The Lord did not die to provide a man with the wretched heaven he may invent for himself, or accept invented for him by others; he died to give him life, and bring him to the heaven of the Father’s peace; the children must share in the essential bliss of the Father and the Son. This is and has been the Father’s work from the beginning—to bring us into the home of his heart, where he shares the glories of life with the Living One. This is our destiny; and however a man may refuse, he will find it hard to fight with God—useless to kick against the goads of his love. For the Father is goading him, or will goad him, if needful, into life by unrest and trouble; hell-fire will have its turn if less will not do: can any need it more than such as will neither enter the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor suffer them to enter it that would? The old race of the Pharisees is by no means extinct; they were St. Paul’s great trouble, and are yet to be found in every religious community under the sun.
Fear Not, Neither Be Dismayed
by Dave Roney
"If, indeed, Him you have heard and in Him you have been taught..." (Ephesians 4:21)
Our man begins, “The Lord did not die to provide a man with the wretched heaven he may invent for himself, or invented for him by others.” We shall address that in a moment; for now I would speak to the opposite yet equal idea that The Lord did not die to provide a man with the wretched Hell he may invent for himself, or has been invented for him by others. It ought to be plain that if a man wrongly understands Heaven, he will also misunderstand Hell; more importantly, and the reason behind all his confusion, is that the man has first acquired, either by his own opinion or that imposed by others, a wrong idea concerning Who and What God actually IS. A wrong God concept leads inevitably to all manner of wrong interpretations and doctrines.
Of either Heaven or Hell we know but the scantest details, drawn from but few scattered passages and sewn together by men into doctrines, sometimes quite comprehensive, reflective of their various interpretations. Neither Heaven nor Hell is a place but a Person; the one is His presence, the other His absence; the place of either becomes insignificant: “He died to give him life, and bring him to the Heaven of the Father's peace.” I think of a woman who came to Jesus and, prostrating herself, began to weep her tears unto His feet, wiped them with her tresses, and poured on those soon to be nail riven feet her precious ointment: Where was Heaven to her but on that floor? Had she any thought of the men surrounding who sneered and condemned? Was she even in those moments aware of her surroundings? I think not but that, rather, Jesus consumed every fiber of her being; for her, in that place, it was Heaven. It was Heaven to her because it was where her Lord was, and He was with her.
Wherever God is, that is Heaven; the heaven that men look toward, a place, is but the abode of Him Who is Heaven. It matters not at all if He reclines at the Pharisee's table or sits the throne of God in the highest heaven, wherever our Lord and our Father and the Spirit are, that is Heaven; it is God and not the things of God which makes Heaven heavenly. Likewise of Hell; where and what is Hell? Is it in the bowels of the earth, a distant star, a place of fire and brimstone? I do not know, I think not. I believe Hell, whatever may be said of it, is essentially the actual, real, “Outer Darkness.” It is any place where God is not (“If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”); it is that place where man cannot perceive any hint of His presence. It is the place where, to say, He still maintains His hand upon a man, but where His face is utterly turned away. Heaven is where God is and is perceived; Hell is where God yet is but cannot be by man perceived.
The gifts and calling of God are without revocation; this is for every person, for He Who wills that none should perish is Faithful and True, Mighty to Save, and will never abandon even one of His children but will, as the Shepherd of the sheep, search until the errant child is found and restore him. He will not accomplish this through force of arms, wills not that men should at the point of a sword submit under duress, with bows knees before Him bowed making hollow confessions, but will by Divine and unending love, through patience, allow the sinner to carry himself as far into Outer Darkness as he willfully sends himself, will allow the Darkness to intensify as is needful, will allow the man to remain in that seemingly hopeless estate for as long as necessary, even for ages of ages until the man comes to his senses. In that moment, I am quite sure, the scales of blindness will fall away from his eyes and he shall see the One Who loves him, and washes him in His Own blood, smiling, with open arms to receive, and saying in the voice of all eternity “Come, brother, I will take you to meet your Father!” For, though the man had not previously detected Him, God is never far away from any of us.
Think of what this Outer Darkness, this Hell, is: the man's body is mouldering in its grave, thus he has no sensual apparatus of perception; He has no eyes with which to see anything, no sense of touch or taste or feel, or smell; he is existing in absolute isolation and darkness far denser than that of a Helen Keller, more acute than any person in this life can even imagine. His mind is acute; he may at the first kick against the goads of God's love, but will give that up; he will begin to think of the things he ought to have dwelt on in his life but didn't; his pride and ego will suffer, then evaporate, his longing for the former things will give way first to despair, then to longing for what he truly needs. He may for a time fondly remember his harlotry, his lusts, his pleasures, his self-gratifications, may cling as long as he can to his hatred of God, his wrong thinking, his misplaced values, his religion; but he is inevitably caught in the jaws of a great transition. In his life he wanted no real part with God as is true God, preferring his idols, and the pursuits of his own way, and all the while God was there surrounding him with His good things: Now he is reaping what he has sown, God has finally at his death said “Go, then, your own way as you have been determined to do; see what it is like to be stripped of all My benefits!” This is the Outer Darkness; this is Hell; this is where even the smallest perceivable trace of the Goodness of God is withheld and hidden.
I said “Think of what this Outer Darkness, this Hell, is.” Now one must ask another question; “But WHY this Outer Darkness, this Hell?” It would be a very small god indeed, one who, by men, was made much in the image of men, were He to send a man into Hell as retribution, in darkest and most vitreous hatred of him, as though His supposed Justice, offended, could be set right by the eternal torture of a small and weak, fallen and broken, creature. Where then would be Love? If an earthly father who is as good as men can be would never by his will and power subject his child to such dismal fate, do you think an absolutely good God could do it? If the earthly father would always love his child, would forever seek to redeem and restore him, even though he might have to allow the child to suffer the consequences of his actions until such time as the child came to his senses, what do you suppose concerning our God Who is the source and fountain of our love, Who IS Love personified? It has been said that God created man in His image and from that time onward man has been busy creating God in his image. The purpose of God, relative to all things and in all situations and places, including the Outer Darkness, is to reconcile fallen man to Himself:
“This,” says MacDonald, “is and has been the Father's work from the beginning—to bring us into the home of His heart...”
There is in St. Matthew the parable of the “pearl of great price,” in which the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a merchant who, upon finding this pearl, sells all he has to purchase it; and we see in the metaphor the redemptive act of God in Christ. But do we notice that the Kingdom of Heaven is not a place but a person; it is the Merchant: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant” said Christ: God is the Merchant, you are the Pearl, and Christ is all God ever had, all which is His greatest possession from eternity, above and before all other things; Christ is the price He paid to purchase you from the slaver's block of sin and death. God has demonstrated clearly that He did, is, and will continue to go to any length, pay any price, suffer any humiliation, in order to redeem, reconcile, and restore his children, each and all, to Himself;
“This is our destiny; and however a man my refuse, he will find it hard to fight with God—useless to kick against the goads of His love. For the Father is goading him, or will goad him, if needful, into life by unrest and trouble; Hell-fire will have its turn if less will not do.”
Upon this last I shall close, but do so with a word of encouragement: When our loved ones die outside Christ and redemption, by what the preachers have oft times taught us, we can only despair, thinking them lost forever to a place of eternal torments. But I say to you that you should grieve for such, but never despair; they are in your Father's keeping; He is using Hell in such case, whatever Hell may be, to do His redemptive work in your loved ones. God reveals Himself by many features and facets, one of great import being is as the Consuming Fire of Hebrews 12:29. In this life that Fire burns us in varying degrees, but never in full force; its purpose is to heat our ore to melting so the scum and dross will come to the surface and be removed, leaving only our pure gold, which is to say those good things in us which are Divine, are the image and reflection of Christ Jesus. If, because of our willfulness and anarchy, God cannot accomplish this in our present life, He will continue His work in the next; “Hell-fire will have its turn if less will not do:” Your beloved, departing this world apart from Christ, will not forever be separated from Him; God will see to it; God will redeem His child. Your beloved will be restored to God and, therefore, restored to you.
There is a sense, I think, though it is only my speculation, that Hell, the Outer Darkness, is as to its location, which was earlier alluded to, centered in the very Heart of God. I see it somewhat as a mother sitting by the bedside of her fevered child, and though she cannot force him to health and vitality she nonetheless is there, constant, abiding, loving, waiting for the fever to break. And if she had one hundred children and one of them was sick unto death, it would be that particular child that would consume her passion and attention more than the ninety and nine others. So also I think that the most desperate of sinners, the most craven and wonton, those most estranged from God, are also the ones He holds closest to His heart. And that great Heart of hearts is, when necessary, revealed as the furnace of Divine Fire. Not a lamb will He lose, not a single child, but will in the end bring every soul unto Himself by so great a Love as is His. Grieve, therefore, at death which is but a shadow, yet do not despair; the Daystar is even now rising and will, at the appointed time, blaze in the fullness of midday sun, driving every cloud and shadow into nothingness. Death shall die, Life shall reign...