Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Heaven or Hell? (Luke 16)
I am reading through and preparing for a discussion on the parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” I love this story. You can read it at the bottom of this post.
There are several things that I think are worth pointing out in this text. First, this story is a parable and parables are not factual stories, but rather, stories given to illustrate a point and a moral. Therefore, this is not a story essentially describing what the “afterlife” is going to be like, but instead a story to illustrate how important our actions “here and now” really are. For instance I do not think there are people in Hades calmly reasoning with those in Heaven, all the while, being engulfed in flames. And what the heck is a drop of water going to do? Yet I have heard many sermons preached on this text as if this is what hell is like.
So what could the parable be about if it is not describing exactly what happens to people when they die?
This story is not merely a story about the afterlife. It actually has many implications for this life we are living right now. The rich man finds himself in Hades after he dies, according to the story, not because of his theological beliefs but because he was greedy and selfish. Something Jesus seems to be pretty passionate about. (An earlier parable describes God killing a man because of his greed.)
The man, who lived every day in luxury, chose to leave the beggar, Lazarus, suffering right outside the gate of his estate. In other words, the rich man chose to leave Lazarus in Hell while he lived comfortably with plenty.
When we read of the rich man in Hades we find him living the exact same way he was living his life on earth. He says to Father Abraham, “Send Lazarus to fetch me some water.” and later he says again, “Send Lazarus to warn my brothers about this place.” The rich man still views Lazarus as a servant even while he is in Hell.
Then we find out that the reason Lazarus can not fulfill these tasks is that there is a “great chasm” between them and the rich man so that no one in hell can get to heaven and apparently no one in heaven can get to hell. (I wonder how big of a problem that really is?)
What is this chasm? During the rich mans life he lived behind a gate which separated himself from others, such as Lazarus, and now in hell, we see that the separation still exist. The chasm exist in the mans heart. Its who he was and is. He lived his life separating himself from Lazarus and now he is living the same way in the afterlife.
Is it that we only view heaven and hell as places that people will eventually get to in the future or do we see them as Jesus did, present realities?
We are presented with this choice between heaven and hell each day of our lives. Are we choosing to bring heaven or hell to those around us?
19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
30 " 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'