As humans, we do not know what happens after death, and as humans we have pity for those whose life on earth is utterly devoid of comfort. We are constrained on the one hand by our own ignorance, and and on the other hand by pity for those in misery, for victims of the tsunami, victims of poverty and disease.
Dave Ker writes,
Making confident assertions about the afterlife is the ignorant declaiming on the unknowable. We might hope things are a certain way, or fear they’re another but at the end of the day we stand on the wrong side of the wall trying to describe the scenery on the other side based on what we can see around us.
That’s why we need to think seldom, and speak even less, on the subject of hell. Or Sheol. Or Gehenna. Or Abraham’s bosom. Or Paradise. Or Makarios.
Later he paints this picture, evoking both our compassion and ignorance,
A woman sits on a filthy grass mat in a dark and smoky hut. She is wailing because her child has died. Ants swarm beneath the mat and she keeps brushing them off the rag that she has wrapped around her. The husband is gone. He comes back only often enough to take any money she might have earned and beat her. He infects her with AIDS during the visit. Soon she will die too. Her body will probably be wrapped in that same tattered and filthy mat and carried to the burial grounds. From the time she was a child to her death in misery she has carried wood, carried water, squatted by a stinking fire, been sexually assaulted as a child, never touched a pillow, or a bar of scented soap. She’s haunted by fears of the night. Or witchdoctors. Of evil spirits. Of curses and wild animals. My question is this: could hell be worse? When she died and found herself in a place of torment would it be that much different from her short life of misery? She has not called on the name of the Lord. She has not said the sinner’s prayer. She has not believed on the one whom she has not heard. She’s doomed. And she is not alone. This planet groans with billions like her.
I do think there is everlasting fire. The hope is a marvel. But the fire is one as God is one. There is not a fire of wrath in hot red darkness and a second fire of love too bright to look upon, but a single consuming fire and non-consuming fire that is one love. How that love works out in our lives is a complex and inexplicable thing that perhaps can only be known, like the white stone, by the one to whom it is given. This is a gift of a name worth having.Kurk and Rod blog about the famous sermon by Jonathon Edwards, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" --
So we should preach heaven and hell but not in a trivial linear
fashion. There is a place where they meet - in the death of Jesus. The fire is a consuming fire and also a fire of recreation too bright to see at once but inviting a face to face engagement. A human's mind should be better than 'its own place that makes a hell of heaven and a heaven of hell'. A single self presented as a living offering will find it becomes proven, informed, inflamed,
by the prayer of the Spirit who gives life to a mortal body. This is prayer worth being known in.