Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Learning About God throught the Reality of Hell, Part Two

There is something oddly compelling about tragedy. If I asked you to name the most famous Shakespearean play, odds are that you would not name The Taming of the Shrew. Most likely, you would name Romeo and Juliet. The former had a happy ending, the latter ended most tragically. Was the Taming of the Shrew not as well written? I do not believe that to be the case. I believe our interest in the tragic better explains this phenomena. Why else did people go to see Leonardo DiCaprio drown again and again on the doomed Titanic? From the Greek tragedies to Othello to Leaving Las Vegas, the continual popularity of the sad ending indicates that, for some reason, we are somehow fascinated by loss.

Seeing such movies or reading such books always leaves me feeling hollow inside. Good tragedy leaves me with a longing quite unlike any other genre. We feel for these characters, even when they get what they deserve. And yet, if the story had ended differently, if Romeo and Juliet had pulled off their romance and reconciled warring families, would the story have been as compelling? Would it have been as real?

This is the same sort of hollow, odd feeling that I am left with as I contemplate hell. I recognize that those who are sentenced to that place will get only that which they deserve. We are, after all, more like Iago than Othello. I also know that I, if cast in one of Shakespeare's plays, deserve the role of the villain. It is this fact that compels me to preach the gospel as a debtor, as one plucked from the fire, hoping and knowing that all stories will not end in tragedy, knowing that grace will enlighten some before death ends their tale.

I confess that I cannot fully pierce the mystery of hell nor the mind of God in preparing it. I understand that all who go there deserve the misery that they will endure. I know that I will someday look upon those in torment and will agree that God is just for consigning them to that awful place. I will see His glory in it. But how will I feel that day as I see this scene? How will I feel on the day when I see justice meeted out and feel the overwhelming relief of grace that will flood my soul? How will I understand God the Just and God the Merciful when I see His raw power and fury displayed? I am reminded of these words when I contemplate these things:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory
(Romans 9:22-23).

For now, I can see neither the full hideousness of man's rebellion nor the depth of the unmerited grace of God. One because I cannot fathom grace because of my own sinfulness, and second because I believe it is a mercy for me from seeing the dredges of wickedeness to keep me from despair.

I understand theologically that on the great day of judgement, when we see the wrath of God revealed against unrighteousness, when we see the prayers of the saints answered with regard to their cry for justice and vengeance, we will rejoice to see God act. I also understand that as I see this and tremble, that I must ask, "Lord, why not me? Why was I spared?" The only answer I will have is this, "Grace."

1 comment:

brother terry said...

You say it right when you say we cannot fathom Grace. As overwhelmed as I am by the power and depth of Grace, I realize that because I cannot comprehend the infinite, I am only scratching the surface.

Scratching the surface gives us an incomplete picture that easily leads to a misunderstanding of God's Grace and His Justice.

Thank God that on the day when we see His judgment meted out, we will have the advantage of greater knowledge and understanding of His ways.