God’s Own Comfort

I’ve had to wish many friends and acquaintances the blessing of God’s own comfort in the past few weeks, due to all kinds of losses: of love, of job, of health, of loved ones. I believe He extends it, and if I didn’t believe, I wouldn’t bother to pray for it. Sometimes, however, the need for that blessing comes so thick and fast and frequently that you wonder why … why do I have to ask; why isn’t it just there; why is there all this pain and loss and emptiness, and why is God not intervening to help?

Job-by-BonnatBecause of a friend losing her father this week, I’ve returned once again to the puzzling biblical book of Job and the man who dares to ask why.

When a parent or spouse or child or other loved one dies, you want to shout questions at the One who could have prevented it, and if you are bold enough you do.

That part of the book is no puzzle; Job speaks his questions and accusations at God. The puzzle is why God answers.

He doesn’t, usually, you know.

But He believed in Job, and He must have believed that Job deserved some kind of answers.

What He gave Job weren’t answers, but more questions.

And I think I have always read His answers from chapter 38 on as if He were shouting them (maybe even angrily at being accused); after all, the scripture says, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm.” He would have had to shout over a storm to be heard, right?

Well, come to think of it, not if He’s God.

He could be whispering these responses and still be heard … maybe just because He is that close to Job and his friends.

Re-reading the responses, it occurs to me that anyone but God shouting them angrily would sound ultimately arrogant. In fact, maybe even God would. Was that His response to Job’s questions? Anger? Shouting? An attempt to beat down Job even further into the ground? Wasn’t this the Job He believed in when the Accuser wagered that he would recant all faith? Aren’t these legitimate questions?

I’ve had to re-think what I imagined. I now have to wonder if God spoke this responses tenderly, quietly, with reassurance and comfort to the man who had just lost almost everything … the one man He could bring up as a test case before the Accuser and be certain of winning a wager.

Think of all the questions God posed to Job; more questions for which Job had no answer; more questions than Job had even thought to ask. Out of all the questions he had thrown at his Creator, Job essentially chose the one: “WHY?”

And God’s response, first of all, was (in essence): “Job, you can ask all the questions you want, but that doesn’t mean you can understand the answers.”

Secondly: “But I can.”

I have to wonder if God lovingly, broken-heartedly came close to Job to reassure him that the universe was still in good hands. That bankruptcy and destruction and death happen, but that God is still in control. That he is not forgotten or unimportant or unloved in this world where sin can make life miserable.

So I believe the third thing God is telling Job through these questions is: “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

He doesn’t say it right out. He lets Job draw those conclusions himself, because He knows Job can and He knows Job will.

Just as He knows that Job will pray for the friends who have made his life even more miserable with their own accusations against him.

Job, like David, is a man after God’s own heart.

Maybe because, deep down, when everything and everyone else is stripped away, God is a god after Job’s own heart … and Job knows that.

I had to tell my friend this week that I wish I had answers to questions of why, but that I was afraid the answers would be no comfort.

Because if they were, God would have given them to Job.

Shoes

For the current edition of Wineskins, I wrote this little ditty to explore some of the reasons why we have difficulty “Navigating Change” (the theme of this edition).

Comfy ShoesI like to go to church now and then
To hear I’m doing right is good news
I dress up so I do not offend
and wear my old, soft, comft’rble shoes.

I want my old soft comft’rble shoes
to tap my feet to gospel-and-blues
Church is a holy place
You’re there by walking, not grace
So wear your old, soft comft’rble shoes.

The Bible’s so convenient for me
It authorizes all the right “do’s”
And if you do a “don’t,” don’t you see,
You won’t have golden slippers for shoes.

I need my old, soft, comft’rble shoes
To walk the old paths that I choose
If I like ‘em, they’re hot
If I don’t like ‘em, they’re not
Authorized by comft’rble truths (I meant “shoes”!).

Repentance is a wonderful thing
For folks who need to leave behind sin
with faith, confessing and baptizing …
I’m glad I’ll never need it again.

I love my old soft comft’rble shoes
to tap my feet to gospel-and-blues
I changed that once for Him
So I don’t have to again
Won’t change my old, soft, comft’rble shoes.

Now worship is a serious time
A little joy but not too much happiness
If you do it right, it is sublime
If you do more or less, you’re in a mess.

I’ve got my old soft comft’rble shoes
to tap my feet to gospel-and-blues
Don’t need no podium plants
Don’t need no spiritual dance
Don’t want to see raised hands
Don’t want to hear praise bands
Don’t need no grace-filled rants
Don’t need no women in pants
Just a cappella songs
And hearing “We’re right; they’re wrong”s
And wearing old, soft, comft’rble shoes.

I hope you’ll honor my last request
When you put me down for the big snooze
Just dress me up like all of the rest
And put me in my old comft’rble shoes.

I want my old soft comft’rble shoes
to rest my feet to gospel-and-blues
So when it’s time to fly
into that sweet by-and-by

just-give-me-my

old,

soft,

comft’rble

shoes.

A Heritage of Disdain

I probably shouldn’t pour this out here or now. After an all-day headache that’s devolving into a sore throat, I’m tired and miserable. I delivered the lesson at my church today anyway — like so many preachers at small churches, I have no backup plan for waking up sick.

It wasn’t an easy lesson, and with out-of-town guests, it wasn’t a completely easy audience.

Tonight I thought I’d relax and read a while in a 1918 book edited by my great-great grandfather Alfred Ellmore, “Sermons and Sayings,” including some of each by himself and many of his Restoration Movement contemporaries. Among the authors are names I have long heard regarded as spiritual giants.

And now I’m a little sick to my stomach andAlfred Ellmore, my Great-Great Grandfather depressed, too.

Since I’m not the student of the Restoration that many others are, I didn’t realize that its sectarianism went back this far, and obviously farther from the advanced stage of it evident among the authors. I thought that was a development of the 1950s or so; a mere 60 years ago rather than 100 or more.

The sermons and essays are eloquent beyond measure, from a time when erudition was actually valued and respected. Within them are often magnificent truths. And just as frequently, they contain lapses of logic and prejudices that go beyond the pale.

Even in written form, the arrogance of snide remarks about people of other faiths is too evident. In this style of expression, there is no giving an inch; no recognition of common faith in a common Lord or even just a sense of morality. The mode is always attack, belittle, condemn — the ABCs of confrontative evangelism.

How it can possibly endure today after a century of failing to persuade vast multitudes of people and turning away millions more escapes my imagination.

Almost.

Except for the fact that I understand that judgment can be very enjoyable. it vaunts self by making light and less of others. It is so far removed from the winsome nature of Christ that it is no wonder that so many within the Restoration Movement (and, let’s be frank, other church fellowships too) have virtually negated the power of the humble gospel by proclaiming it with their words and denying it with their arrogance.

Those prejudices are among the causes of the flawed reasoning. Assumptions are made and conclusions drawn that now have the weight of more than a century of unquestioned acceptance — unquestioned, because to question them would draw the criticism and banishment of those who cling to them for dear life. The assumptions and conclusions (of men!) have been accorded the very same weight as scripture, and have been repeated so long and so forcefully and with such threat of reprisal — expressed or not — that the words of scripture are read to have taken on their meaning. Literally, it seems to have become impossible for some to see any difference between what scripture literally says and what they (and/or others before them) have concluded that it means.

How can such a perception be overcome? How can illogic-accepted-as-valid be defeated by logic? How can one explain the difference between what scripture says and what someone has said it means after it has been drilled in by repetition and religious culture and the Damoclean sword of threatened banishment from community? How can the satisfaction of “knowing” one is right lose ground to an humble, open uncertainty and reliance upon God’s grace?

After five generations of sectarianism’s enduring popularity?

I swing between the pendant alternatives of severing all connection with those who will not see or listen, and continuing to hold out an olive branch and a few disturbing questions — expressed in love — to those who still might.

And on nights like tonight, I just feel that the effort is largely lost.

Joining in the Dance

ScroogeThere is no telling how many times and ways that Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has been adapted for stage and screen. My favorite since seeing it — not long after its release in 1970 — is the film musical “Scrooge” starring Albert Finney.

I suppose I’ve watched it a couple dozen times over the many years, sometimes horribly edited down and reduced to the old 4×3 screen proportion for television.

Each time I see it, something about it becomes a little more treasured. The first time, it was the realization that Finney was a young actor playing Ebenezer throughout — in his twenties, in his thirties, and in his sixties/seventies — with a hunchback and wrinkled whomperjawed visage. Another viewing was the restrained performance of the Spirit of Christmas Present, an obviously mirthful Father Christmas-y fellow reduced to the task of reproving Scrooge by imitating his grumpiness. Still another viewing was the heartbreaking Leslie Bricusse song “You … you …” as old Ebenezer, split screen with his younger self, loses the love of his life.

This year, it was a single line. A moment when the glee of Fezziwig’s annual Christmas party for employees and friends is declined — his future fiancee Belle (in this version, Isabel, Fezziwig’s daughter) beckons him to join in the holiday gavotte, and he gravely holds up a hand and shakes his head. The Spirit of Christmas Past (Dame Edith Evans), watching the festivities from the barn loft with the old Scrooge, asks him point-blank: “Why didn’t you join in the dance?”

His very lame answer: “Because I couldn’t do it.” Lame, because …

Obviously right in front of them, Fezziwig himself was having difficulty keeping up with the younger folk, doing the best he could — and still having the red-faced, howling-laughing time of his life even as he fell down from his missteps.

But this year her question is haunting me as well.

I don’t dance.

Never mind the childhood prohibitions on dancing from my dedicated Church of Christ parents; the notes that kept me from having to take the mandatory lessons at school; the hesitant attendance at a high school prom as a favor to a good friend without a date.

I don’t dance because I’m not very coordinated, and I don’t feel confident at it, and … oh, any number of other excuses.

I tried once. I really did. Angi and I were at an event, and after sitting patiently through a few numbers, she stood up and held out her hand for me. I took it, apologizing all the way to the dance floor, and after embarrassing both of us thoroughly, she forgave me and let us retire back to the dinner table.

In the years after, I even thought about getting dancing lessons for myself as a gift for her. Yet I never did.

As you might have guessed, this post isn’t really about dancing. Except for the obvious metaphor that life itself is a dance, whether you can do it or not, and it beckons you to join in the movement and the laughter and the joy of it.

And I have not been dancing these last couple of years.

So this dear old among-the-favorites movie has provided me with yet another moment to ponder and treasure. It’s given me a resolution for next year, for the rest of my life, for movement and laughter and joy.

It’s time to join in the dance.

By Keith Brenton Posted in family

A Jesus Hermeneutic: Looking Again

greybibleI think I first read the term (and his definition of) “a Christ-centered hermeneutic” twenty years ago in Wineskins Magazine, penned by Rubel Shelly. (Vol. 2, No. 6; Jan.-Feb. 1994 – archive not back online yet)

Oh my word.

Twenty years ago.

At any rate, I’ve had time to think about it a bit in twenty years, and I still like the idea. A way of looking at the Bible as the story of God and man, pointing to the One who was both God and man: Jesus.

It is one of the few hermeneutics you will actually find in scripture.

It’s implied, of course, but it’s found in the gospel of John 5:39-40, where Jesus upbraids the Jewish leaders persecuting Him:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Unless I miss my guess, Jesus is telling them that if they don’t study the scriptures with the understanding that they speak of Him, they miss the point. They miss life … eternal life.

So I’ve been writing posts about A Jesus Hermeneutic for several years myself, now. Because I find it helpful. And I believe it to be a scriptural way of looking at scripture.

It isn’t going to be helpful in the study of all scripture. Song of Solomon, for instance, may not turn out to be a richer reading experience when viewed through that lens. In fact, I think some folks have gone way off course trying to do that. But then again, Song of Solomon is not going to prove valuable when studied through the lens of a CENI hermeneutic, either. It’s not a bunch of commands. Imposing them on your beloved will not necessarily improve your relationship with him/her.

And I think the CENI hermeneutic is flawed in some uses because of two flawed underlying assumptions that too often accompany it: about the purpose of scripture (that it is all-law, all-the-time, for-everyone, in-all-ages), and about God Himself (He gives us nearly-impossible laws because can’t wait for us to mess up so He can smite us).

So how do I study scripture with a Jesus hermeneutic? Usually, I ask two questions:

  • What does this scripture tell me about Jesus?
  • Therefore (if He is the Son of God), what does this scripture tell me about God and our relationship with Him?

Sometimes, if I’m brave enough, I ask two more:

  • How does that affect me?
  • What am I going to do about it?

Christianity Today just last year ran an interesting series of articles on the concept. Like any hermeneutic, a Jesus hermeneutic has its strengths and weaknesses; its opportunities and pitfalls; its useful applications and its off-target applications.

As I can’t really begin to aspire to the level of scholarship of the various authors, I will just say that I found the series helpful and challenging.

I’ll close this post with the questions that eventually go through the mind of anyone who ponders hermeneutics: Why do we have to have a hermeneutic? Why do we need to read scripture through a lens of any magnification or color tint? Why can’t we just read it for what it is?

Because we all do, whether we intend to or not. We read everything with some measure of expectation, preconception, opinion, or judgment — based on whatever exposure we’ve had to any part of it, from any source. We read it through the lens of perception.

An atheist reads scripture with the determination to discredit and disprove.

A believer reads scripture with the intention of finding and building faith.

A person who has no interest in it reads disinterestedly.

So we’d do well to consider the lenses with which we read, evaluate them in advance, choose wisely among them for the one or ones that are going to be helpful, illuminating, logical, consistent, appropriate, and as objective as we can stand for them to be.

Because I have a strong feeling that if we really could read scripture without any kind of subjective lens, the sheer power of the truth would overcome us and reduce us to whimpering puddles of humility.

I’ll let you know if I ever get there.

But then again … you’d probably see and hear it for yourself, and I wouldn’t have to.

Go Ahead and Say It

This will be one of the most difficult things I’ll try to write. The words and concepts aren’t hard to understand, but they are hard to express.

If you love someone, tell them.

If you think they’re awesome, a great friend, a treasured lover, a valued colleague, a dear family member, a beloved spouse … tell them how you feel.

You may get another chance if you don’t now. Or you may not.

There were things I wanted to tell my dad and things I wanted to tell my Angi and I thought there would be time.

We couldn’t have foreseen what befell Dad; in fact, we don’t even know for sure what took him. After EMTs revived him, we were glad for the chance to say some of the things we wanted to say to him, just on the chance that in his comatose state he might still hear and recover … or at least, hear.

We knew what was likely in store for Angi, though we prayed against it. We had some time to say some of those things while she could still hear and understand, though the cancer took her speech away fast and put her in a coma as well, soon after.

There will never be time enough to say all the things we want to say to our dearest ones when it’s time to go. My family and I were blessed to have the time we were given with the ones we love.

And it’s not like they don’t already know … even before the worst happens and the end comes. They do.

Still, you wish you could have said it again, one more time, a dozen times, a thousand times.

You can’t.

But you can say it now. You can tell them now, before the bad comes and the end looms close. You can tell them while they can hear and understand; while they can still know and recognize; while they can appreciate and reciprocate.

They might not return your love in the way you might wish.

They might reject it outright. Rudely, even cruelly.

But they might not.

Go ahead and say it.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Trust me about this:

Not saying it.

Swimming Exam

lifepreserverThere was a young man who took a swimming class in college, many years ago. The swimming coach was excellent and knew his course material and his students’ abilities. He gave them fair warning when it came time for the written final exam:

“Men: There is one question on the exam that you must get right, or I will flunk you. Even if you get all the other questions correct. Even if you excel at your skills and performance tests. One question. I will not tell you what it is. If you can’t tell what it is, you deserve to come back and retake the test until you get it right, and pass. So don’t leave until I have all the test papers and have checked that one answer on all of them.”

Every student but that one young man failed the exam.

The coach didn’t flinch about telling them they would all — but one — have to come back and retake the written final. 

“I won’t embarrass him by naming who won’t need to come back.”

And he recommended that they all get their heads together fast, because the semester was closing soon.

The key question was this: “How long do you keep applying artificial respiration to a rescued drowning victim?”

Students reasoned all kinds of answers, based on what they knew about anoxia and brain death and circulation of blood and body temperature.

But there was only one correct answer:

“Until the patient revives
or until help arrives.”

It’s an important question. A life is at stake. And as long as air is being breathed into lungs and blood is being pumped through veins and arteries, life is still possible. Recovery may still happen.

Those young men got to the singular question and its correct answer pretty quickly … which is another whole story about teamwork and reasoning and motivation.

But the lesson that this young man took away that day was this:

You. Do. Not. Give. Up. On. People.

Even if you’re breathing for them. Even if you’re pumping bood for them. Even if you’re thinking for them because they can no longer think for themselves; trying on their behalf because they can’t try anymore; loving life for them because they’re not capable or even conscious of it anymore; living for them when they’re no longer actually alive.

You.

Do.

NOT.

Give.

Up.

On.

People.

Because, one day, you just might be one of those people whom life itself has given up on.

And you will need someone who knows and cares enough not to give up on you.

Flowers

IMG_2500It was time for a new set of flowers at Angi’s grave. I brought a yellow rose (her favorite) each for Matt, Laura and her mom, Harriette. The little white silk flowers are from me. They remind me of the baby’s breath in her wedding bouquet.

I’ll take back with me the sun-faded yellow roses Matt first placed there, the hydrangea (another of her favorites, and mine) that someone else brought, and the two bright purple blossoms (WCU purple!) that another kind soul added.

I don’t visit long there. It doesn’t feel like that’s where she is. When the kids and I were in Eureka Springs Saturday through yesterday, it felt more like she was there. I could see her smile in all our old favorite places.

Some of them are gone or going. Both Christmas stores are gone now, and the toy store where we used to take our children is going out of business. Things change. Things pass. But some never really change … like the feel of the town itself; the unique personalities of the residents; the heritage it tries to maintain.

I realized this weekend that I first visited Eureka Springs thirty years ago. Steam engines were still running on the railroad. The tourism boom was just beginning its resurgence. Bed and breakfast homes were opening like the flowers in the homes’ gardens come springtime.

I’d like to retire there someday. I’m pretty sure I’ve got at least three or four more years of career work left in me, and it makes more economic sense to retire then than now. I really enjoyed cruising and walking the streets, looking at the houses for sale, getting a sense of the land and the market.

If it’s possible — as John Denver’s song phrases it — to go home to a place you’ve never been before, I think it will be one of the homes in Eureka Springs.

Somewhere I can plant real flowers in a garden.

Angi loved them so much.

By Keith Brenton Posted in family

A Nod to Cain’s Wife

So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. ~ Genesis 4:16-17

Where did Cain’s wife come from?

It’s a fair question, one that’s been asked and debated for a long, long time — even, as I understand it, figuring into the testimony of the Scopes “monkey” trial and a mention in the plotline of Carl Sagan’s Contact.

Genesis 1:1-2:3 tells an epic story of creation, culminating with the forming of mankind, male and female, and God resting on that note of triumph.

Genesis 2:4ff, I believe, backs up to the third day of creation, when God formed a first man, a specific man, Adam – with the purpose of caring for the plants and animals of a garden He had planted east of Eden. When Adam yearned for companionship, He formed Eve from Adam’s rib (containing his perfect DNA and all the potential for great diversity — a guess on my part, given the reported age of many of those early patriarchs).

The sad story of what happened next — well, I’ve blogged about that before, and I’ve explained there why I believe this part of the story takes place beginning at that third day: because scripture takes great care to explain the conditions present. Nothing is said about animals at that point, so in the days that come, they are added: birds and fish on the fourth day; creatures that crawl on the earth the fifth.

Then four days after Adam’s creation — on the sixth day — God created many more people, mankind, and told them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

But Adam and Eve had a specific task and calling: to make a choice between obeying and disobeying God. Possibly He created more people — “mankind,” as some versions of the Bible render the word — because that perfect DNA given Adam and Eve had been corrupted by the fruit of disobedience and the genes for death … and could no longer provide the diversity needed to sustain the species.

Mankind was given the task of reproduction, providing progeny.

And this is where I give a nod to Cain and his wife, who hailed from among the people of the land of Nod. Perhaps those people were some of the “mankind” God created.

Those who told the story generations later would likely have had the same distaste for incest that we do. (Think about the dishonorable context of the account of Lot and his daughters later in Genesis.) That — in addition to the possibility of DNA damaged by sin and its byproduct death — makes it unlikely that Cain’s wife would have been his sister; another child of Adam and Eve. (And peculiarly, no one ever asks where Seth procured a wife, though he had a son named Enosh. I’m betting he didn’t bear the child himself.)

Immediate scripture doesn’t say anything about another child of theirs beyond Seth — which doesn’t preclude the possibility that she was theirs, but still seems odd. Genesis 5:4 does says that they were parents of “sons and daughters,” but does not make a connection to the spouses of their named sons.

As a story, I find the entire Genesis account consistent within itself, rather than two separate inconsistent accounts. The inconsistency, I’m persuaded, is our misreading the timing and identity of the characters and their days of inception: Adam on the third day and possibly Eve soon after; mankind on the seventh.

I know that a good number of well-intentioned people have predicated the answer that Cain’s wife was his sister or near-kin from the conclusion that all people descended from Adam and Eve. But that is a conclusion, and not something that scripture specifically says. We are of one blood (the NIV inaccurately translates Acts 17:26 as saying “of one man”), but that does not necessarily imply a single common ancestral pair.

In fact, to draw upon the consistency of the story, it could be argued that the bloodlines of “mankind” were destroyed in the flood in which Noah — a descendant of Adam and Eve — and his family were saved. And it may be that the “sons of God” referred to in Genesis 6:4 refer to the descendants of that special Adamic bloodline.

Once again, I must post a disclaimer that third-day Adamic creation is a theory; it is speculation; it has its strong and weak points. But after years of pondering it, this possibility makes more sense than the others I have read to explain some of the difficulties in the creation narrative of the Bible, and continues to refute the criticisms that there inconsistencies which render its story invalid.

The Bible doesn’t fill in the details of everything we want to know. It does, however, often hint at answers that we can seek to discern and discuss, and grow spiritually by doing so.

A Short Post About Hell

I can’t really wade into a long, deep discussion about hell, because my theological hip boots don’t go high enough.

The Bible doesn’t say a lot about hell, and in it, Jesus says more than anybody else.

That’s kind of how I’d like to leave it. Hell isn’t for everybody, we can be sure, and it doesn’t seem to have been designed for any of us mortals – but rather for the devil and his angels: An eternal place of punishment for eternally rebellious beings. That doesn’t describe us mortals whatever amount of rebellion we display; among us, one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess and rebellion will end. And for those whose rebellion would not end any other way: destruction.

To date, the most persuasive item I’ve read about hell is Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes, and I understand that a more comprehensive edition has been released since the second edition that I read. Even so, it was more about hell than I wanted to read – and somehow, in high school, I struggled through Dante’s Inferno!

I tend to agree with his thinking, and did before I read his book, for I had already come to the same conclusion: Eternal punishment for temporal sin does not make sense as justice, human or divine. Scripture speaks of those who are rebellious as being destroyed, an adjective that in every other use in scripture implies a definite end.

For mortals, hell is a short though agonizing stop on the road to oblivion. It is nevermore in a nutshell. It is goodbye.

Going into the deep waters of that premise, Edward Fudge can employ a soteriological scuba suit, however — compared to my little yellow galoshes — and that suits me just fine.

Paraphrasing Karl Barth, I’ve often said that my theology rarely goes deeper than “Jesus loves me; this I know” … and it rarely needs to.

Which brings me to my point, since I said in the title that I’d try to be short.

I don’t like to think about hell. I don’t want it to ever become a motivator for my good behavior.

I want to go back to the childlike innocence that I had when (I can still remember) fighting back tears before the very first smack of a spanking or harsh word of reproval reached me because I knew I had disobeyed – and disappointed – someone I loved and respected.

I don’t want to even have to imagine looking up into the big eyes of the big God who loves and gives Himself for me – even to death on a cross – and knowing even for an instant that I’ve turned my back on that love and walked away; gone my own way instead of His; hurt people I love and whom He loves more.

I want that singular, hopefully microsecond of unfathomable regret to be hell enough for me, and forever enough for anyone.

So I’ll keep talking about what Jesus talked about, far more than hell or sin or failure or remorse: a Father in heaven who loves without ceasing and gives without measure and forgives without a second thought or the slightest capacity to hold a grudge.

I’ll keep on describing the God who gives His Son, His Word, and His very own Spirit to help us understand how good He is … and how good it is to give until you are nearly emptied of self and filled with His nature and character.

I’ll go on talking about the God who runs to the returning prodigal, shoulders the cross, receives the nails and breathes His last surrender to what we desperately need the most.

And I will also go on talking about hell, hopefully to the same degree and in exactly the same way that the Savior did. Why?

There may indeed be people who are at least temporarily beyond the reach of love, and must first be drained empty of self by the evil that is sucking life out of the world around us.

There may be people who need to understand the ultimate consequence of evil and insist on having the reality of sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath rubbed in their own eyes and faces by their own hands until they have seen enough hell on earth to want no atom of it in eternity.

There may even be some who, to their dying breath, would echo Milton’s consummately selfish motto for Satan: “Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.”

But I sure don’t want to be one of them.