Monday, December 16, 2013

I Deserve Hell 

I deserve hell.  I deserve to be punished in torment for all eternity, suffering the most exquisite pain and horror every moment for the rest of my existence.

I know the secret thoughts I have entertained, the things I would have done if I could have gotten away with it.  What good is it if I am restrained merely by the fear of consequences?  Does that make me a good person?

I also know how affected I am by peer pressure, how much I am influenced by the standards of the culture around me.  What if I had been born the son of a plantation owner in the south in 1800?  Would I have treated Africans like property?  What if I had been a Comanche?  Would I have treated the women in the tribe as beasts of burden, and have kidnapped the women of other tribes or of white settlers to be my slave, to be tortured to death for my pleasure?  What if I had been a Mongol, or a Hun, or a Vandal?  Would I have viewed it as a credit and honor to my gods to burn the villages of people who had done me no harm?    Am I to be credited with merit in God’s eyes just because I happen to be born in a place where such things are viewed as reprehensible?

Instead, I've been born an American, with a great deal of wealth, security, and moral training at my disposal.  Thousands of years of Christianity have taught us the equality of all people in God’s eyes, that I am to treat others as I would like to be treated regardless of their race, class, tribe, or sex, that all of us are to be judged by God for how we treat others, even those who are our enemies.  I have been taught the law of God as my instruction for what a human being is supposed to be.  I have been given the tremendous example of Christ, who sacrificed Himself on behalf of those who hated and despised Him.  He prayed for the forgiveness of those who nailed Him to the cross.  He sent His Spirit through His church to me, to transform my heart and open my mind to the truth.  I have been given to a family that loved me and sacrificed for me.  I have been showered with blessing after blessing, never experiencing disease, hunger, or deprivation of any significance, and with all that blessing I can just about manage to not be completely selfish every second of the day.  What does this say about me?  What credit does it do to my moral character that I have produced such paltry results from such tremendous investment?

And if I was condemned to hell for the moral corruption and ruin of my soul, would I be improved by my experience?  Thinking back on how often I have responded to suffering with bitterness and anger, would the torments of hell make me better?  Or would I respond with more anger and bitterness, “gnashing of teeth”?  Would I ever get to a stage when I no longer deserved that punishment?

When I consider the doctrine of hell, and I struggle with the rightness of condemning someone else to that awful eternal torment, I remind myself that I don’t know anyone else’s heart.  I don’t know the true depths to which they would descend if God did not restrain them.  I can only know myself, and even that only partly.  With all the blessings God has given me, and all the restraints God has hedged me, I still see how badly I fall short of what I should be.  And in that light I see all I need to know about what I deserve.

It matters not at all whether anyone else deserves hell.  I know nothing of some hypothetical “good” bushman or Hindu who never heard the name of Christ.  I only know of myself, and what I deserve for what I am.  I can take no credit for the many ways God has held me back from being as hellishly awful as I could have been, and for the Spirit of God that is within me and remaking me.  I can only consider what I am in myself, in my own merit.  When I see the great selfishness, the lack of concern for the suffering of others, the great pride, the squandering and waste of so many good gifts,  I can only conclude that I would have done what the Vandal or the Nazi did, were I in their shoes.  The wonder is not that someone would do something so horrible, for history is full of whole civilizations that practiced such things constantly.  The wonder, the grace of God, is that any of us would do anything else.

You who do not believe in God and recoil at the doctrine of hell, I ask you- do not consider hypotheticals.  Do not construct artificial examples of kind and benevolent unbelievers and ask yourself whether they deserve hell.  Ask yourself whether you deserve hell.  Look into your own heart and ask yourself not only what you have done, but what it is that separates you from the murderers, the torturers, the kidnappers, the enslavers that have populated all of human history.  If all you can point to are things outside yourself, things you had no control over, things you did not create, then you have your answer.  You are no different.  Take away the external restraints of culture, family, education, peer pressure- that is, take away the restraint of God’s grace, and you are the same.  Even if you do not believe in God, you cannot deny that you had no control over the external circumstances under which you were born, the only thing that makes you any different from all the marauding evil men that repulse our modern enlightened society.  You are the monster that has made human history one long parade of misery and atrocity.  You deserve hell for what you are, just like I do.  And if you do not believe me, know this- God will, sometime in your life, give you an opportunity to prove just what you are- if not to the world, then at the least, to yourself.  If you will be truly honest with yourself, chances are good that this moment has already happened.

You should not be astonished that there is a hell.  You should be astonished that by the grace of God, anyone escapes it.

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