to avert.
Michael Green, The Empty Cross of Jesus
Hell is not like a gaol where prisoners are longing to be free but like a sit-in where the protesters have barricaded themselves in.
Hugh Silvester, Arguing with God
The agents of hell disappear, the human, they shrink and dissolve Into dust on the wind, forgotten, unmemorable; only is here
The white flat face of Death, God's silent servant,
And behind the face of Death and Judgment
And behind the Judgment the Void, more horrid than active shapes of hell;
Emptiness, absence, separation from God;
The horror of the effortless journey, to the empty land
Which is no land, only emptiness, absence, the Void,
Where those who were men can no longer turn the mind
To distraction, delusion, escape into dream, pretence,
Where the soul is no longer deceived, for there are no objects,
No colours, no forms to distract, to divert the soul
From seeing itself, foully united forever, nothing with nothing,
Not what we call death, but what beyond death is not death,
We fear, we fear.
T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
... God's judgments alone stand between us and a universal tyranny. If the effects of original sin were allowed to work themselves out unchecked, man's inhumanity to man would know no bounds. Such elements of stability, freedom, mercy and goodness we enjoy, we owe to the operation of God's righteous judgments among us.
J.W. Wenham, The Goodness of God
Heaven and its happiness are wrongly conceived as immunity from judgment instead of joy in the consummation of judgment in righteousness and holiness for ever.
P.T. Forsyth, The Work of Christ
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.
C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Proposes a Toast
Lord, have I over-reacted? Have I been so conscious of the 'so heavenly-minded, no earthly use' danger that I have lived too much as though there were no deadline and destination ahead of us all? You know how hard I have to fight in my work against the 'tyranny of the urgent', seeking to prevent the immediate from crowding out the important. Have 1, in the midst of all this, succumbed to the same tyranny in another way by now allowing the immediate to shape the ultimate ? Have I been so concerned to distance myself from ghastly caricatures of biblical teaching that the reality and finality of judgment have no real place in my working theology? Have I related to individuals only in terms of the day and its needs, and not also in the light of the eternal destiny to which we are moving? I have tried hard not to allow my capacity for compassion and grief to be dulled by constant exposure to news and pictures of human suffering. Have 1, in the midst of all this, allowed my capacity for grief and outrage to be dulled by constant exposure to the human wickedness that slights the honour of your name, spurns your grace, and rebels against your wise and righteous rule? Do I long for the end of physical evil more than I long for the end of moral evil? Lord, you know me. Give me grace to know myself.
Lord, correct me. Restore the balance and perspective I need, not so that I may pride myself on my neat, orderly theology, but so that I may live in line with your truth, allowing each day to be shaped in the right way by the last Day.
Lord, renew me. Give me a new sense of awe at the burning purity of your holiness, and a fresh sense of zeal for the honour of your name.
Lord, use me. Help me to live and serve in a way that alerts people to the reality and finality of the ultimate horizons by which all our lives are bounded. Give me grace, where there is opportunity, to give bold but gracious testimony to the One who rescues us from the coming wrath.
May God himself direct and protect you this day. Approach your work this day in such a way that the last Day will show that you did not run or labour in vain. Approach your decisions this day as someone who is to appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Approach your relationships as one who is dealing with those who will be 'immortal horrors or everlasting splendours'. Above all, approach the throne of grace with awe and with confidence, to receive from the God who is a consuming fire both mercy and grace to help in time of need. Amen.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 251-256