Those Wascally Wich People
One of the best-known stories in the Bible is the tale of the Rich Man and Lazarus. As always, I’ll give you a link to the actual text here, and you should read it (Luke 16:19-31, NIV). I’ll just hit the highlights and make some important points.
I’ve heard plenty of people explain this story. The most common take on it, especially from my more liberal Christian friends, is that it heaps scorn on rich people in general. Hey, Jesus says that it’s easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter heaven, right?
That’s the easiest explanation … and the least accurate. If you read the entire chapter (Luke 16), the first part describes a rich man who symbolizes God and our service to Him. There are plenty of stories in the Bible of rich people who pleased God by being open and generous with their wealth. Joseph of Arimathea is one such example.
Don’t just assume that this parable condemns rich people in general, and riches specifically. Besides, if you hate or envy rich folks … you are sinning.
Hell Is A Horrible Place!
This is the next, and just as common, explanation of the story. Wow, look at how horrible Hell is! The Rich Man wants just one drop of water to cool his tongue! He’s in torment!
Sure, those who don’t belong to God won’t enjoy eternity (to put it mildly). And besides, the rich guy gets his just desserts, doesn’t he? He lived in splendor while poor Lazarus had to beg for crumbs! Serves him right!
For those who are deeply into eschatology (i.e., the study of last things), I’m won’t differentiate between the Hades/Sheol portrayed in this story and the final resting place of the wicked (the lake of fire mentioned in Revelations).
I don’t think that (a), the fact that the Rich Guy was a Rich Guy is the key; nor is it (b) the fact that Hades holds a place of torment for the unsaved. Instead, let me show you some very important spiritual truths revealed in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
The Rich Man’s Heart
Note that the Rich Man, who ends up in torment, wants Abraham to send Lazarus to help him. His heart hasn’t changed. He’s still acting like a rich guy, with servants and personal assistants and managers and handlers. “Hey, Abe, send Lazarus over here with some water.”
We do learn some interesting things about the place, though — Abraham explains that there is a vast chasm between the paradise side (where he and Lazarus are) and the torment side (where the rich man is). No one can cross that chasm.
I’ve heard countless sermons, especially from “hellfire and damnation” preachers warning people of how terrible Hell is. You must choose now, because once you die, it’s too late!
Let me tell you how I look at that. We’ve all heard corny jokes that start with, “someone died and there was a mistake; he was accidentally sent to hell …” If you are a Believer, if you have a personal relationship with God, if such a “mistake” was even possible, what would you be doing in that case?
Right. You’d be hollering at the top of your lungs, “God! Have mercy! Forgive me! Get me out of here! Help me!” The Rich Man doesn’t do this. He’s in torment, but doesn’t even question the fact that he belongs there. He doesn’t beg to go over to Paradise with Abraham and Lazarus. He accepts his fate. (That’s so important!)
Besides, let me assure you of something: my God, the one Who saved me, who loved me to death and died to prove it, would move Heaven and Hell itself to rescue me if there could be a “mistake” like that. (Feel free to shout “hallelujah,” and we’ll move on.)
Sure, people need to be warned that there’s an eternal destination waiting for us when we leave this life. But read on.
The Mind Blower
The most mind blowing verse in that entire story, from my point of view, is this one:
But he (Abraham) said to him (the Rich Guy), ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ (Luke 16:31, NIV, emphasis mine)
Sure, that’s a prophecy of how many people would still refuse to believe in Jesus even after He would rise from the dead. But this also makes a critical point about human nature.
(If you don’t like that, if it upsets you … sorry. But note that even some of Jesus’ followers — still fat with fish and bread from the well-known Feeding of the 5,000 — left Jesus after he explained this.)
So … What’s The Point?
I’m no theologian. No doubt this passage of Scripture, like many others, has layers upon layers to be examined prayerfully. Many of those who are theologians have delved into the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in far more detail than I could.
But given what I said above, I can answer another question that many Believers have asked. “How will I be happy in heaven knowing that my uncle/cousin/sister/[insert relation or friend’s name] won’t be there?”
First, we know that we will be changed and that God will wipe all tears from our eyes. Old relationships from our time in this sinful world won’t matter, not even marriage. We will finally understand God’s plan for eternity.
Second, the folks who won’t make it to heaven with us chose not to do so. God doesn’t “send” anyone to Hell; every one of us is headed that way by default, but He, out of great love and mercy, chooses to rescue some of us. Without getting into the doctrine of Predestination and all that, the bottom line is, not everyone will be saved. That’s sad, but it’s a fact.
I have to make an important point for my liberal Christian friends, too. I don’t take any pleasure from it, but this is especially targeted to those of you who have watered down the entire plan of salvation to the point that God will basically “save” everyone and bring them into Heaven. God is the Great Cosmic Warm Fuzzy who just wuvvzzz everyone! Of course we’ll all go there!
You do realize that you’ve completely destroyed the doctrine of Free Will, don’t you? It may be hard for you to believe, but there are plenty of people who will not want to be part of heaven, for a host of reasons. As it is in life, so will it be in death. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel, the world hates Him because he exposes the fact that it’s evil. Unless that evil is regenerated, it has no place in heaven.
And while I’m on a roll, if you’re at the opposite end of the theological spectrum, let me (apologetically) (prayerfully) point something else out. Go look at who Jesus talked to and what He said in each specific case. When dealing with self-righteous morons like the Pharisees, yes, He would often use terms like “blind guides” and “serpents” and “whitewashed tombs.” (Heh.) But for those who had genuinely seeking hearts, he was always kind and patient.
I am not, and never have been, in favor of “hellfire and damnation” sermons. Again: of course we should warn people to choose carefully where they plan to spend eternity. But if you think that you can scare people into accepting Christ just to avoid Hell, read John chapter 6, verses 25 through the end of the chapter. God wants people who love Him and who want to spend eternity with Him, not those who simply wish to escape punishment.
That’s so deep I’m going to leave it there. You need to prayerfully consider it. Nuff Zedd!