March 12, 2015

allergic to vengeance

I am re-reading Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We've Made Up by Francis Chan. This book has been my guide for a current Sunday School Class that I am teaching. This is a sobering topic... in more than one way. First, the realities of what Jesus and others in the Bible actually say about Judgment is simply terrifying. Second, these thoughts of Hell leave me grieving for those that might actually end up there, or are there. Finally, I am finding that I don't know if I am actually ready to speak the same way that the Bible does on this topic.

I want to share a quote that will convey my feelings on this, and will also show that I am not alone in these thoughts. Consider these following words from Francis Chan:



I said earlier that Paul never wrote about the details of hell. However, there is one passage where he comes pretty close -- a passage blistering with passion and urgency about Christ's second coming and the wrath that follows: 
God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9) 
There are several things to note in this passage. First, the wrath of Jesus here is retributive and not corrective. In other words, the wrath isn't intended to correct behavior of those opposing Christ to make them fit for salvation. Rather, the wrath is an act of -- dare I say -- vengeance. In fact, this is the exact word that Paul uses. Christ will "inflict vengeance on those who do not know God" and don't "obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." Second, in light of this last phrase, Paul doesn't have a select group of people in view. Those who don't know god or obey the gospel include everyone not following Jesus. No matter how innocent some people may seem, Paul says that if they don't know God or obey the gospel, they will face God's vengeful wrath when Jesus returns. 
Now, notice what Francis Chan says next...
As I read those verses, I am struck by how allergic I am to repeating the very words that Paul wrote. Affliction, vengeance, punishment, destruction -- for all who don't follow Jesus. I'm not sure if I have ever used the term vengeance in describing the fate of unbelievers. In my desire to distance myself from sadistic Christians who revel in the idea of wrath and punishment, I may have crossed a line. Refusing to teach a passage of Scripture is just as wrong as abusing it. 
Allow me to repeat that last line... "Refusing to teach a passage of Scripture is just as wrong as abusing it." I know this... I know this is true... and yet, I can totally recognize my own allergic reaction to certain passages of scripture.

He ends this portion of the book with this statement:
I really believe it's time for some of us to stop apologizing for God and start apologizing to Him for being embarrassed by the ways He has chosen to reveal Himself. 
Amen.