What about hell? A personal reflection from John on this morning’s Bible passage
A personal view from John
Just thinking about the passage we were looking at the morning – you’ll remember Duncan asked us each to reflect on the things which stood out for us. At the heart of the passage from Mathew 10 are these words, spoken by Jesus sending out his disciples to share and embody the good news, alerting them to the opposition they faced:
26 ‘Do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
The ‘elephant in the room’ here is the fact that in the middle of this passage where Jesus is encouraging his disciples not to be afraid, and to trust in a Father who loves, values and cares for them, he should give the warning in verse 28 about ‘the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ It seems really strange.
Different folks in the church will probably have different ways of understanding this. This is not the place for theological debate. But I’m just conscious that some of us older folk may have memories of sermons on hell and damnation which, can still haunt us so that fear can overwhelm our sense of being loved.
God is love, and that means that all God’s actions are an expression of love. Clearly, if people have set their hearts against goodness and light, and truth and Jesus himself they may experience the love of God as the flames of hardship and consequences through which God seeks to refine us, and restore us and redeem us.
But if in our hearts we long for more of the God we have tasted; if we want be followers of Jesus; if we choose on our better days to live and embody the truth of the gospel, then we need not fear. God is our Father, God knows our hearts, God cares for us. The challenge for us is to rest in the Great Love, the Love which casts out fear.
15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:15-18)
But, you say, ‘How can I rest secure in that love when it seems that the terrible possibility of exclusion hangs over us all?’ Well, it is God who prompts us to open our hearts to God. God in divine grace wants us to be friends of God. We are found by the love of God, a love from which nothing can ever separate us, a love in which we are secure.
‘But what about other people? Does God not love them too?’ I believe the same passionate, life-giving God loves every human being, and invites each of us to say ‘yes’ to goodness, and to Jesus. And God persists in showing divine love, and calling us to home, seeking to melt our hearts, more gracious than we could ever be. There is no-one whom God cannot forgive.
And my hope is, reading those passages about Jesus which emphasise Jesus integrating and bringing together all things, for example Colossians 1:19-20 – For or God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross – my hope is that in the end we will discover that hell is empty, and that all have been finally persuaded by the grace and love of the Father of all mankind.