Bad Boys, Bad Boys Whatcha Gonna Do?
"The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones."
- William Shakespeare
Sin is a bad idea.
Of course, the definition of morality is different for every person, and after Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, pretty much everything was labeled by Him as a sin.
According to His startling revelation that day ("You have heard it said, but I SAY..."), if you hate your brother, you are a murderer. If you fantasize about committing adultery it's exactly the same thing as actually going through with it. If you call your brother "raca" (the equivalent of calling him a faggot) you should be brought before the Council. And if you call him a fool you are in danger of the fires of Gehenna (traditionalists say hell). Also, if you commit any of these type sins, you should dismember yourself ("If your hand offends you, cut it off...if your eye offends you, gouge it out"...).
And you thought Moses was hard.
Of course, Jesus' intention in this sermon was to show the futility of the Law, and to leave us no alternative but to lose ourselves in His righteousness...to recognize that we are crucified and risen with Him...to reckon ourselves to be "IN CHRIST", so that we could return to God's original desire for His creation to walk in a"Tree of Life" paradigm, as opposed to that of the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil".
Still, the Scriptures say that the wages of sin is death.
...that the way of the transgressor is hard.
...that they who sow to the flesh will of the flesh reap corruption.
And righteousness, holiness, uprightness...however you may define them...are things to which you should aspire.
And integrity is important.
And character, goodness, virtue, ethics, principles, and standards are all desirable things.
And criminals should pay their debt to society.
And people should be held responsible for their actions.
And you should always try to do the right thing, even when other people don't.
To me, saying all this is stating the obvious, but there are those who apparently think that when you preach the triumph of the cross over sin, or the restitution of all things...when you proclaim that the Lamb of God took away the sin of the world...that you are somehow giving license to people to live reckless, immoral, undisciplined, ungodly lives with no repercussions for the bad things they may do.
I mean...why not? You have told them that in the end they will all be reconciled to God, no matter what, because of what Jesus did on the cross, so it's not about their righteousness, anyway, right? Their righteousness is "as filthy rags", and therefore they shouldn’t even bother with pointless attempts at discipline or self-control...shouldn't waste their time trying to live a holy or moral existence at all. Everyone is in Christ, so everyone should just have a free-for-all of sin and degradation, all day long, every day. Their lifestyle should just be one big orgy of decadence and excess and hedonism and the satisfying of the lust of the flesh and the seeking of pleasure with absolutely no boundaries
I'm really making an effort to avoid sarcasm here...well, at least I was before that last paragraph...but honestly that's what a lot of people must think I believe and preach. When some hear that you don't believe in the existence of a literal, burning hell in the center of the earth, they somehow assume you have no moral compass, whatsoever.
And if they don't think that, totally, just try admitting publicly to them that, even though you have loved and served God your entire life, that all that time you've had same-sex attraction.
That'll do it.
You may preach a message of reconciliation that is simply and sincerely celebrating Jesus' finished work on the cross...the declaring of the evangel, or the GOOD NEWS...but what they hear you saying is something like, "Be sure to do some crystal meth with a prostitute before you knock over that 7 11 store tonight!"
Oops. There goes the sarcasm again.
But I do get asked this question a lot: "Can you just do anything (bad) that you want and still be saved?"
Of course, if you force me into a simple yes or no answer to that question, I would have to say yes...Paul said, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are good for me".
Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds.
But, seriously, you may ask...what about pedophiles?
And satan worshippers?
And serial killers?
And Democrats? (sorry...more sarcasm in honor of all those who have sent me YouTube videos declaring that President Obama is the anti-christ...)
But the Big Question is always the classic "Universalist" challenge:
"Do you think that Hitler is in heaven?"
Of course, that question ultimately comes from the paradigm created by having eaten from the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" as opposed to the mindset that comes from the more optimal "Tree of Life"...in other words, as Paul said, to be carnally-minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace..."...
People who are spiritually minded hear the message of reconciliation and think about how wonderful Jesus is.
People who are carnally minded hear the same message and want to know what's going to happen to Hitler.
I especially hate the Hitler question because it takes the emphasis off of the finished work of Christ, and puts it on the horrible actions of a deranged maniac. And, certainly, the idea of seeing Hitler (or others of his ilk) happily walking down streets of gold in heaven with Moses and Elijah or David is completely unthinkable to anyone with a sense of sanity or morality.
But so is the thought of someones sweet little grandma being sent to an eternity in hell with Hitler because she didn't pray the right prayer before she died, which is what some of these type people believe. I've even heard a televangelist preach that Mother Teresa and Gandhi are in hell because they weren't "saved" according to what he believed was necessary for salvation.
I'm thinking if Mother Teresa's not in heaven, there's probably not any reason to assume that any of us will be.
It's a Puzzlement
Look, I don't have all the answers as to how things like what to do with Hitler get worked out in eternity, I just try to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
That being said, it’s always interesting to me to observe how even people who believe in the triumph of the cross generally believe that the "really, really, really" bad people should be at least held more accountable, if not somewhat punished for their deeds. It’s a normal response to trying to get your head around some of the horrible acts that are committed every day by people in this world. Regardless of the fact that James said that if you are guilty in one point, you are guilty in them all, the sins of some people just naturally seem worse to us than the sins of others.
In eastern religions there is the concept of karma (basically what goes around comes around), to help people deal with the ramifications of evil. And reincarnation, which is based on the idea that if you do really bad stuff, you’ll come back in another life as something really disgusting.
But western Christians have the concept of hell to help them psychologically deal with the need for justice to be served in cases of unspeakable wickedness.
Most of our western concepts of hell, especially the notion that there are degrees of punishment there, come from The Divine Comedy, better known as Dante’s Inferno written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321. Seen as one of the greatest works of world literature, the poem's imaginative vision of the Christian afterlife is a culmination of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church over the centuries, and is much more responsible for shaping our ideas of eternal punishment than is the Bible.
I have read the transcripts from the murder trial of a diabolical man who intentionally ran over three little kids in a McDonald’s parking lot around the corner from my house on a Saturday morning a few years ago. In the document were the recorded words of the mother whose three year old daughter was killed in the incident. She spoke directly to the man who had brutally snuffed out the life of her baby girl just days before her third birthday (laughing while he did it, by the way), and said to him that the Bible says that there is a "hottest place in hell" reserved for him, and that she was going to laugh while she watched God throw him into it.
Now, I know that the Bible doesn’t say anything like that, and you know what I believe about ultimate reconciliation, but, as a parent, or just as a person who can’t make sense of that kind of evil, I completely understood why she said that, and in some secret place in my heart or brain I hoped that she was right!
In other words, what I know by the spirit doesn’t always jibe with what I feel emotionally, and if that were my little girl who was killed, I probably would have said the same thing, or worse!
In all honesty, I also really don’t think that I could ever forgive the man, nor would I even attempt to…only the "hottest place in hell" idea would give me some sense of psychological relief in the matter.
"You Can't Handle the Truth!"
But let’s look at some literal interpretations of the Scriptures which define the conventional Christian ideas concerning who should really go to hell, which are generally taken out of context (and I’m using the King James Version to make my point because it sounds more profound and scarier).
First of all, the dividing of the sheep from the goats mentioned in Matthew 25 is about compassion, philanthropy, and sensitivity to the needs of others…not about "sin" as we think of it.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. (Matthew 25:41-43)
The "goats" in the parable are sent into the "fire", not because they were mass murderers or serial killers or sexual deviants, but because they didn’t feed the hungry or clothe the naked or visit the prisoners. And yet we all know Christians who have never once entered a jail or prison to visit the incarcerated, and have never once helped a homeless person in any way. But if you asked them if Hitler is in hell (or if the man I mentioned earlier is going there) they would more than likely say a definite "yes", oblivious to the fact that Jesus said they were also going to hell!
Then in Luke 17, the rich man went to "hell" because he was rich, not because he committed any heinous acts (other than refusing to feed a homeless man). And Lazarus went to "heaven" (or Abraham’s bosom), not because he prayed the "Sinner’s Prayer" or confessed Romans 10:9, 10, but because he was poor:
But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. (Luke 16:25)
Have you ever heard a preacher preach that all the indifferent rich were going to hell, and all the suffering poor were going to heaven?
But that's what Jesus said, is it not?
So let me get this straight…Hitler is in hell because he committed genocide, Jeffry Dahmer is in hell because he was a murderous cannibal, John Lennon is in hell because he wrote "Imagine", and the man who ran over those children is going to the "hottest place" there because of what he did…and yet Jesus said that calling someone an idiot or a fool is grounds for eternal punishment (according to conventional interpretation of Scripture).
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:22)
And do you know anyone who is afraid of anything? Well, apparently they’re going to hell, too, right along with the serial killers and perverts:
But the fearful…and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
Thank God, Jesus was speaking metaphorically in each of these parables. With the sheep and goats analogy he was talking about people who are indifferent to the suffering of others who will have to go through a fiery trial sent to burn out their pride, and force them to become empathetic and compassionate with those less fortunate. As I said, 1st century audiences would have understood what he was talking about.
And they knew where Gehenna was, so the idea of reaping what you sow was not confused in their minds with the fear of eternal damnation.
If you read John's Revelation in context, you see that The Lake of Fire is actually the purging of a merciful God…everything in His vision is symbolic...a crystal sea, a seven-headed dragon, a sun-clothed woman, a lake of fire, etc.
Compare John’s revelation of it with that of Paul:
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is [already] laid, which is Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). But if anyone builds upon the Foundation, whether it be with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, The work of each [one] will become [plainly, openly] known (shown for what it is); for the day [of Christ] will disclose and declare it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test and critically appraise the character and worth of the work each person has done. If the work which any person has built on this Foundation [any product of his efforts whatever] survives [this test], he will get his reward. But if any person's work is burned up [under the test], he will suffer the loss [of it all, losing his reward], though he himself will be saved, but only as [one who has passed] through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15 – Amplified Bible)It’s hard to understand with the natural mind declarations like "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy" or "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first".
God’s ways really are higher than ours.
But think about this…what if you had never heard of Adam, or the Fall of Man, and someone told you that the behavior of just one man brought death and condemnation upon all of humanity.
You might ask, "What in the world did he do to bring about such a horrible condition?
Did he kill millions of people?
Was he a pedophile?
Did he own slaves and lynch innocent people?
Was he a serial rapist?
Did he torture people and ruin people’s lives?
And the answer would be, "No, he just ate a piece of fruit."
So......how do we deal with all of this? If you live in a very black and white world where you are absolute in your ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, it's easy. Just don't read the Bible a lot because it will disorient you in your polarization of what is right vs. wrong. I'll deal with some of that in the next chapter.
For me, the answer is in "working out my own salvation with fear and trembling", "owing no man anything but to love him", and basically just letting God be God.
My morality may not be yours (I was taught as a child that all cigarette smokers go to hell when they die)...and yours may not be mine.
If you take on living your own life, and spend your time trying to please God by becoming the best you that you can be, you won't really have time to deal with what's going on with the goodness or badness of other people.
Or even have an opinion about it.