This is a loooooong and windy post. It is really almost two or three separate posts, but to me they are connected by the fact that fear of negative consequences is not why God wants us to choose Life with Him.
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear...We love, because he first loved us." 1 John 4:18-19
I was reading the story of the rich man and the beggar this morning. (Luke 16:19-31) I am always struck by the fact that the rich man still wants Lazarus (the beggar) to serve him even in death. The second thing I always ponder after reading this passage is if the rich man had truly allowed a change in his heart, instead of only expressing regret for being “caught out,”, then there would have been no chasm. (btw I don’t take this to mean a physical chasm, but a “heart-state” chasm in which the two opposing heart-attitudes cannot possibly coexist or have any meaningful exchange.) The rich man’s response indicates he is not concerned about his brothers recognizing God’s authority in their lives and receiving the Great Love that He offers but just hoping to help them avoid torment...big difference. To me this confirms he is not sorry for his sin (of ignoring the needs of others) and the pain it caused, but only sorry he is in agony…big difference. The rich man does not bow to God’s authority, submitting to His Great Love…he only acknowledges that the torment is really bad.
I love the imagery of heaven and hell in CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce. He paints a picture of choice even after death…people being willing to work toward fully receiving the Great Love of God or choosing to remain separated from this Love—but always the bus travels back and forth between the two places for its riders. One of the reasons I like this book is because it speaks of the hope of reconciliation even after physical death. I am not a Biblical Scholar by any stretch of the imagination, and I am quite sure that many could quote particular scripture to support the view that all choice ends at physical death. There is so much I do not understand, but as I read the totality of the Love Story that God’s Word is speaking to us—and the more I learn about the context in which each book was written-- I am reminded over and over that His Ways are not our ways, and that He acknowledges, in both Old Testament and New, that He speaks to us in parables and that His greatest desire is to reconcile all creation to Himself…but the choice is always ours…and He patiently (yet actively) waits. So it is not too much of a stretch for me to see the choice as continuing beyond our physical death. I picture in my mind, Jesus, greeting each person as physical life passes from their physical body…some who, by our earthly standards, did not believe or call on Him by name will immediately recognize Him and joyfully submit (voluntarily yield) and run to Him to be immersed in His Love. Some who, by our earthly standards, seem to know Him well, will be unwilling to submit (voluntarily yield) to His authority--as it truly is and not as they have determined it should be--and receive His joy.
“This life is not for the body, it is for the soul, and man too often chooses the way of life that best suits the body. Not the way that best suits the soul.” God Calling (edited by AJ Russell), June 8 entry
“…I have set before you life and death…Now chose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20
Being a good parent requires that we expect obedience from our children. Growing up, my mother always told me that parents who let their children do anything they wanted without (ever suffering negative) consequences did not really love their children. Even as a child I knew there was truth in this. Now that I am a parent myself, I get the other piece of obedience-- that part of us that desires our children’s obedience come as a response to our love for them and not as result of what they will “get” or avoid getting. Providing positive and allowing negative consequences is necessary to help children learn to make right choices and to provide a fence, of sorts, to keep them safe…but the fact that consequences are necessary to help us learn speaks to our selfish (sin) nature! LOL, I know I am not the only parent who wants to instill in my children that the decisions I make are from the standpoint of my great love for them…and they must accept that these decisions will not always make sense to them. How awesome it would be if they could accept this joyfully—perhaps a little Stepfordish, but awesome nonetheless ;-)—but I am just working toward acceptance…perhaps resignation? Children are very astute, but we know they simply do not have the capacity to adequately understand or foresee the natural consequences of much of their behavior…and none of us likes to hear the word “no.” But as parents, “no” we must say on a regular basis. I do look at ways to say “yes,” but it is sometimes hard work!
These ponderings come from my own struggle right now to parent my children in life-giving ways--ways that will provide the best foundation for a life worth living—and knowing that I will forever fall short of the mark of perfection. Heck, even though I know from experience that my greatest joy comes when I give of myself, I still act foolishly and selfishly on a regular basis. It all leaves me feeling a bit like the “blind leading the blind.” Of course, this dilemma brings me back full-circle to the fact that I still need a Parent to Parent me. I am so thankful that I have One.