Tim Keller gave a series of talks on the biggest objections to Christianity about eight years ago. In one talk, he addresses how can we reconcile a God who is loving with a God with the idea of hell. I’m going to summarize what Keller says partly in his words and partly in my own words. I will also go off script down some side roads. I will cover the subject in several blog posts.
Before we start, I want to observe that truth and reality are not always how we would like them to be. The nature of truth is that “it is what it is”. We don’t advance in our knowledge and understanding by denying it. If we are going to take the Bible seriously, and particularly the things that Jesus said, we have to contend with the idea of hell. Jesus mentions hell more than any other person in the scripture.
Tim Keller claims that hell is crucial for understanding our own hearts, for living at peace in the world, and for knowing the love of God. The text he uses to set up the subject is Luke 16:19-31. This text is known as the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I encourage you to read it before continuing on. I am only addressing the first point in this blog post – that hell is crucial for understanding our own hearts (because it is something we choose).
The idea of hell, of course, is a basic Christian principal. Jesus did not shy away from the subject, and neither should we. Hell is a principal that doesn’t sit well with the sentiments of modern people, but that is no reason to dismiss it anymore than we should dismiss the idea of disease just because we don’t like it. We dismiss it only to our detriment.
One interesting quirk about this parable is that two of the characters are named (Abraham and Lazarus), and one character is not named (the rich man). Keller says this parable is the only one in which Jesus named any of the characters. (I didn’t double check him on that.)
In Hebrew culture, even more than in our day, names were intimately connected to the identify of a person. In this parable, Lazarus is identified by name, but the rich man remains anonymous. He has lost his identity. Why is that? And how does that relate to understanding our own hearts?
The fact that Jesus named characters, but he didn’t name all the characters, is a window into understanding the parable and understanding our own hearts.
Have you ever felt like nobody gets you? Nobody understands who you really are?
First of all, congratulations, because you are being honest. It’s uncomfortable to be that honest. That kind of honesty is hard to face. Most of us would rather pretend it isn’t so, because facing it is like facing a yawning gulf. But the disconnect is there between what we wish and the way things are. It doesn’t go away… if we are honest.
We often feel and know deep down that no one really gets me. Not even my family or closest friends.
We sometimes feel as if everyone else “gets it” (this thing we philosophically call life) but us. Perhaps, everyone else is connected in a way that I am not. Nothing feels more isolating or lonely than feeling disconnected and alone.
More important than the first point, though, we are not alone. This is the human condition if we are being brutally honest with ourselves. There is a little relief in realizing that, but we still can’t escape the reality of it, and we shouldn’t try… if that is the reality.
What good does it do us to pretend in the end? But is this the ultimate end to which we are doomed to realize?
John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, said this about prayer in a letter to a friend:
Our ability to pray is so weak that, if we are sitting in a room trying to pray, we are over matched by the buzzing of a fly.
Tim Keller says that prayer is hard for us for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we have “distance” from God is the due to the fact that we live in a physical world, while God does not. We are absorbed by the physicality of the world in such a way that is hard for us to contact to a non-physical God. What, then, is prayer that we can engage in it, engage God and overcome the obstacles that get in the way?