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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Heavenly Dilemma

So, here I am, reading through Revelation again. Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the book not because of anything wrong with it, but simply because it is so full of imagery and symbolism that it's hard to actually say what it really means. Well, that's fine. Given the future nature of it and the 1st century authorship of it, it's likely what you'd expect. And it is the only book in the Bible that actually promises a blessing for reading the book (Rev 1:3), so I do it.

So I come across the end part. You know, when the seals and the trumpets and the bowls of wrath and all are done and the millennium has occurred and it's all finished. We're at the final outcome, the end, the New Heaven and New Earth. And we read those actually famous and blessed words,
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:3-4).
Think of it! No tears, no mourning, no pain, no death. Eternally in the presence of God. Someone mentioned to me the other day that God has the very best retirement plan for His people. So true, so true.

But my son asked me one day, "Dad, how can I be happy in heaven knowing that people I love are in eternal torment?" Now, that's a show-stopper. Good question. For the husband whose wife is in Hell or the daughter whose mother is in Hell or the father whose son is in Hell, how is it even remotely possible that God could wipe away every tear, that there would be no mourning or crying? Indeed, some have suggested that this makes God Himself a monster. A real stumper of a question.

What is it that makes the question so real? Well, as it turns out, I am more closely tied to my wife and my children and my parents and even my friends than I am to Christ. I am more able to relate to my fellow conspirators in Cosmic Treason than with the Holy One of Israel. Invoking Godwin's Law -- gratuitously playing the "Hitler card" -- I more closely relate to Hitler than I do to Jesus. Now, don't go pointing fingers at me. The same is true of every one of us. This is what makes the whole "Hell" thing so offensive. This is one of the top reasons why so many have jettisoned Christianity. The doctrine that so many will be damned for eternity in torment is unbearable to us. "If that's what God is like, I want no part of Him." And, in truth, if we're honest, there is at least a twinge of that in all of us to some degree or another at some point or another.

This fact is what clears up the question for me brought by my son. How can I be happy in heaven knowing that people I love are in eternal torment? Well, the Bible tells me that God's will includes the demonstration of His wrath and power on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:22). This displays, as I say, His wrath and power while magnifying both His justice and His mercy and grace (Rom 9:23). In other words, only through this does God get the glory He deserves. Now, when I get more aligned with God than I am with His creatures, that will be an outstanding thing to behold. That will be good. Indeed, the Bible says, "Therefore God has highly exalted Him (Christ) and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:9-11). Get that? Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that will bring glory to God. Understand that "every" means "even those in Hell".

The problem is not that people will receive the just recompense for their Treason against the Most High. The problem is not that God will be unjust. The problem is us. (Seems to happen way too often.) We are more closely allied with the enemies of God than with the God we worship. Once that error is rectified, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." I don't say I fully grasp it yet, but I can see it.


David said...

I also think we often fail to comprehend the amazing wonderfulness that we are going to experience in heaven. The height of our emotion on earth would be maybe our wedding, or our children's births. But I believe that no matter the amount of euphoria we have ever experienced on earth will even compare to the joy of being in God's presence. Think of the happiest you have ever been, and multiply that feeling by infinity, and you'll come close to understanding the feeling of being in heaven. At least, that's how I think of it.

Stan said...

C.S. Lewis said our problem is not that we are too hard to please, but that we are pleased with too little. He equates it to inviting a kid who has only played in the gutter to the beach. He refuses because he can't imagine miles of clean sand to play with and is happiest with the dirty mud that he's used to.

That having been said, I understand that we don't get the sheer magnificence of heaven, but it still seems a little ... harsh ... to suggest that we will feel fine about those people rotting in hell because we're so happy in heaven.

David said...

I can see it seeming harsh, however, when every knee bows in the End, and judgment is passed, we will all agree with the sentence because the disparity will be so very clear.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I think we will also be given full understanding of God's ways and reasons, etc, so that we will not be unhappy about what happened to unbelievers - we will recognize it for the justice it is, and no one can be unhappy with true justice.