Saturday, October 27, 2012

How Crowded Is Hell?

God wants every person to enjoy with him a relationship of freedom, truth, love, and vitality. Our enjoyment of that relationship is why Abba created us, Jesus redeemed us, and Spirit promises to glorify us.

In dark contrast, we have that evil parody of the Trinity: Satan, the six Olympian gods he hides behind, and the Flesh--that sinister power which rots us from the inside. Those powers of darkness want all of us to burn in the Hell they’re most certainly headed for.

The question is: whose purpose will win out? God’s or Satan’s? How many of us humans will God allow Satan to drag down?

There are verses in the New Testament which we may call limiting. That’s because they set a limit to the number of people who qualify to get into Heaven (and therefore to escape Hell).

One set of limiting verses tells us what we must not do if we want to get into Heaven. One example of such a verse: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8, New Revised Standard Version here and following).

The other set of limiting verses tells us what we must do to get into Heaven. One example: “Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:34b-36).

While routinely neglected, there are also verses in the New Testament which we may call universal. One example: “Therefore just as one man’s [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s [Jesus’] act of righteousness leads to justification for all” (Romans 5:18).

So we find two kinds of verses in the New Testament about our ultimate destination. Limiting verses emphasize what each person must do subjectively in response to Jesus. Considered apart from the universal verses, the limiting ones would indicate that many—if not most—people will fail to do what is necessary to get into Heaven. These people will end up in Hell.

Paradoxically, universal verses emphasize what Jesus has already done objectively in our place and on our behalf. Considered apart from the limiting verses, the universal ones would indicate that all people will get into Heaven because of what Jesus has already done for them.

How to resolve this paradox? We need to ask ourselves: where does the New Testament itself place the greater importance? On what Jesus did for us or on what we do in response? Since the New Testament unquestionably places the greater importance on Jesus, the universal verses which emphasize his work take precedence over the limiting verses which emphasize ours.

This means that we don’t have to work hard our whole lives to get into Heaven when we die. Instead, we may acknowledge with gratitude that Jesus has already done all the work necessary for that to happen. That's the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus.

What, then, is the point of the limiting passages? There are two. First, we are in because of what Jesus did for us and not based on any merits of our own. Second, it may be possible for us to work our way out of Heaven.

In other words, we cannot work our way into Heaven. The only way to get in is by God’s grace. Thankfully, God has already freely given us that grace through Jesus.

At the same time, we might be able to work our way out of Heaven. If we fail to meet the conditions revealed in the Bible's limiting passages, and do so long and hard enough, God might just reward us with the Hell we want so badly. In other words, if we work solely with our Olympian heart to live now as loyal servants of the Olympian gods, then in the end God might just allow us to share their fate.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.