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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Hell's Splashover

I just finished reading the chapter on Hell in When God Weeps, by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes. The whole book is on suffering, and they conclude with a look at the "H" word. They start the chapter saying, "For eleven chapters we've looked at the hell-on-earth that many people go through."

Even I was a bit shocked that they decided to discuss such an unpopular concept in a book that is so targeted at God's compassion for human suffering. It makes me think of "Hellfire and Brimstone" preachers who try to scare people into heaven by vividly portraying the horrors of hell ... demons with pitchforks prodding people into a cave full of flames, or some other caricature. But, they explain, hell holds the key to many mysteries about our earthly sufferings. "Without hell, the 'why' behind so much pain will never be resolved. Without hell, there is ultimately no justice or fairness. For God to be God, for heaven to be heaven, there must be a hell."

But that's not actually the point of my thoughts here ... that's just a long introduction. Where my thoughts were riveted as I read this chapter was on the way the horrors of hell "splash over" into earthly life. We can't get around it. It's part of the fact that we live in a fallen world. And Christians usually wrestle (or if they don't, they should) with how we can live in a world where Christ has conquered the power of sin and death, and yet we are still all-too-acquainted with sorrows and pain. I actually find it comforting (in a strange way) to conceptualize suffering as a taste of hell. But before I muddle with anymore words, I just want to quote from the eloquent pages of When God Weeps.

"If we had an easy life, we would soon forget that we are eternal creatures. But hell's splashover won't allow that. It persistently reminds us that something immense and cosmic is at stake - a heaven to be reached, a hell to be avoided. Human souls are the battle ground on which massive spiritual battles are being waged. The stakes are enormous. The winner takes all and the loser loses everything. Every day of our short lives has eternal consequences for good or ill. Eternity is being affected. Right now counts forever. Thus, it is only fitting that God should give us some sense of the stakes involved, some sense of the war's magnitude. He does this by giving us foretastes of heaven in the joys we experience, and foretastes of hell in our suffering.

All the while that we are experiencing such pain, these trials are making us more like Christ. They are refining our chracter and, thus, winning us eternal rewards. As Paul says, 'Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all' (2 Corinthians 4:1). In other words, by tasting a small bit of hell now, our heaven is becoming more heavenly. Our neighbors and friends are more likely to join us there. And our gratitude for our salvation overflows. 'I deserve to go to hell,' we admit, 'but I'm going to heaven anyway -- no one has more reason to rejoice than I!'

And twenty minutes of heaven will make up for everything."

(When God Weeps, 197).


At 12:11 PM, February 23, 2005, Blogger Ainsley said...

Absolutely wonderful passage, M. At this point in the book I'm reading (thanks Jim, Kitty and M!) she's talking about joy WHILE walking through the shadow of the valley, and admits that it even seems like an oxymoron. Your post opened my mind a bit more to how suffering is a strange and effective tool in the hands of our Lord to help us in our walk with Him.


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