January 18, 2007
The Gates of Hell
Shane Claiborne wants to tear down the walls that separate us.
In part one of his post, Shane Claiborne challenged our assumptions about hell. Is it merely something people experience after death, or is hell a living reality for many on earth? Claiborne continues by proposing an offensive rather than defensive posture for the church toward hell.
C.S. Lewis understood hell, not as a place where God locks people out of heaven, but as a dungeon that we lock ourselves into and that we as a Church hold the keys. I think that gives us new insight when we look at the parable of Lazarus or hear the brilliant words with which Jesus reassures Peter: "The gates of Hell will not prevail against you." As an adolescent, I understood that to mean that the demons and fiery darts of the devil will not hit us. But lately I've done a little more thinking and praying, and I have a bit more insight on the idea of "gates." Gates are not offensive weapons. Gates are defensive - walls and fences we build to keep people out. God is not saying the gates of hell will not prevail as they come at us. God is saying that we are in the business of storming the gates of hell, and the gates will not prevail as we crash through them with grace.
People sometimes ask if we are scared of the inner city. I say that I am more scared of the suburbs. Our Jesus warns that we can fear those things which can hurt our bodies or we can fear those things which can destroy our souls, and we should be far more fearful of the latter. Those are the subtle demons of suburbia.
As my mother once told me, "Perhaps there is no more dangerous place for a Christian to be than in safety and comfort, detached from the suffering of others." I'm scared of apathy and complacency, of detaching myself from the suffering. It's hard to see until our 20/20 hindsight hits us - but every time we lock someone out, we lock ourselves further in.
Just as we are building walls to keep people out of our comfortable, insulated existence, we are trapping ourselves in a hell of isolation, loneliness and fear. We have "gated communities" where rich folks live. We put up picket fences around our suburban homes. We place barbed wire and razer-wire around our buildings and churches. We put bars on our windows in the ghettos of fear. We build up walls to keep immigrants from entering our country. We guard our borders with those walls - Berlin, Jerusalem, Jericho. And the more walls and gates and fences we have, the closer we are to hell. We, like the rich man, find ourselves locked into our gated homes and far from the tears of Lazarus outside, far from the tears of God.
Let us pray that God would give us the strength to storm the gates of hell, and tear down the walls we have created between those whose suffering would disrupt our comfort. May we become familiar with the suffering of the poor outside our gates, know their names, and taste the salt in their tears? then when "the ones God has rescued," the Lazaruses of our world - the baby refugees, the mentally-ill wanderers, and the homeless outcasts - are seated next to God, we can say, "We're with them." Jesus has given them the keys to enter the Kingdom. Maybe they will give us a little boost over the gate.
And in the New Jerusalem, the great City of God, "on no day will its gates ever be shut." The gates of the Kingdom will forever be open. (Revelation 21:25)
This article was reposted with the permission of PRISM - America's Alternative Evangelical Voice. Visit their website to learn more.