While reading J.I. Packer's classic Knowing God last night, I ran across a thought that gripped my soul. In the chapter "The Heart of the Gospel", he speaks of the death of Christ. He explores the meaning of the cross, its effect on the Father, the Son, and humanity. One particular thought jumped off the page. After a short paragraph refuting universalism (the belief that everyone will eventually be forgiven by God and 'live in heaven'), he writes the following:
"Some, then, face an eternity of rejectedness. How can we understand what they will bring on themselves? We cannot, of course, form any adequate notion of hell, any more than we can of heaven, and no doubt it is good for us that this is so; but perhaps the clearest notion we can form is that derived from contemplating the cross.
One the cross, God judged our sins in the person of his Son, and Jesus endured the retributive comeback of our wrongdoing. Look at the cross, therefore, and you see what for God's judicial reaction to human sin will finally take. What for is that? In a word, withdrawal and deprivation of good. On the cross Jesus lost all the good that he had before: all sense of his Father's presence and love, all sense of physical, mental and spiritual well-being, all enjoyment of God and of created things, all ease and solace of friendship, were taken from him, and in their place was nothing but loneliness, pain, a killing sense of human malice and callousness, and a horror of great spiritual darkness. The physical pain, though great (for crucifixion remains the cruelest form of judicial execution that the world has ever known), was yet only a small part of the story; Jesus' chief sufferings were mental and spiritual, and what was packed into less than for hundred minutes was an eternity of agony - agony such that each minute was an eternity in itself, as mental sufferers know that individual minutes can be.
So, too, those who reject God face the prospect of losing all good, and the best way to form an idea of eternal death is to dwell on this thought. In ordinary life, we never notice how much good we enjoy through God's common grace till it is taken from us. We never value health, or steady circumstances, or friendship and respect fro mothers, as we should till we have lost them. Calvary shows that under the final judgment of God nothing that one has valued, or could value, nothing that one cal call good, remains to one. It is a terrible thought, but the reality, we may be sure, is more terrible yet. 'It would be better for him if he had not been born.' God help us to learn this lesson, which the spectacle of propitiation through penal substitution on the cross teaches so clearly; and may each us be found in Christ, our sins covered by his blood, at the last."
Here are a few of my thoughts on this passage. What a God-glorifying, and equally troubling picture. Hell is not primarily a place of physical torment, of fire and pain (though I believe it to be so), but of mental and emotional loneliness, of spiritual separation. In a reduced sense, I think it is fair to say those living today without the hope of Christ's propitiation for sin live a life of hell. They are separated from God, still at emnity with their Creator. They are spiritually and mentally alone, with no real companionship. They also feel the weight of their rebellion on their souls, sometimes causing them to lash out even more. Should we be surprised then, fellow believers in Jesus, that the world is oftentimes turned off by our pre-programmed gospel presentation. Instead of offering a canned evangelistic presentation, why not offer them life, offer them relationships, offer them reconcilation with God. Life on earth apart from Christ is just as much hell as life away from earth apart from Christ.
I heard a story this morning that a youth director in Denver was in Wal-Mart the other day in Denver buying work clothes for the adults and youth that were coming to New Orleans to gut out houses. The cashier asked why he was buying so many work clothes. He told her he was leading a trip down to help out people in New Orleans. She responded, "Do they still need help in New Orleans?" Just because the nightly news doesn't cover us anymore doesn't mean things are ok. Do we still need help in New Orleans? The answer is most definitely YES.
Below I'm posting some pictures of college students who volunteered their Spring Break's to work with us.
This is a picture of a typical house in the Gentilly area after the flood waters have subsided. In this house, the homeowner has already removed all of his furniture and clothing. Some houses are already cleaned out when we get there, many are not. Note that the mold goes all the way to the ceiling. All of the sheetrock in this house must be removed. The ceilings might be salvageable, but most likely not.
This is a picture of the debris pile that was formed from all of the wood, sheetrock, clothing, and furniture that came from one house. After the sheetrock comes down, we have to remove all of the flooring. If the house sits on a concrete slab, then the students have to remove all of the flooring down to the slab. If the house is raised up, like many houses in New Orleans, the students take the floor down either to the lowest subfloor, or to the joices.
This is a picture of a completely gutted house. After all of the sheetrock, tubs, ceilings (if needed), and the flooring is removed, then the homeowner must pay someone (or do it himself) to spray a bleach solution on the studs. This effectively kills the mold and allows the homeowner to begin the process of remodeling. All of the electrical, plumbing, and HVAC equipment has to be replaced.
A team of 10-15 people can completely gut a house in approximately two days. As I said in my last post, our small church (after taking 10 feet of water and ourselves in the process of remodeling) has facilitated the gutting out of approximately 70 houses in the month of March. April and May will be slow months, but things will pick back up in full swing come June. In the meantime, we are praying that God will move in the hearts of many churches to partner with us. God has already moved in the hearts of 15-20 churches to send down mission teams to work with us. We have been extremely blessed by the volunteers we've seen so far. We want more, though. Will your church consider sending a team to New Orleans this summer? Will you give consideration to loving on a homeowner who, like most, have little hope of rebuilding apart from the generosity of volunteers who demonstrate the love of Christ?