"I have ample reason to believe that my mother is with the Lord, but somehow, even in spite of that, I found myself on a spiritual level staring in the face the reality of death for everyone who dies, not just my own mother. Every where and every day some deeply beloved person is dying, and someone is aching and weeping at their side. If my doctrine is true, not all of these people end up spending their eternity in heaven. For some reason witnessing the passing of my own mother brought all this home to me, breaking my heart at the thought of hell, and left me re-asking all the questions I once had pat answers for. I've had to come to grips with a God who sends real people, deeply loved people, to hell. If I cannot, I cannot claim to believe or trust the God of the Bible."And in that post I began with a quote from D.A. Carson's book, How Long O Lord. I'm moving slowly, but am still working my way through that very helpful book. A couple of days ago I was encouraged to land on some paragraphs that so clearly described the position in which I found myself in my own grief. He discusses what it is like to provide counsel and comfort to someone who has lost a parent and is uncertain of their spiritual state - far more uncertain than I had any reason to be in my own situation. He lists several of the things, appropriate things, which he might say to such a one, ending with the bare trust we see in Abraham: "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25). Words I've found myself comforted with time and again. And then he goes on, as I said, perfectly describing the conclusions I've come to in my own grief:
"All this I could say, and more, But it will not do to opt for a sub-biblical system, a selectively biblical system. Shall we opt for absolute universalism? Then what do we do with the countless texts that foreclose on this speculation? Does God treat those who trust his Son and those who disobey the Son the same way, even though his Word insists, 'Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him" (John 3:36)? Shall we assume that truth and revelation are not the discriminating factors, but human sincerity? What purpose, then, the cross? And what value?And, just as Carson says, I knew it was either the God of the Bible, or no God at all. Some comfort, even the tiniest bit, or none at all - ever. Despite what atheist friends may tell me, there is no hope to be found in the thought of no God and a meaningless, accidental universe (only the giddy and temporary relief from fear of judgment). And there is no honest way to manufacture meaning in such a place, no matter how desperately I may try to convince myself otherwise. This world is a world of pain. Nothing I do or think is going to change the fact of pain and grief. Either that pain is meaningless or that pain exists for a reason and has a purpose; and I, to be purely honest, will not accept the absence of meaning. I do not think it is possible to live (with any consistency anyway) without it.
However hard some things are to understand, it is never helpful to start picking and choosing biblical truths we find congenial, as if the Bible is an open-shelved supermarket where we are at perfect liberty to choose only the chocolate bars. For the Christian, it is God's Word, and it is not negotiable. What answers we find may not be exhaustive, but they give us the God who is there, and who gives us some measure of comfort and assurance. The alternative is a god we manufacture, and who provides no comfort at all. Whatever comfort we feel is self-delusion, and it will be stripped away at the end when we give an account to the God who has spoken to us, not only in Scripture, but supremely in his Son Jesus Christ." (all emphasis in bold is mine.)