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Friday, September 25, 2009

Ninety Feet

Kennedy Building Lobby
Every day I walk, several times, past a ninety-foot drop which would end in my death.

The picture at right is the view over the rail into the open-air atrium in the office building where I work. We're on the ninth floor, and there is nothing but a short wall and a railing to separate anyone walking from their office to the restroom from falling over. So probably five or six times on an average day, I am two feet from doom. Meeting Jesus in person. Very scary!

Is it scary? Well, it was when I first started working here. I would go out into the atrium area and look down (feeling a little queasy), and then look up to the one upper floor and skylight and see the clouds (feeling a little inspired). I thought about how beautiful the atrium is, and how terrible it would be to experience nine stories' worth of open air on the way down (actually, the air wouldn't be the bad part... the floor would be the bad part!) It would always make me just a little bit nervous. You know why? Because I was conscious of the danger that is present in that situation. If someone wanted to do me in, they could do it easily (hopefully nobody does!) and if I lost equilibrium for some reason, I could tumble over that rail with no help whatsoever.

I don't worry about that any more. Why? Because the danger is less? No, of course not... it's because I just don't think about it any more. I've become used to the danger that is present there. It's not that I've lost my knowledge of the danger (or else I wouldn't be writing this) or my fear of falling to my death... it just doesn't occur to me now.

Let's think about something else. When was the last time you thought about Hell? The Bible describes flames burning people forever, worms eating them forever... it's pretty gruesome. If you are a believer in Jesus, that's not going to happen to you. We heard a pastor this week say that Christians are "disqualified" from going to Hell. You can't get in! You're not eligible to burn forever! :) Is Hell any less real or dangerous? No, of course not. It's VERY dangerous. But your fear of Hell is gone, and you probably don't think about it any more.

What if I was in the atrium and saw someone stumbling toward the rail? Would I remember the danger? Of COURSE I would! I would run to the person and try to steady them and save them from getting hurt or killed. Even though I don't think about the danger much, I'm aware that it's there. Let me ask you a question: when was the last time you thought about whether a person you met was in danger of going to Hell?

Quick break... check out this video from atheist Penn Jillette (from magic duo Penn & Teller)

Let's think of something else. Do you realize that every day, without the privilege of identifying with the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, you and I are lost? Every day we walk through our lives in the very shadow of Jesus' work on the Cross. So daily, we are two feet from Jesus' Salvation on one side, and two feet from the threat of Hell (which is no longer a danger to us as believers) on the other. We should be so thankful for the gift on the one hand, and so alarmed by the danger on the other hand to people around us, that we should be willing to do whatever it takes to live out our faith, in public, and with no reservations. If someone was tipping over the rail, I would run, I would yell, and I would jump in the way if I thought it would help. The threat of eternity without God is just as imminent, and is much more dangerous, than a mere fall of nine stories. If you were extremely lucky, you might actually somehow survive a 90-foot drop... but the drop into Hell is a lot longer than 90 feet, and nobody ever comes back.

Don't be afraid to hear the Holy Spirit today. Don't be afraid to share your faith. If you are a willing vessel, God will use you... you may be the reason someone meets Jesus.


One day an old man was walking along the beach. It was low tide, and the sand was littered with thousands of stranded starfish that the water had carried in and then left behind. The man began walking very carefully so as not to step on any of the beautiful creatures. Since the animals still seemed to be alive, he considered picking some of them up and putting them back in the water, where they could resume their lives.

The man knew the starfish would die if left on the beach's dry sand but he reasoned that he could not possibly help them all, so he chose to do nothing and continued walking.

Soon afterward, the man came upon a small child on the beach who was frantically throwing one starfish after another back into the sea. The old man stopped and asked the child, "What are you doing?"

"I'm saving the starfish," the child replied.

"Why waste your time?... There are so many you can't save them all so what does is matter?" argued the man.

Without hesitation, the child picked up another starfish and tossed the starfish back into the water... "It matters to this one," the child explained.
-"A Single Starfish" inspired "The Star Thrower" By Loren Eiseley... this version borrowed from all-creatures.org

[UPDATE: a very interesting perspective on Hell by Pastor John Piper can be found here.]

2 comments:

Rick Lannoye said...

Sorry, but there are a couple glaring ommissions from your analogy, at least, according to Evangelical beliefs--to be more accurate, God would be actively tossing people down a 90 foot drop, regardless of what his victims were thinking. But he wouldn't stop there. He'd be making sure they didn't die, so they could feel as much pain as possible after hitting the ground and smashing dozens of bones. And then, he would keep that pain going, indefintely! Oh, one more, he would do this to BILLIONS of people, many who never even knew who God or Jesus were, until they woke up from their death bed to feel his wrath!

Now, just how safe can you, the believer feel? Well, none at all! Any God who can do this sort of thing is NOT the kind of being you could ever trust to be faithful to his promise to spare you from a similar fate.

Well, the good news, is that no such torture is going to happen, that is, if what Jesus really had to say about Hell is true.

I've actually written an entire book on this topic--"Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell," (for anyone interested, you can get a free Ecopy of my book at my website: www.ricklannoye.com), but if I may, let me share one more of the many points I make in it.

If one is willing to look, there's substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: "You don't know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!" Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

True, there are a few statements that made their way into the gospels which place Hell on Jesus lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

MJ said...

Rick, your mistake is that you seem to think that God is actively dooming people to Hell. That's an incorrect perspective. It's also an incorrect perspective to equate raining fire down on someone with the concept of a literal Hell. The Hell of the Bible is not something that occurs on the physical Earth; it is a spiritual place. It's not a village.

What I see in the Word is a God who refuses to force Himself on His own creation, but who has gone to great lengths to show the human race that He loves them and wants them to choose to be with Him forever. Hell is not a place that God throws people into; it is where God allows us to go when we refuse His advances of love. There is evidence in the Bible that God even has ways of revealing Himself through nature to people who have not had the advantage of being taught the Word of God (the key verse, of course, being the ever-popular Romans 1:18-20)... I know you've likely been over all of this yourself, but I can't assume that everyone who reads this blog is as aware of what the Word says as you and I.

Point being, I don't think God sends people to Hell. I think God gives each and every person a clear chance to make the choice, and either they choose him or they don't.

I have a friend who had a near-death experience once. He firmly believes that people who are undecided about God have a choice immediately after death to choose Him or not. In Hebrews 9:27 it says that we die one time and after that comes judgment, but I don't necessarily see that it implies an immediate succession of one after the other with absolutely nothing in between. But I don't know... I've never been dead, and I seriously doubt that after I die I'll be coming back to blog about it. :) But I do believe that however God's justice is satisfied, every person who goes to Hell has somehow and at some time chosen to be away from God. God is certainly loving and merciful, but God is also just and holy, and eventually if people choose to hold on to their sinful natures and not allow God to cleanse them, when God casts away the sin, they're going to still be attached to it.

Besides... if there wasn't something even more horrible to save people from, why would God go to the awful lengths of letting His own Son be murdered? Either God was trying to save someone from something even worse than what Jesus suffered, or God is stupid or insane. I mean, it was an expression of God's love for sure, but you don't send your child to the chopping block as a quick substitute for sending a Valentine's Day card. I think God did something horrible in order to prevent something even more horrible. The human race was in danger of being banished from God's presence forever, and God made a way for use to escape that fate.

I think you're starting to walk on shaky ground when you presume to have figured out that things were added to the Word thousands of years ago, especially when those things have been accepted as canon by millions of Christians ever since then. I don't like the idea of people in torment for eternity any more than you do, but I think it is unwise to assume that significant parts of the canon of Scripture are later additions just because they're hard to understand or don't seem at first look to match with other similar portions of Scripture. If you're going to reject Bible verses that you don't like, then we have no common basis for debate anyway, and this is all your opinion vs. my opinion, and everybody's right.