Having spent a significant amount of time dwelling in Luke 10 over the past few months, I have thought quite a bit about what it means that the kingdom is near. I am convinced that the kingdom has significant implications for our interaction with the world today. As I read this recent post on Out of Ur, it struck me that if the kingdom is present in this world, then so is the opposite of the kingdom...
But have you ever noticed that Jesus didn’t spend much time on hell.
In fact there are really only a couple of times he speaks of weeping and gnashing of teeth, of hell and God’s judgment. And both of them have to do with the walls we create between ourselves and our suffering neighbors. One is Matthew 25 where the sheep and the goats are separated, and the goats who did not care for the poor, hungry, homeless, and imprisoned are sent off to endure an agony akin to that experienced by the ones that they neglected on this earth. And then there is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, a parable Jesus tells about a rich man who neglected the poor beggar outside his gate.
In the parable we hear of a wealthy man who builds a gate between himself and the poor man, and that chasm becomes an unbridgeable gap not only with Lazarus but with God. He is no doubt a religious man (he calls out “Father” Abraham and knows the prophets), and undoubtedly he had made a name for himself on earth, but is now a nameless rich man begging the beggar for a drop of water. And Lazarus who lived a nameless life in the shadows of misery is seated next to God, and given a name. Lazarus is the only person named in Jesus’ parables, and his name means “the one God rescues.” God is in the business of rescuing people from the hells they experience on earth. And God is asking us to love people out of those hells.
Nowadays many of us spend a lot of time pondering and theologizing about heaven on earth and God’s Kingdom coming here (and rightly so!), but it seems we would also do well to do a little work with the reality of hell. Hell is not just something that comes after death, but something many are living in this very moment… 1.2 billion people that are groaning for a drop of water each day, over 30,000 kids starving to death each day, 38 million folks dying of AIDS. It seems ludicrous to think of preaching to them about hell. I see Jesus spending far more energy loving the “hell” out of people, and lifting people out of the hells in which they are trapped, than trying to scare them into heaven.