by Robert Schmidt
Is There a Hell?
How do the well-to-do view life after death? Do the richest of the rich go to church? Churches may indeed enjoy the largesse of their donations. Some of the wealthy may indeed be profligate in their support of good causes, charities, and non-governmental organizations serving the sick and vulnerable. But what are the percentages? Jesus also saw the wealthy making their contributions but commended the widow for giving one hundred per cent. Certainly a few good works should erase from the rich any fear of the after-life, if, indeed, there is such a thing
In a lot of Lutheran churches, hell is not mentioned much. Accenting the positive, we speak of Christ’s redeeming love, his sacrifice on the cross, the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven. But the dark side, hell, is pretty much left out of the equation. Afraid to be lumped together with those who threaten hell for gays, false theology and wrong religion, hell is pretty much left on the shelf. After all, we do not want to scare people into heaven.
Yet, a closer look at hell in the scriptures might be very instructive for evangelism. In Matthew 25, those thrown into outer darkness are the ones who did not recognize Jesus in the hungry, the thirsty, the ill clothed, the sick, and the imprisoned. The most graphic account is in the parable of the rich man, Dives, and the poor man, Lazarus. Just a drop of water would have helped the one who enjoyed all the good things of life while the poor man rested in Abraham’s bosom.
Before and during the time of the Reformation, many of the rich kings and nobles feared hell and did curb their desires not to end there. Might contemporary preaching to those of us who enjoy a life style for more comfortable than the one they enjoyed, have a similar effect? Yes, there is a hell and it is designed for those of us who enjoy the good things of life and turn our back on the vulnerable all around us.
To those seduced by the promises of capitalism, its material rewards, its political power, its elite status, hell awaits. Not only can’t we take our wealth with us, it will testify against us. Is there no hope? When Isaiah wrote, though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, he was writing to those who had no mercy on the fatherless, the poor and the widow (Isaiah 1: 17,18). As we, the rich, look into the threat of hell, the mercy of Christ for the forgiveness of sins is real good news, real Gospel. We are saved by Christ’s death and resurrection through faith in his redeeming love.
The hope of our salvation from hell is now the Zacchaeus “pivot.” Zacchaeus will now give back more than he has taken. From the forgiveness of sins comes generosity and help for those who for so long have done without. No longer will wealth use its power to protect the interests of the rich and their ideology. Now it will be devoted to aid the poor directly or work politically to level the playing field and provide both opportunity and help for the less fortunate.
Do You Have Any Hope?
This is evangelism question for Americans today! The far majority of Americans feel that the country is going in the wrong direction. The unemployed black teenager, the undocumented alien, the heroin addict, those who have quit looking for jobs, the exhausted middle class family trying to keep up, pastors with dying congregations, teachers with impossible class sizes, all are looking for some relief, some hope.
And Jesus’ “good news message” is that the promises of the coming kingdom are at hand. There is hope… not through conquest, not just winning elections. Hope comes from God and is accessed through repentance and actually believing that good things are happening and that things can get better. It is time to stop taking refuge in “original sin” to demonstrate that things will not improve. That is simple faithlessness. If we believe it, the good news of the kingdom trumps original sin every time. Like a mustard seed, the kingdom grows slowly. Like a sower throwing seed, not all of it comes up and bears grain, but it is so valuable, you can sell whatever you have to possess it. That is good news; that is evangelism.
About the Author
Robert Schmidt taught theology and international relations at Concordia University in Portland. Earlier he taught at the Lutheran Seminary in Nigeria and later served as a campus pastor. He directed the lay assistant program in the Northwest District and has lectured on lay ministry in Germany, Japan, China, Kazakhstan, and India.
This article appears in the March 2014 edition of The Daystar Journa, and was reposted with permission.