our questions, but putting our trust in God even in matters we find difficult to understand.
Jesus taught that childlike trust is required of us: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Luke 18:17 NIV) Instead of approaching the matter like scholars trying to understand God, we need to get down on our knees and take hold of His hand the way a little toddler trustingly holds onto his or her father's hand, securely confident that Dad has everything under control.
Moreover, as we read Jesus' words on the subject of what happens after death, we need to attach significance, not only to what he says but also to what he leaves unsaid. Much of the controversy that has upset and divided sincere believers on these issues stems from attempts to fill in the gaps—attempts to 'clarify' or 'clear up' the aspects that Jesus leaves 'unclear.' These human efforts range from highly intellectual efforts at theological essays, sprinkled with Greek words and other words that might as well be Greek to most readers—to works of fiction (Christian novels) that some today rely on for their theology—to works of art picturing horned red devils sticking pitchforks into tormented victims.
But, did it ever occur to such theological deep thinkers that Christ left certain matters unclear—full of annoying information gaps—because he wanted to? Although a parent sometimes tells a child, "If you leave the yard again, I'll send you to your room for the rest of the day," there are other times when a parent intentionally leaves the penalty for disobedience much less specific. "If you leave the yard again, you'll have to face your father when he comes home!" "If you leave the yard again, you'll wish you didn't!" So, can't we allow our heavenly Father to take the same approach?
Of course he could have made it very clear what would happen to the dead—the good and the bad. If modern writers can spell it out clearly in black and white, as many indeed have done in books reflecting various persuasions, certainly the Author of the New Testament could have found the right words, too. He could have removed all ambiguities and spelled it all out. At the very least, he could have selected a chapter
from one of the many books on the market today and canonized that chapter as part of inspired Scripture. Then none of us would be left wondering exactly what happens to the dead.
Another important consideration is the fact that Jesus spoke to us in three different ways in Scripture: (1) Literally, using what we would call "straight talk." He generally spoke this way to his disciples in private. (2) In parables, or stories with moral lessons. This is the way he often spoke to crowds of onlookers. (3) Symbolically, in signs. This sort of presentation characterized the Apocalypse or Revelation which we find at the end of our Bibles today. Confusing Jesus' three forms of speech is a serious mistake, but one often made.
If Jesus says that wicked men are put outside in the dark to weep and gnash their teeth, should we turn this into a picture of children undergoing fiendish torture? If our sensibilities are offended by our concept of hell and who goes there, then perhaps our concept is wrong.
Just as some deny what the Bible says about punishment after death, there are other religious people who go overboard in the opposite direction, allowing their imagination to run wild with sadistic glee as they picture devils with pitchforks having a grand time inflicting every brutal torture imaginable on helpless men, women, and children. This approach is every bit as unscriptural as the other. Revelation 20:10 makes it plain that the devil himself is among those undergoing punishment—not ruling over an evil empire in hell.
One final point that needs to be made is that Jesus spoke to us—to common people—not to professors, clergymen, doctors of theology, or any special class of Bible interpreters. If he intentionally bypassed the priests at Jerusalem's temple and the teachers in the synagogues, choosing instead to speak directly to fishermen, tax collectors, and prostitutes—how could we possibly think he meant for our generation to receive his words as interpreted and explained by some spiritual elite?
When today's dock worker, truck driver, or tax accountant picks up the Gospels and reads them, the impression they receive from Christ's words is the