Tag Archives: Hellfire

The Inflection Point of Kindness

The Inflection Point of Kindness (CaD Gen 8) Wayfarer

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark…
Genesis 8:1 (NIV)

Every spring, our small town has a Tulip Festival that attracts huge crowds that wander our quaint public square. The crowds bring out a certain brand of street preachers who will stand in crowded areas and loudly proclaim their brand of hellfire, condemnation, and judgment on all of us sinners.

The modern-day, would-be prophets always bring out a mixture of anger and sadness in me. The anger comes from the fact that they give individuals who aren’t followers of Jesus a skewed mental picture of who Jesus is and what His Message is all about. The sadness is for the hearts of these misguided prophets themselves who, judging by their hatred and vitriol, have truly not come to grips with their own sinfulness nor have they experienced God’s amazing grace themselves.

In yesterday’s post/podcast, I observed the parallel between the destructive flood of Noah and the redemptive metaphor of baptism. Because we’re in the beginning of the Great Story, the journey through Genesis is chock full of the first appearances of themes that foreshadow the chapters yet to come. Today’s chapter is an inflection point in the story of Noah which shifts the narrative from destruction to redemption. It begins with the very first verse of today’s chapter that I highlighted at the top of the post.

The Hebrew word for “remembered” (as in, “God remembered Noah”) is zākar. It means more than just the “A ha!” remembering or bringing to mind that the word “remembered” conjures in English. Zākar is layered with the notions of fondness, honor, worthiness, and active consideration. It’s a loving-kindness type of remembrance that motivates action. This is a stark contrast to the judgment and regret that has described God’s mood to this point in the Noah story.

What follows is the account of the end of the flood, but what is lost on most modern readers is the hidden parallel to the original creation story in chapter 1. What’s more, there are seven parallels just as there were seven days in creation.

  • 8:2 mentions the waters above and below, just like 1:7.
  • 8.5 mentions the ground appearing, just like 1:9.
  • 8:7 mentions birds flying above, just like 1:20.
  • 8:17 mentions the animals, just like 1:25.
  • 9:1 says, “Be fruitful and multiply,” just like 1:28a.
  • 9:2 mentions humanity’s dominion over creation, just like 1:28b.
  • 9:3 mentions God’s giving of plants/animals for food, just like 1:30.

Now we have a new theme emerging which will be vitally important in the Great Story, all the way until the very end. It’s a variation on the theme of order>chaos>reorder introduced two chapters ago:

Creation —> Destruction —> Re-creation

We see this theme in Jesus’ proclamation “I’m going to destroy this Temple and rebuild it in three days!” We will see this theme at the very end of the Great Story in Revelation when the old heaven and earth pass away and a new heaven and earth are created. And, we see it in the lives of those who follow Jesus, as Paul describes in his letter to Jesus’ followers in the city of Corinth:

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.
2 Cor 5:16-18 (MSG)

From the very beginning of the Great Story, God introduces and foreshadows the grand theme in light of humanity’s sin: reorder, redemption, new creation.

In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to the street preachers spewing their condemnation at Tulip Time. I’m reminded of Romans 2:4 which says it is God’s kindness that leads to repentance, not hatred, anger, judgment, condemnation, or damnation. I’ve experienced my own spiritual inflection point when I realized that my sin was heinous as the worst of sinners but Jesus remembered (zākar) me and His loving-kindness extended grace, mercy, and forgiveness. That shifted my own story to one of redemption.

May I always “remember” others the same way.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Way of Love

…walk in the way of love…
Ephesians 5:2 (NIV)

This past weekend was Pella’s annual Tulip Time festival. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Wendy and I spent the weekend volunteering as did most everyone else we know. Our town was packed with thousands of tourists and visitors, and that always brings out all sorts of interesting people and groups. There were news crews from all over, a crew shooting a movie, a counterfeiter trying to pass fake twenties to various street vendors, and street preachers  screaming hellfire and brimstone through their little powered speakers.

I was at a meeting last night with several of my fellow Jesus followers from here in town. I found it interesting that no mention was made of the news crews, the movie crew shooting in the crowd, or the man arrested for counterfeiting. It was the street preachers that inspired conversation.

As I listened to people share, I found that others experienced the same frustration I did as I passed by and heard the street preacher’s rhetoric. They were preaching condemnation and judgement. It was all fear and accusation. Someone from my group shared that they had attempted to engage the preacher and ask about his approach. “Everyone knows about Jesus’ love,” he was reported to have replied. “What they don’t know is the fear of judgement.”

Along my life journey I have found just the opposite to be true. While there are exceptions to every general rule, I’ve observed that most people judge and condemn themselves, or else they have acutely experienced the judgement and condemnation of others. Often, they are judged and condemned by individuals who are supposed to love them the most, such as a parent, a sibling, or a close relative.

I’ve also observed that most people don’t know really know and experience Jesus’ love in its gracious, unconditional form. I believe a large number of Jesus’ followers walk the way of religious, transactional merit. Good behavior is rewarded with blessing and bad behavior exacts a curse, and they’re just hoping the scales tip the right way in the end.

Last night’s conversation ended with a story from a friend who shared that they had heard personally of a suicidal adult who was quite literally at the point of deciding one day that instead of ending it all they would visit Tulip Time. That day a sweet, smiling young child in a dutch costume walked up and gave them a tulip. That simple act of kindness set this person on the path of life change (i.e. repentance) which led to the way of love, redemption, and restoration.

As I read this morning’s chapter it struck me that Paul did not say we should walk this life journey on the way of holiness, the way of purity, the way of religion, the way of judgment, the way of condemnation, or the way of fear. To be sure, things like holiness, purity, and obedience are good things asked of all Jesus’ followers. However, Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that it is the activating ingredient of love that makes any of those things worthwhile. Without the activating ingredient of love, those things become spiritually worthless.

I’m also reminded this morning of another thing Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, that it is “kindness that leads to repentance.” The hellfire and brimstone street preachers must have missed that part.

I’m glad to know that a little child in a Dutch costume got it right.

“No Peace for the Wicked”

“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”
Isaiah 48:22 (NIV)

I am intrigued by words and common phrases. Where do familiar phrases come from? How do they change over time?

When I read the final verse of today’s chapter I suddenly had memories of my Grandma Golly and Grandpa Speck. I could hear them with my memory’s ears muttering the words, “No rest for the wicked!” They would say it when they were busy and had too much to do. Notice that they changed the word “peace” with “rest.” As they referenced it, I always took it as a reference to the theological concept of original sin. In the Garden of Eden God punishes Adam’s sin by condemning humanity to toiling for our food:

To Adam [God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.

This got my curiosity going and prompted a little research safari online. I found it interesting that some of the more popular online sites for the origin of phrases interpreted the phrase “No peace for the wicked” as a Biblical reference to the hell-fire and brimstone awaiting sinners. Wow, I’ve gone from original sin to eternal hell-fire and brimstone.

So what exactly was Isaiah getting at?

First of all, the Hebrew word interpreted “peace” in this verse (and paraphrased “rest” by my grandparents and others) is the Hebrew word shalom – which is commonly translated into the English word “peace” has a broad definition of peace that also includes tranquility, wholeness, and welfare. It is an overall positive sense of well-being. It makes sense, therefore, that our Hebrew friends use the word like “Aloha” is used by our island friends. It is used for both “hello” and “good-bye.” It is a wish of well-being both in your coming and going.

Earlier in today’s chapter God through the prophet Isaiah speaks to the Hebrew people taken in exile to Babylon. He promises their return and homecoming from captivity, then says,

If only you had paid attention to my commands,
    your peace would have been like a river,
    your well-being like the waves of the sea.

No shalom for the wicked,” is no reference to eternal hell-fire and brimstone. It’s not a direct reference to original sin. It is a loving parent speaking to wayward children being welcomed back into a loving embrace. It’s dad reiterating the moral of the story. It’s mother’s reminder after scolding: “Listen carefully, my dear child. When you don’t pay attention and are disobedient, then the natural consequences lead away from wholeness, tranquility, well-being and peace.”

And, that’s a good lesson. That’s a lesson this grown-up child needs to be reminded of on a regular basis.

Needed: A Good Samaritan in a Hell-Fire and Brimstone World

An illustration of the Parable of the Good Sam...
An illustration of the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Rossano Gospels, believed to be the oldest surviving illustrated New Testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Such is the fate God allots the wicked,
the heritage appointed for them by God.”
Job 20:29 (NIV)

Zophar now responds to job, and there is a subtle yet major twist to the rhetoric. Up to this point, the three amigos have been making the case that, in this life, the righteous are blessed and the wicked suffer. Job continues to argue that he has done nothing to deserve the calamities he is suffering.

Zophar now expands the rhetoric and introduces the theme of death into the mix:

Though the pride of the godless person reaches to the heavens
    and his head touches the clouds,
he will perish forever, like his own dung;
    those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’
Like a dream he flies away, no more to be found,
    banished like a vision of the night.
The eye that saw him will not see him again;
    his place will look on him no more.
His children must make amends to the poor;
    his own hands must give back his wealth.
The youthful vigor that fills his bones
    will lie with him in the dust.

Their appeals are clearly not working, and the self-righteous trio are hell-bent on satiating their judgmental blood-lust. Zophar decides on escalate things to another level. It’s time to pull out the big guns. He brings out a little hell-fire and brimstone from the rhetorical arsenal to convince Job to repent before he dies and returns to the dust and remembered no more.

http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf

I remember seeing a story on CBS Sunday Morning several weeks ago (the show is part of the Sunday morning ritual for Wendy and me) exploring our concepts of heaven and hell. They interviewed an old hellfire and brimstone preacher and included a clip of his fear inducing rants from the pulpit. It seems to me he must be a spiritual descendant of Zophar. I sometimes have a hard time reconciling the appeal to fear with the example of Jesus who said He didn’t come to condemn, but to save. At the same time, even Jesus was known to utter a stern warning now and then, and I have come to realize along the journey that God uses all sorts of messengers and messages to reach the ears of His lost children.

Today, I am thinking about Zophar and his friends, who seem more concerned with proving themselves right than about loving, comforting, and easing Job’s pain. It’s as if their spiritual world view carries more importance than a simple act of kindness. They seem like the good religious folks who passed by the mugging victim in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It wasn’t the righteous, religious folks who acted in accordance with the heart of God, but the unrighteous, on-his-way-to-hell-in-a-handbasket bloke from the other side of the tracks in Samaria who simply acted with compassion and kindness.

Job needs a Samaritan. So do a lot of other hurting people. That’s who I want to be.