Shame and Everlasting Contempt

On August 1, 2009, The Mobile Press-Register published an article written by Greg Garrison of the Religion News Service entitled, “Heaven? Sure. Hell? Not so much.”  Shortly thereafter, a parishioner of ours brought in a copy for me and TKT and wondered aloud, “Why don’t we talk about hell any more?”  It just so happened that the answer to his question appeared in the teaser quote right at the top of the article:

When you’re trying to market Jesus, sometimes there’s a tendency to mute traditional Christian symbols.  Difficult doctrines are left by the wayside.  Hell is a morally repugnant doctrine.  People wonder why God would send people to eternal punishment.” – The Rev. Fred Johns, pastor of Brookview Wesleyan Church in Irondale, Ala.

I took that parishioners challenge to heart, and have kept the article tucked safely in my top left desk drawer since that day.  In fact, I think of it often.  This week, I’ve pulled it out to reread it as I’m faced with preaching a seriously difficult set of apocalyptic lessons for the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  Here at Saint Paul’s, we’re using Track 2 of the RCL, so our lessons include:

  • Daniel 12:1-3 – “There will be at time of anguish…”
  • Psalm 16 – “My heart therefore is glad and my body shall rest in hope…”
  • Hebrews 10:selected verses – “his enemies are made a footstool…”
  • Mark 13:1-8 – the opening verses of Mark’s Little Apocalypse

I dug out the Garrison article today as I’ve been drawn to that peculiar language of Daniel in regards to the final judgement.  “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”  I think we all have an idea of what “everlasting life” looks like, but the alternative isn’t what conventional wisdom would expect.  Instead of fire, hell, and damnation, Daniel speaks of “shame and everlasting contempt.”  The JPS, a Hebrew translation captures the idea a little more literally, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence.”

Reproaches and everlasting abhorrence.

I honestly think that God’s everlasting abhorrence is infinitely more frightening than fire and brimstone.  In fact, I find myself even agreeing (you should probably see if hell has frozen over) with Pope John Paul II, who is mentioned in the Garrison article as ‘stirring up debate in 1999 by describing hell as ‘the sate of those who freely and definitely separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.'”  Perhaps the good Pontiff had Daniel’s 12th chapter in mind as he spoke.

I might not take Garrison’s advice and preach hell this Sunday, but I’ve spent 450 words on the topic already.  After all, Kurt Selles, director of the Global Center at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, is right when he says, “[hell] needs to be preached.  It’s part of the Gospel.”  I just find the fact that “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14) to be infinitely more compelling.



4 thoughts on “Shame and Everlasting Contempt

  1. Is it possible that we preach God’s love so well that people don’t believe that such a loving God would condemn anyone to eternal hell. Some of the people of my congregation are of this opinion.

    • Does your church ever present the Gospel and what was the reason why Jesus suffered immensely , shed His innocent blood, died a wrongful death for then ?

  2. I wonder how a high doctrine of hell might actually be the same thing as a high doctrine of grace. Typically, preachers who talk a lot about hell usually do so to scare people: “Repent or you shall spend eternity in torment!” Actually, by not talking about hell, we preachers have helped our people forget just how fabulous grace really is. We should talk more about hell–but not because action on our part is needed to avert everlasting disaster. Instead, we should say to our congregations: “Without Jesus, the consequence of sin would be damnation, but we rejoice that God saves us.” It seems that lots of us (me, too) have begun taking heaven for granted. Even those who believe in universal salvation need to remember that without salvation there is only hell.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s