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Posts tagged ‘misery’

The Savior’s Tears Shed for Yours

SOURCE:  Christina Fox/Desiring God

Once during morning devotions, I asked my children, “What are some verses in the Bible that give you hope?”

One of them squirmed, “I don’t know . . . ” Then a silly grin spread across his face. “Wait,” he said. “Jesus wept.”

“You are right,” I said. He was surprised. The shortest verse in all of Scripture — just two words, eleven characters — does give us great hope.

Jesus Wept

Jesus’s good friend Lazarus has died (John 11:14). Before his death, Jesus received word that Lazarus was seriously ill. Then he delayed going for two days. When he finally arrived, Lazarus’s sister Martha came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:21–22).

Then Mary came to him and said the same thing. John writes, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept” (John 11:33–35).

Jesus delayed his journey on purpose. He knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:15). So why did he cry?

A Savior Affected by Our Grief

John Calvin says this about John 11:

[Jesus] gives proof that he has sympathy. For the cause of this feeling is, in my opinion, expressed by the Evangelist, when he says that Christ saw Mary and the rest weeping yet I have no doubt that Christ contemplated something higher, namely, the general misery of the whole human race; for he knew well what had been enjoined on him by the Father, and why he was sent into the world, namely, to free us from all evils.

As he has actually done this, so he intended to show that he accomplished it with warmth and earnestness. Accordingly, when he is about to raise Lazarus, before granting deliverance or aid, by the groaning of his spirit, by a strong feeling of grief, and by tears, he shows that he is as much affected by our distresses as if he had endured them in his own person. (Calvin’s Complete Bible Commentaries)

John 11 isn’t the only passage that tells us about Jesus’s tears. Isaiah describes the Messiah as a man of sorrows: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Hebrews tells us, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). In Matthew, Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).

He Will Wipe Away Every Tear

The fact that Jesus wept means that our Savior knows and understands our grief. He experienced the agony of this dark world firsthand. He was rejected, abused, abandoned, mocked, cursed, tempted, and scorned. As Hebrews 2:18 tells us, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Our Lord is also compassionate toward us. He cares about our sorrow. He hears our cries and listens to us when we call out to him (Psalm 116:1). He keeps track of all our tears: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8).

Because Jesus was perfect, the expressions of his grief — his tears — were also perfect. Our emotions bear the curse of sin but his did not. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And because Jesus’s perfect righteousness has now been credited to us, his perfect sorrows have become ours as well. Jesus’s sinless sorrows are redeeming even our sorrows.

In the story of Lazarus, we see a God who not only cares about the sorrows of his people, but a God who is also able to resurrect joy from the grave of despair — to bring life from death. The story of Lazarus points to the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection and ultimately to the final resurrection when all our tears will be wiped away forever. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

“Jesus wept.” These two words, though brief, are filled with great hope. Because Jesus wept, we know he understands and cares about our tears. Because Jesus wept, his perfect, sinless tears have become our own. And because Jesus wept, we have hope that one day, our tears will be no more.

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God’s Wise Ways: End The Misery — or — Strengthen Me In It?

SOURCE:  Charles Spurgeon

If He strengthens me

It may not please God to lessen the burden, but it comes to the same thing if he strengthens the back.

He may not recall the soldier from the battle, but if he gives him a greater stomach for the fight, and increased strength for its toils, it may be better still for him.

“The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear?” Give a man health in his countenance, and he laughs at that which would have crushed him had he been in another mood.

There are times when the grasshopper becomes a burden, and there are other seasons when with undaunted spirit we can say, “Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubabel thou shalt become a plain.”

From a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon entitled “The Secret Of Health,” delivered March 25, 1875.

All Trouble and Affliction Comes From God’s Hand (Part 2 of 2)

Source:  Bishop Myles Coverdale (written by Deejay O’Flaherty)

[Myles Coverdale  (c. 1488 –  1569) was a 16th-century Bible translator who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English.]

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And to speak properly concerning safeguard, it is all one, so that we tempt not God, whether we live in poverty or in riches, in the fire or in the water, among our enemies or among our friends, seeing that God seeth, knoweth, disposeth, and ruleth all things, as withesseth the first book of the Kings 2:1 “The Lord bringeth to death, and restoreth again unto life; bringeth into the grave, and raiseth up again; putteth down, and exalteth also.”

And Job also testifieth in his misery: “The Lord hath given it, and the Lord hath taken it again.” And Christ saith: “There falleth not a sparrow upon the earth without your Father’s will; yea, the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Luke 12.

Seeing then that all our troubles and afflictions come from God, we ought to humble and submit our hearts and minds unto the obedience of God, and to suffer him to work with us according unto his most holy will and pleasure.

Wherefore, whensoever unseasonable weather shall hurt and perish the corn and fruit of the earth, or when a wicked man shall misreport us, or raise up any slander of us, why should we murmur and grudge against the elements, or go about to revenge us of our enemies?

For if we lift not up our minds, and consider that God layeth his hand upon us, and that it is he that striketh us, we are even like unto dogs, and no better, which, if a man do cast a stone at them, will bite the stone, without any respect who did cast the stone. And again, no man ought to be unwilling or discontent to render again that talent or pledge that was committed to him only to reserve and keep. Matthew 25.

It is that God, that giveth us life, health of body, strength, wife, children, friends, riches, honor, power, authority, peace, rest, and quietness for a time, so long as pleaseth him. Now if the same God will take again some of these firings, or all, he taketh nothing but his own, and even that which we did owe unto him. For the which cause, to murmur against his will, and to strive against his judgment, it cannot be but a heinous and grievous sin.

Seeing God In The Dark

How do you find strength in God when your world is in ruins?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/J. I. Packer

The scene is familiar: You see it with heartbreaking regularity on TV.

A strong, rugged man stands beside a pile of burnt-out rubble that was once his home. He is in tears. He does not know where his family is or even if they are still alive. He has nowhere to turn for food or help. We find him pitiful and pathetic, but we are glad we are not in his shoes.

Where is this scene? Beirut? Baghdad? Dubrovnik? No, we are in Ziklag, a little Philistine town some forty miles southwest of Jerusalem. It is just over three thousand years ago, about 1015 B.C. The man is David, who later will be Israel’s king.  But at this point he is in his late twenties—a refugee, an outlaw, and a failed leader who seems doomed.

What has happened? The story is this. (See 1 Samuel 30:1–6.)

David, fleeing for his life from King Saul, had offered his services and those of his six hundred men to King Achish, a local Philistine potentate, as a kind of Foreign Legion. Achish had given them Ziklag for their home, and they had all brought their families and settled there. They had marched with the rest of Achish’s troops to a pan-Philistine muster against Israel. But Achish’s colleagues had refused to trust David and his men in a battle against their own people and had sent them packing.

Already depressed (for no army can be told it is not trusted without damage to its morale), they had trekked back to Ziklag and found it a smoking ruin. Desert raiders, Amalekites, had sacked it, burned it, and taken captive as slaves everyone they had found there. Six hundred homes and families were simply gone; hence, the tears of fury and pain. “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Sam. 30:4).

When people are smarting under an unexpected hurt, they want to relieve their feelings by finding a scapegoat, someone to blame. It was so here. David’s men got ugly and turned on their leader. They blamed him, one supposes, for being so preoccupied with pleasing Achish that he had marched every single able-bodied man to the muster, thus failing both them and their families by not leaving a guard to fend off raiders. Think of living in the old Wild West where Indians and bandits roamed; men went armed; and women and children never traveled save in the company of someone with a gun. It was that sort of world, and David’s error of judgment had been real. So we move to the point where “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters” (v. 6).

Despair among the Ruins

We can see what was going through David’s mind as he stood, alone and tearful, by the ruins of his house. His great distress was compounded by several things.

There was personal loss: His own home and his own two wives were gone. But that was only the start of it.

There was, for sure, the recognition that through lack of forethought he had failed his men and their dependents. Nothing is more distressing to a good man or a real leader (David was both) than knowing you have let down those who trusted you.

There was his total isolation. Now not only Saul and the Philistines but his own men, too, had turned against him. Universal hostility, leaving you with no one to whom you can even talk on equal terms, is hard to bear.

There was the apparent hopelessness of the situation. The Amalekites had come on camels, and David and his men were on foot. They were already exhausted from their three-day, forty-mile march. What hope was there of catching the raiders, even if David could be sure where they had gone?

Also, there was, quite certainly, a crushing sense of God’s judgment. For David had played a double game with Achish. To curry favor with his Philistine patron, he had plundered villages, massacred their inhabitants, given Achish the booty, and told him the raids had been made in Israelite territory. In fact, the raids had been against people who had nothing to do with Israel, including—yes!—Amalekites (1 Sam. 27:8). While the deception prospered, David had doubtless assured himself that he was being super-smart and that killing Amalekites was the Lord’s business anyway (see Deut. 26:17–19). But deep down, he knew that this callous, Machiavellian banditry—for banditry is what it was—merited God’s vengeance. And when he saw what the Amalekites had done to Ziklag, his conscience told him that this poetic justice was in fact the vengeance he had provoked.

David, then, was in a state of distress of a kind that might well have destroyed him. The shock of disaster, grief at one’s loss, collapse of one’s life-strategy, and a sense of undergoing just retribution can each of them have paralyzing effects, and here they were all together. “Heartache crushes the spirit” (Prov. 15:13); “a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Prov. 18:14).

Misery is the natural consequence of calamity, and apathy is the natural child of misery. David’s surrender to grief was an entirely natural reaction to what had happened. In his shoes, we would have done the same, and many can testify that in similar circumstances they did exactly that.

Had David stopped there, however, it would have been the end of his career as a leader and probably of his life. But he did not stop there. Challenging and finally overcoming the paralysis that grief was generating, we now see in David the spiritual reaction of faith. “But”—it is one of the great Bible “buts”—”David found strength (RSV, “strengthened himself”) in the LORD his God” (v. 6).

How did he do it?

The Secret of Strength

“He prayed,” suggests someone. Yes, in due course, he did. But that, I am sure, was not what came first. When feelings of despair overwhelm you, rational prayer is beyond you. You are like a person being swept downstream towards the falls; you must recover your footing on the stream bed or you are lost. The secret of recovering your footing spiritually at such a time lies in the little word think, and that was undoubtedly where David began. He thought. He did not wait to feel better, but argued with the emotions that were telling him all was lost. He made himself recall what he knew of God and thought out how it all applied to him at that moment. Thus he “found strength” in the Lord; thus he calmed his soul; thus he prepared himself to pray.

“Strengthened by thought” is the formula that fits. The medievals would have called David’s action meditating, and the Puritans would have described it as preaching to oneself. Less important than deciding what to call it is learning to do it. It is a discipline we all need to master.

Every time we pray, it is wise first to remind ourselves, deliberately, of who and what God is and how we stand related to Him through His covenant love. Never is this more necessary than when we are reeling under the impact of some shock or being deafened by the inward screams of desire or panic or pain. David acted on this wisdom. Setting himself to think, he made his rational faith reassert itself over his runaway feelings. He let his faith tell him what to think, and when he knew what to think, he could see what to do. He was a model of godly wisdom.

Five Steps to Recovery

I now offer a reconstruction of the series of thoughts that he forced into his disoriented, despairing heart as he stood in lonely isolation in ruined Ziklag, surrounded by men who, he knew, had mutiny and murder in mind. It is, of course, guesswork, but it is not wild guesswork. The psalms show us the logic of David’s faith clearly enough to warrant every suggestion I shall make.

I believe that David ran before his mind five thoughts, as follows:

1. My God reigns.  He thought of God’s sovereign power. He reminded himself that God is in total control of all that happens on earth, and that having brought him into this extremity, God was certainly able to bring him out of it. Remembering God’s omnipotence was the first step in recovering his footing.

The psalms are strong on God’s sovereignty and dominion. “The LORD does whatever pleases Him” (Ps. 135:6; cf. 115:3). “The seas [emblem of chaos] have lifted up, O LORD  . . . their voice  . . . their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the LORD on high is mighty” (Ps. 93:3–4). Or, more simply, “The LORD reigns” (Ps. 93:1, Ps. 96:10, Ps. 97:1, Ps. 99:1, Ps. 146:10). All Scripture agrees that a God who is only in control of things half the time is a figment of a disordered imagination. The beginning of stability for us all is to know that God is on the throne, that His eye is on us and His hand over us all the time. Nothing comes our way apart from His will. In the deepest sense everything is under control.

2. My God forgives.  David thought of God’s pardoning mercy. He recalled that “with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” In other words, right-minded reverence is rooted in a knowledge of God’s mercy in the remitting of one’s sins (Ps. 130:4). My guess is that David’s first breath of prayer was a plea for forgiveness for the callous killings involved in his bamboozling of Achish. Certainly, he dwelt on the truth that it is God’s glory to forgive the penitent and that no sin is too great to be forgiven. He knew that no chastened transgressor need ever forfeit his hope of restoration and a future with God. And as David thought along these lines, his footing grew firmer.

All Scripture confirms what David knew. “The blood of Jesus  . . . purifies us from all sin . . . If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just [in keeping His word both to us who sinned and to the Son who died to save us] and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness . . . He [Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 1:7, 1 Jn. 1:9; 1 Jn. 2:2). For any who feel themselves under God’s judgment, there is forgiveness just as soon as they confess and forsake the acts that provoked the judgment.

3. My God cares.  David thought, too, of God’s covenanted protection. “The LORD is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). Himself a shepherd, David knew that the shepherd’s job is precisely to look after the sheep, keeping them well-fed and safe at all times. So he must not suppose that men’s alienation from Him meant that God had abandoned him. Even in ruined Ziklag, God was with him to love and bless him. As David dwelt on this, his despair (I am sure) dissolved like melting snow.

All Scripture confirms what the Shepherd Psalm proclaims, namely the covenant care of God for His servants. “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Ro. 8:28). God’s shaping of all that happens to believers so as to promote their “good”—that is, their holiness and joy—is a fact, even when it does not look or feel so. “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Ps. 23:6). God’s commitment to me, to be my God who shepherds me home, guarantees that.

4. My God is consistent.  Having proved His love to me in the past, He will do so again. David thought of his previous experiences of God’s goodness and reasoned that, as John Newton puts it in his sublimely straightforward way,

His love in time past

Forbids me to think

He’ll leave me at last

In trouble to sink;

Each sweet Ebenezer

I have in review

Confirms his good pleasure

To help me right through.

David had reasoned this way before Saul—”the LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37). So now he told himself that his God, who saved him from the lion, the bear, Goliath, and Saul’s spear (1 Sam. 19:9–10) would surely act again on his behalf in his present nightmare situation. For God does not lose interest in those He has once begun to love and bless.

Ebenezer was the name of a stone memorializing God’s past help (1 Sam. 7:12). Every Christian should live by the Ebenezer principle—storing up memories of past mercies and bringing them to mind whenever reassurance about God’s love is needed, as does the exile of Ps. 42:4–6 and the invalid of Ps. 77:4–12. In this way, David found strength to face the pressures of the present, and so may we.

5. My God is faithful.  He keeps His word. David thought of God’s explicit promises, such as (perhaps)Ps. 91:14–15:

“Because he loves me” says the LORD,

“I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name.

He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble,

I will deliver him and honor him.”

David found strength in trusting the fidelity of his promise-keeping God.

Mapping the Christian life in Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan pictures despair as a giant imprisoning believers in Doubting Castle; but the Christian gets out of despair by using “a key called Promise.” Exactly! Knowing that God’s promises to us in Scripture are certain of fulfillment frees us from doubt and gives us strength to face the future.

God My Strength

The strength (power) of God (Ps. 24:8, Ps. 31:2, Ps. 62:11) is what theologians call a communicable attribute—that is, a quality of God that in exercise imparts its own analogue or image to man. Thus, God’s wisdom makes us wise; God’s strength makes us strong. “The LORD gives strength to His servants” (Ps. 29:11, cf. 84:5). The strength given is a capacity “to do and to endure,” as the hymn puts it; a capacity that without God’s empowering we would not have. As Giver of this strength, God is called “my” or “our” strength (Ps. 28:7, Ps. 46:1, Ps. 59:17, Ps. 73:26, Ps. 118:14, cf. Is. 12:2).

We have been watching God give David strength at Ziklag by stirring him to the resolute thought through which he “found strength.” It was gratitude for such experiences that David was expressing when he declared, “I love you, O LORD, my strength” (Ps. 18:1). And one way in which we in 1992 learn to love God is through being strengthened at crisis times in this same manner.

Just for the record, after David had “found strength,” he got guidance that enabled him, against all expectations, to restore the situation completely (see the rest of 1 Samuel 30). God does not always resolve our crises this way, but He always gives strength to cope to those who will learn to think as David thought. And that, for us, is what really matters.

Why Endure a Pain-Filled Marriage?

Editors Note:  The author of this article states he was inspired by reading a review of three new books about Abraham Lincoln (Books and Culture, Sept./Oct., 1995, p. 6).

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by John Piper

Lincoln’s marriage was a mess, and accepting the pain brought deep strength in the long run.

I write this not because it is wrong to seek refuge from physical abuse, but because, short of that, millions of marriages end over the agony of heartbreaking disappointments and frustrations. They do not need to, and there is much gain in embracing the pain for Christ and his kingdom.

Our culture has made it acceptable (and therefore easier to justify) divorce on the basis of emotional pain.  Historically, the misery of painful emotions was not a sanction of divorce in most cultures.  Marriage durability—with or without emotional pain—was valued above emotional tranquility, for the sake of the children and the stability of society.  In Christianity such rugged, enduring marriage, through pain and heartache, is rooted in the marriage of God to his rebellious people whom he has never finally cast off.

“Your husband is your Maker … For the Lord has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Isaiah 54:5-7).

Lincoln brought debilities into his marriage to Mary Todd.  He was emotionally withdrawn and prized reason over passion.  She said that he “was not a demonstrative man … When he felt most deeply, he expressed the least.”  He was absent, emotionally or physically, most of the time.  Before his presidency, for years he spent four months each year away from home on the judicial circuit.  He was indulgent with the children and left their management almost entirely to his wife.

Mary often flew into rages.  “She pushed Lincoln relentlessly to seek high public office; she complained endlessly about poverty; she overran her budget shamelessly, both in Springfield and in the White House;  she abused servants as if they were slaves (and ragged on Lincoln when he tried to pay them extra on the side);  she assaulted him on more than one occasion (with firewood, with potatoes);  she probably once chased him with a knife through their backyard in Springfield;  and she treated his casual contacts with attractive females as a direct threat, while herself flirting constantly and dressing to kill.

A regular visitor to the White House wrote of Mrs. Lincoln that ‘she was vain, passionately fond of dress and wore her dresses shorter at the top and longer at the train than even fashions demanded.  She had great pride in her elegant neck and bust, and grieved the president greatly by her constant display of her person and her fine clothes.’”

It was a pain-filled marriage.  The familiar lines in his face and the somber countenance reveal more than the stress of civil war.  But the two stayed married.  They kept at least that part of their vows.  They embraced the pain, even if they could not or would not remove it.

What was the gain?  God will give the final answer.

But here are two historical assessments:

1) How was it that Lincoln, when president, could work so effectively with the rampant egos who filled his administration?  “The long years of dealing with his tempestuous wife helped prepare Lincoln for handling the difficult people he encountered as president.”  In other words, a whole nation benefited from his embracing the pain.

2) “Over the slow fires of misery that he learned to keep banked and under heavy pressure deep within him, his innate qualities of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and forgiveness were tempered and refined.” America can be glad that Abraham Lincoln did not run from the fires of misery in his marriage. There were resources for healing he did not know.   But when they fail, embracing the fire is better than escape.

HOW L-O-N-G, LORD?

SOURCE–Adapted from:  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Transformational Thought

Have you ever said those words, “How long?” As in, “How long, Lord, until my prayer is answered? How long until life gets better? How long do You want me to do this without seeing results? How long do You want me to suffer? How long do I have to ‘just hang in there?’ How long ’til my kids get along? How long ’til my loved one stops drinking?”

When Joseph was sold into slavery and later spent years in prison, he must have asked, “How long, Lord?” When Moses led the Israelites around and around in the wilderness, he surely thought, “How long, Lord?” When Noah was ridiculed for 100 years while he built an ark on dry land, he must have wondered, “How long, Lord?” The Israelites have been wondering for centuries, “How long until the Messiah comes?” But each one of these trusted God. They respected Him enough to continue obeying Him even when it seemed that all hope was gone.

Perhaps you are involved in a ministry that seems to go nowhere. Yet, you know the Lord wants you there. Maybe you have been praying for an unsaved loved one for many years. Or perhaps you have a business that just doesn’t come together, but the Lord has led you to continue. Be encouraged to revere God by continuing to obey him, even though you may wonder, “How long, Lord?”

Our nature is to want our agenda now. No waiting. Nobody else calls the shots. We avoid discomfort, and demand what we want when we want it. My kingdom come, my will be done. But waiting and patience are powerful teachers of many truths. This is how character and many psychological skills are developed. God knows the right timing. Bend to His timeline and your peace and growth will be unbelievable.

Today, be confident that God loves you. Examine your life to see what situation or area makes you impatient … frustrated … irritable. Make sure you are doing a good job with your part of the issue. Then accept that God has a different timeline than you do. Learn the lesson He is teaching. The situation is in your life to grow you … that is God’s purpose for all that comes into your life. He has a perfect plan for us. We (and others) just keep messing it up. His timing is always perfect because it is His timing. As Noah did, keep on “doing all that God commands.”

Prayer

Oh Father, Lord, help me honor You by trusting You and being willing to wait on You. Even though I get discouraged at times, help me remember that You are in control and that Your way is the best way. Your timing is the best timing. Help me be patient so I can show the world I am willing to wait on You, Lord. Thy kingdom come, not my kingdom come. I really don’t want to take over responsibility for the whole world, even though sometimes I act like it. I pray this and all prayers for the one who demonstrated perfect timing, Jesus Christ;  AMEN!

The Truth

I patiently waited, LORD, for you to hear my prayer. You listened and pulled me from a lonely pit full of mud and mire. You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm, and you gave me a new song, a song of praise to you. Many will see this, and they will honor and trust you, the LORD God.

Psalm 40:1-3

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

The Horror of Hell

Source:   Tom Ascol

“There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell.” So wrote the agnostic British philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1967. The idea of eternal punishment for sin, he further notes, is “a doctrine that put cruelty in the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture.”

His views are at least more consistent than religious philosopher John Hick, who refers to hell as a “grim fantasy” that is not only “morally revolting” but also “a serious perversion of the Christian Gospel.” Worse yet is theologian Clark Pinnock who, despite still regarding himself as an evangelical, dismisses hell with a rhetorical question: “How can one imagine for a moment that the God who gave His Son to die for sinners because of His great love for them would install a torture chamber somewhere in the new creation in order to subject those who reject Him to everlasting pain?”

So, what should we think of hell? Is the idea of it really responsible for all the cruelty and torture in the world? Is the doctrine of hell incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ? Hardly. In fact, the most prolific teacher of hell in the Bible is Jesus, and He spoke more about it than He did about heaven. In Matthew 25:41–46 He teaches us four truths about hell that should cause us to grieve over the prospect of anyone experiencing its horrors.

First, hell is a state of separation from God. On the day of judgment, Jesus will say to all unbelievers, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire” (v. 41). This is the same sort of language that Jesus uses elsewhere to describe the final judgment of unbelievers (see 7:23).

To be separated from God is to be separated from anything and everything good. That is hard to conceive because even the most miserable person enjoys some of God’s blessings. We breathe His air, are nourished by food that He supplies, and experience many other aspects of His common grace.

On earth even atheists enjoy the benefits of God’s goodness. But in hell, these blessings will be nonexistent. Those consigned there will remember God’s goodness, and will even have some awareness of the unending pleasures of heaven, but they will have no access to them.

This does not mean that God will be completely absent from hell. He is and will remain omnipresent (Ps. 139:7–8). To be separated from the Lord and cast into hell does not mean that a person will finally be free of God. That person will remain eternally accountable to Him. He will remain Lord over the person’s existence. But in hell, a person will be forever separated from God in His kindness, mercy, grace, and goodness. He will be consigned to deal with Him in His holy wrath.

Secondly, hell is a state of association. Jesus says that the eternal fire of hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). People were made for God. Hell was made for the Devil. Yet people who die in their sin, without Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, will spend eternity in hell with the one being who is most unlike God. It is a tragic irony that many who do not believe in the Devil in this life will wind up spending eternity being tormented with him in hell.

The third truth is that it is a state of punishment. Jesus describes it as “fire” (v. 41) and a place of “punishment” (v. 46). Hell is a place of retribution where justice is served through the payment for crimes.

The punishment must fit the crime. The misery and torment of hell point to the wickedness and seriousness of sin. Those who protest the biblical doctrine of hell as being excessive betray their inadequate comprehension of the sinfulness of sin. For sinners to be consigned to anything less than the horrors of eternal punishment would be a miscarriage of justice.

And that brings us to the fourth truth — hell is an everlasting state. Though some would like to shorten the duration of this state, Jesus’ words are very clear. He uses the same adjective to describe both punishment and life in verse 46. If hell is not eternal, neither is the new heaven and earth.

How can God exact infinite punishment for a finite sin? First, because the person against whom all sin is committed is infinite. Crimes against the infinitely holy, infinitely kind, infinitely good, and infinitely supreme Ruler of the world deserve unending punishment. In addition to that, those condemned to hell will go on sinning for eternity. There is no repentance in hell. So the punishment will continue as long as the sinning does.

The dreadfulness of hell deepens our grateful praise for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. Hell is what we deserve. And hell is what He experienced on the cross in our place.

Believing the truth about hell also motivates us to persuade people to be reconciled to God. By God’s grace those of us who are trusting Christ have been rescued from this horrible destiny. How can we love people and refuse to speak plainly to them about the realities of eternal damnation and God’s gracious provision of salvation?

Clearer visions of hell will give us greater love for both God and people.

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