Is it time to talk more about hell?
One sermon, please—hold the winsome
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My chocolate Lab, Riggs, is an excellent student of other dogs’ behavior. With his penetrating gaze and perpetually seesawing eyebrows, it’s easy to see he’s not just watching … he’s studying.
For example, Riggs taught himself to speak. That was a few years ago, when we adopted Treasure, a perfectly trained 2-year-old black Lab, from Canine Companions for Independence. At the time, Riggs knew a couple of dozen commands, but we didn’t teach him “speak,” considering it a useless party trick. But well-trained service dogs do learn “speak,” in part so they can alert humans when their own human needs help.
One day after we brought Treasure home, I was putting her through her paces, rewarding her obedience behaviors with treats. Riggs sat observing from the other side of a dog gate. He squinted Yoda-like, eyebrows seesawing.
“Treasure, speak!” I said, and when she dutifully barked, I gave her a treat.
Whereupon Riggs lowered both eyebrows and glared at me: The new girl gets a treat for that? Immediately, he started clipping off single barks until I walked over and treated him, too.
Like Riggs, people also tend to imitate pack behavior. And today, the culture is making it painful to refuse to do so. For example, WORLD’s Juliana Chan Erikson reported this week in her “Relations” newsletter about Amy Hamm, a Canadian nurse now on trial for believing—and expressing!—that biological sex is real.
Fie! nursing regulators told Hamm as they threatened to revoke her license: There’s “no debate” in Canada over whether a man can become a woman! I’m sure authorities believe themselves to be cutting-edge progressives when they are in fact acting out a very old story: “The rulers take counsel together, against the LORD … saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’” (Psalm 2:2-3).
When the debate over morality has turned into a fight for reality, it does not feel alarmist to compare the headlines with Paul’s and Peter’s lists of what Last Days people will be like (2 Timothy 3:1-4; 2 Peter 2). Or to entertain the possibility that humanity is not only hellbound but picking up speed.
Given the signs of the times, which are red and threatening (Matthew 16:3), amping up our “winsome” and being “culturally relevant” feel to me un-Biblically bereft. Churchy bromides such as “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” smack of triviality, like so many dog treats for the damned.
How many recalcitrant toddlers and teens are transformed by sweet talk alone? How many addicts are ushered gently into sobriety? Hardly any and nearly none. On the contrary, Scripture admonishes us not to withhold discipline from wayward children (Proverbs 23:13). And addicts of all stripes usually endure blow after blow before reaching the end of themselves (Proverbs 23:21).
From that bottom, there is only one way to look: up. Some days, I find myself wishing the Rev. Jonathan Edwards were still here to tell us so in no uncertain terms. Perhaps he could reappear, like transfigured Moses and Elijah, but on YouTube, reprising his 1741 hit sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
“That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you! There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God! There is Hell’s wide gaping mouth open, and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of! … ’Tis only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up!”
Have I become a curmudgeon? Will I next be yelling at the neighborhood kids, “Get off my lawn!” I hope instead that I’m being compassionate. Some form of judge or judgment appears in the Bible more than 350 times. And yet Scripture says we are a stiff-necked bunch, blinded with maladies ranging from complacency to wickedness. Perhaps it is time to replace winsomeness with warnings—about one possible eternity that is infinitely harder than our own hearts.
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