Free to Love
‘…For God so Loved the World…’ (John 3, 16)
Pope Francis is in the headlines – again. He has, apparently, declared that there is no ‘hell’; arguing that, after death, the souls of unbelievers cease to exist rather than be subject to eternal punishment. While this is headline news amongst Roman Catholics, Protestant Evangelicals have been fighting over this for well over 150 years: ‘Conscious Eternal Torment’ or ‘Annihilation’. I for one gave up on the reality of a hell, post-mortem. ‘Death of Death & Hell’s Destruction’ rings in my ears every year around this time. I have a concept of hell but that is of a living hell, an immediate reality, that presents itself before us here, there and everywhere – the homeless man or woman sleeping in a shop doorway, the refugee clinging to a life raft somewhere in the Mediterranean, the child routinely abused by a parent or relative…the list is a long one – properly understood, hell is not a destination for the dead, the reality is the living hell that so many are forced to experience and for whom death will be a welcome release. A loving God cannot create Hell, a loving God has the will and the power to transform the Hell of our own making into a paradise beyond our imagining. And this is no abstraction; it earths itself @ Calvary and in our response to it.
“A dying man asked a dying man for eternal life; a man without possessions asked a poor man for a Kingdom; a thief at the door of death asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise. One would have thought a saint would have been the first soul purchased over the counter of Calvary by the red coins of Redemption, but in the Divine plan it was a thief who was the escort of the King of kings into Paradise. If Our Lord had come merely as a teacher, the thief would never have asked for forgiveness. But since the thief's request touched the reason of His coming to earth, namely, to save souls, the thief heard the immediate answer: 'I promise thee, this day thou shalt be With Me in Paradise' (Luke 23:43) It was the thief's last prayer, perhaps even his first. He knocked once, sought once, asked once, dared everything, and found everything. When even the disciples were doubting and only one was present at the Cross, the thief owned and acknowledged Him as Saviour.” (Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ)
…Stephen Hawking recently died, he left unfinished what he hoped would be his crowning achievement – the discovery of a theory that would provide an explanation for everything there is, a GUT, a ‘General Unified Theory’ – this would entail establishing a formal relationship, defined mathematically, between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, a relationship that remains, hitherto, undiscovered. Good Friday offers the world a GUT of its own – a General Unifying Theory – one that can provide an explanation for, giving meaning to, make sense of what it means to be a human being. Good Friday offers to us and to the world this: There is a God, God is Love, God has demonstrated such love in Jesus – a love that proves itself consistently in creation, sacrificially @ Calvary, victoriously in resurrection, inexhaustibly @ Pentecost, ultimately @ the time of Christ’s return in glory, supremely in the creation of the New Heaven & New Earth which is yet to be. Calvary reminds us that God loves you, me, everybody in the same way, to the same extent, with the same intensity regardless of who or what we are. There is nothing about us that can affect the love that God has for us. We cannot buy it, we cannot earn it; we may not deserve it, we cannot demand it; we cannot ignore it, we cannot deny it. We can turn our back on God, God will never turn His back on us. We can blaspheme against God, God will never take our name in vain. We may live life in ignorance of God, God knows each of us by name. We may dedicate our lives to debunking the faith of others, God will always keep faith with us. We may do all we can to make God angry, but God will always be prepared to forgive. Billy Graham @ Haringey – ‘God loves you’: ‘God loves you’, ‘God loves you’, ‘God loves you’…And that love confronts us @ Calvary: the Cross is the epicentre of the revelation of God’s love. The Cross was the inevitable outcome of God’s determination to love us because it was inevitable that those whom God would reach out to, whilst some would receive gladly; many would deny Him, reject Him, seek to dethrone Him, be determined to destroy Him. God knew what it would take and was prepared give…
“Any God who would wander into the human condition, any God who has this thirst to pursue us, had better not be too put off by pain, for that's the way we tend to treat our saviours. Any God who tries to love us had better be ready to die for it. “Any man who preaches real love is bound to beget hate.” (William H. Willimon, Thank God It's Friday: Encountering the Seven Last Words from the Cross).
But the miracle of grace that is Calvary love has it within itself the wherewithal to overcome all resistance, but to do it in such a way that chooses not to ‘fight fire with fire’ but rather to ‘put out the fire’, rather than fan the flames, to douse the flames…
“Love, not anger, brought Jesus to the cross. Golgotha came as a result of God's great desire to forgive, not His reluctance. Jesus knew that by his suffering [for us – each and all of us – everyone of us] He could actually absorb all the evil of humanity and so heal it, forgive it, redeem it.” (Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth).
‘God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.’