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Which god?    God or god?

“Thou shalt have no other god before me.”  (Exodus 20:3 KJV)

This line is part of the description of C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.  The entire text is:

What if anyone in Hell could take a bus trip to Heaven and stay there forever if they wanted to?

In The Great Divorce C. S. Lewis again employs his formidable talent for fable and allegory. The writer finds himself in Hell boarding a bus bound for Heaven. The amazing opportunity is that anyone who wants to stay in Heaven, can. This is the starting point for an extraordinary meditation upon good and evil, grace and judgment. Lewis's revolutionary idea is the discovery that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. In Lewis's own words, "If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.

This is a great book.
I really hope to have time to put more on it up on the site.

Anyway - This book came to mind when I was reading an article about - of all things - Texas cheerleaders.  But more on that story in a while.

As I was searching the web for the entire text quoted above -
I came across a whole bunch of comments about the book.
Some were obviously positive -
talking about the amazing insight into the choice that we have between Heaven and Hell -
and what that would be like.

Others obviously were very negative and / or disagree with this conclusion.
One of them is -

Lewis's belief that "the doors of hell are locked from the inside" has really been troubling me. I really don't understand how this could be true. I know that Lewis is trying to make the point that a person's unwillingness to submit themselves to God is what put them in hell, and I agree. But can we really assume that is what is keeping them there? I think if these people saw Jesus face to face and he said "I never knew you" they would be struck by Christ's glory and know for certain that they had missed it. I think they will realize that the sovereign God of the universe truly exists and that surrendering their self-will for His service would have been definitely worth the sacrifice. But it will be too late. If hell truly is a lake of fire and a place with weeping a gnashing of teeth like the bible says it is, I don't think people will "enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded. I think it will be horrible, but I don't think there will be enjoyment or freedom.

I’m guessing this statement was made by a Christian -
someone who already has accepted Jesus -
someone who already realizes the significance of the choices already made -
and that Lewis is saying that the gates are locked -
not by God -
but by the residents of Hell themselves.

I’ve known people with three different reactions to God’s Word - The Bible:

Some people are too “into themselves” to have any interest in God.

Others think they are strong enough to take care of themselves and don’t need anything else.

Others seem to be perfectly happy thinking that life is just a random / short experience and then there’s nothing after that.

Some think they would have to live a “boring” life if they did what God wanted.

Still others are having what they think is too much fun to even want to think about God.

The one thing all of these people have in common is that they don’t want to have anything to do with God.

The other thing they have in common -
God isn’t going to force them to have anything to do with Him.
Salvation is a gift - it’s not something that’s shoved down our throats whether we want it or not.

What some of us may have a hard time realizing is that people with attitudes like this can actually reach a point where they’re quite “happy and content” with life as they know it.  Notice - I put quotes around “Happy and content” - because it’s happiness and contentment as they know it.  Never having allowed themselves to experience anything else - they assume that whatever they now have in life is as good as it’s going to get.

In Chapter 3 of The Great Divorce - Lewis has the following exchange between a person who has been taken on a “bus ride” from Hell to Heaven - and has a choice to stay in Heaven or return to Hell on “the bus”.

‘This is simply ridiculous,’ said a voice in my ear. One of the quieter and more respectable ghosts had sidled up to me. ‘There must be some mismanagement,’ he continued. ‘What’s the sense of allowing all that riff-raff to float about here all day? Look at them. They’re not enjoying it. They’d be far happier at home. They don’t even know what to do.’

‘I don’t know very well myself,’ said I. ‘What does one do?’

This visitor from Hell is looking right at Heaven -
sitting at the entrance -
with a view of the “entrance” to Heaven -
and a view of “the bus” that would take him back to Hell.
He’s concerned that he won’t know what to do in Heaven.

Is this really any different from what happens here on earth?

We Christians are called to be light unto the world - as in Matthew 5:13-16 -

Salt and Light

Mt 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

Mt 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  

Mt 5:15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  

Mt 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

But - does that mean everyone is going to see the light -
and become Christians because of that?

No - obviously not.

For various reasons - they choose to not be with God.

Not surprisingly - Jesus said this would happen.
The verses below come from when Jesus was teaching Nicodemus, who was one of the Jewish Pharisees - in John 3:16-21 -

Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

And here we see yet another reason people stay away from God -

They think that whatever they’ve done is so bad they can’t possibly be forgiven.

Considering who we already know Jesus has forgiven -
that really shouldn’t be a problem.

For example - in Luke 23:34 -

Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

…is what Jesus said as He was dying on the cross.  
He even forgave the very people who were either killing Him or enjoying the sight.

But some will still feel that what they’ve done is too bad to be forgiven -
and will reject the offer of salvation.

Which now brings us to the article - Texas cheerleaders can keep Christian banners, for now, judge rules - from nbcnews.com.  The issue can be summed up in this paragraph from the article -

The cheerleaders in Kountze prompted a complaint to the school district in September when they rolled out banners with scriptural references, such as "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me," and "But thanks be to God which gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

This activity prompted the following response from a group who filed the legal complaint against the cheerleaders -

The foundation argued that when the religious sentiments are displayed by cheerleaders in school uniforms before large groups of students at official school functions, the banners violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

Now - for this article - I’m not getting into the separation of church and state issue - whether it’s constitutional or not - or even whether it’s desirable or not.  Maybe some other day.

No - the issue here relates to the quote about The Great Divorce -

The gates of Hell are locked from the inside.

The name of the group filing the complaint -

The freedom from religion foundation.

When going to see what their purpose is - one sees the following -

The purposes of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., as stated in its bylaws, are to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Since www.dictionary.com doesn’t even have a definition of the word “nontheism” - we turn to www.reference.com instead to find out exactly what this means.

Nontheism is a term that covers a range of both religious and nonreligious attitudes characterized by the absence of—or the rejection of— theism or any belief in a personal god or gods. It is in use in the fields of Christian apologetics and general liberal theology. "Nontheism" should not be confused with " irreligion".

Non-theism has various types. "Strong atheism" is the positive belief that a god does not exist. Someone who does not think about the existence of a deity may be termed "weakly atheistic", or more specifically implicit atheism). Other, more qualified types of nontheism are often known as agnosticism, or more specifically explicit atheism. "Strong" or "positive" agnosticism is the belief that it is impossible for humans to know whether or not any deities exist. It is a more precise opinion than weak agnosticism, which is the belief that the existence or nonexistence of any deities is unknown but not necessarily unknowable. Philosopher Anthony Kenny distinguishes between agnostics, who find the claim "God exists" uncertain, and theological noncognitivists, who consider all God-talk to be meaningless.

That’s certainly a mouthful.
But what does it mean?

Invented originally as a synonym for secularism (see below), it has become an umbrella term for summarizing various distinct and even mutually exclusive positions united by a naturalist approach, sometimes in the plural, nontheisms.

Oh - by itself, it doesn’t specifically mean anything in particular.  One has to dig deeper to find out the context - and from there it’s hopefully possible to see what any one individual person or group means by nontheism.

Well - let’s dig deeper.

On entering their website - one sees a picture of what an atheist family looks like.  That tells us something.

In their FAQ section - we read -

The Foundation recognizes that the United States was first among nations to adopt a secular Constitution. The founders who wrote the U.S. Constitution wanted citizens to be free to support the church of their choice, or no religion at all. Our Constitution was very purposefully written as a godless document, whose only references to religion are exclusionary.

This statement is true - in and of itself.  The site also goes on to talk about the role of Thomas Jefferson as far as keeping a separation between church and state.  One would get the impression that Jefferson was anti-God.

However - this is the very same Thomas Jefferson who drafted the Declaration of Independence which starts with the following -

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And ends with -

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

This indicates to me not a godless person - but one who relies very heavily on God.

The thing is -
different people can look at the same thing
but still draw very different conclusions.

The folks at The Freedom From Religion Foundation certainly have their beliefs -
and likely hold them very strongly.
They also want to force them on everyone else -
and are willing to file suit to do so.

Question -

Is the person who believes so strongly that there is no God likely to react too much differently than the fictional person in The Great Divorce?
One of the things that C. S. Lewis points out is that being in Hell has the capability of driving people deeper and deeper into it - not giving them a desire to get out of it.  One of the memorable examples of this is Napoleon -

Would they get to the bus stop in time, if they ever set out?’

‘Well—theoretically. But it’d be a distance of light-years. And they wouldn’t want to by now: not those old chaps like Tamberlaine and Genghis Khan, or Julius Caesar, or Henry the Fifth.’

‘Wouldn’t want to?’

‘That’s right. The nearest of those old ones is Napoleon. We know that because two chaps made the journey to see him. They’d started long before I came, of course, but I was there when they came back. About fifteen thousand years of our time it took them. We’ve picked out the house by now. Just a little pin prick of light and nothing else near it for millions of miles.’  

‘But they got there?’

‘That’s right. He’d built himself a huge house all in the Empire style—rows of windows flaming with light, though it only shows as a pin prick from where I live.’

‘Did they see Napoleon?’

‘That’s right. They went up and looked through one of the windows. Napoleon was there all right.’

‘What was he doing?’

‘Walking up and down—up and down all the time—left-right, left-right—never stopping for a moment. The two chaps watched him for about a year and he never rested. And muttering to himself all the time. “It was Soult’s fault. It was Ney’s fault. It was Josephine’s fault. It was the fault of the Russians. It was the fault of the English.” Like that all the time. Never stopped for a moment. A little, fat man and he looked kind of tired. But he didn’t seem able to stop it.’

And therein lies the problem for people who -
in this short life on earth -
choose to

or any of the other things that cause us to not accept Him.

Too long doing this will bring us to the point where we won’t even allow ourselves to consider the possibility of accepting Him - even when He’s right before our eyes.

So -

Be careful what you ask for -

Because while God will offer His gift of Salvation -
He won’t force us to accept it -

But he will allow us to be separated from Him if that’s what we want.

What do you want?

What are you asking for?

Do you want to be saved?

Who is saving you?

Be careful what you ask for

October 20, 2012

The gates of Hell are locked from the inside.