Monday, May 16, 2011

Where is Osama bin Laden?

"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.”
Mark 9:42-48

Jesus was never shy about telling people where to go. For all his compassion, he did not suffer fools gladly. And there were times when he lost patience, even with his disciples.

In the passages preceding the declaration about the millstone and the worm and the unquenchable fire, we see the disciples listening to Jesus describing how he must go to Jerusalem even though it will mean his death. Showing a remarkable ability to miss the point entirely, they argue with each other about which one is the greatest. He tells them that they need to be “last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and in one of the best scenes in the Gospel, he took the child into his arms and said to them, “Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me . . . welcomes the one who sent me.”

That beatific scene is followed closely by the millstone, the fire and the worm.

A week ago, when I was searching online for reactions to the death of Osama bin Laden, I came across a blog written by a woman who describes herself as an Evangelical Christian. Her comments caught my attention:

"On Sunday night as I was watching TV, my husband (who was on his computer) said, “Did you hear? Osama bin Laden is dead.” I quickly turned over to the news station to get the latest information. While I am glad that this man who has caused so much death and destruction will not be able to do so anymore, I am saddened that to our knowledge he did not come to know Christ as his Savior and will now spend eternity in hell."

Osama bin Laden will spend eternity in hell, not because he killed innocent men, women and children, apparently without regret, and sent countless others to their deaths on his command, but because he “did not come to know Christ as his Savior.”

On the other hand, if he had come to know Christ as his Savior, he would have gone to heaven. Believers are in, and non-believers are out. Believing in Jesus is your ticket to salvation; don’t leave this life without it!

For centuries, a significant line of Christian theology has held that belief in Jesus as the Christ was the one and only requirement for salvation. And conversely, many Christians have argued that the absence of belief was sufficient cause for a person to spend eternity in hell. So the “Evangelical” blogger is not alone.

In his recent book, “Love Wins,” Rob Bell has stirred a bitter backlash with his suggestion that no one is consigned to eternal torment. For many Christians, apparently, the only thing more precious than the blessed assurance that they are saved is the comfort they get from believing that others are damned.

Bell is accused of the heretical teaching that hell is not a real place. Actually, what he says is that in the time of Jesus, hell was a very specific place. The Greek word most often translated as hell is “Gehenna.” In biblical times, that was the name of a ravine outside of Jerusalem. Originally the site of pagan child sacrifice, in Jesus’ time it was a garbage dump. In Gehenna, the fires literally never went out. And wild dogs gnashed their teeth as they went through the garbage. There were some actions, said Jesus, for which one deserved to be treated like garbage.

According to a recent CNN poll, 61% of respondents think that Osama bin Laden is in hell. There was no indication as to how many thought his whereabouts had been determined by his failure to believe in Jesus and how many thought it was the result of his behavior. There was also no indication why anyone would think to conduct such a poll.

I don’t know where Osama bin Laden is. Rob Bell (and others) seem(s) to think that even after we die, in some way God continues to speak to our spirits. God does not give up.

I believe that we come from God and we go to God. Maybe sometimes it’s a long journey.

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