“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’” …
This image of a great chasm separating those in heaven from those in hell may upset our hearts and might even cause us to feel a little depressed. How could a loving God cut people off from his glory and goodness for all eternity by digging this impassable canyon? Doesn’t God have compassion on sinners? What about grace and mercy and forgiveness? Our hearts, especially those softened by the good news and the love of Jesus, long for a way to cross that chasm and save those in hell from torment. It’s right that we should feel that sense of sorrow for the lost. Truth is, that’s exactly why Jesus told this parable. His story isn’t meant to celebrate the chasm or ridicule those, like the rich man, who end up suffering apart from God. Jesus’ story is a warning, a flashing sign pleading with unbelievers to repent before it’s too late.
That may sound like the old-fashioned language of revivalist preachers, thumbing their Bibles and imploring the crowds, “Turn or burn!” The image of the great chasm has been used to scare people toward faith, and some evangelists use the fearful threat of hell as a way to push people into accepting Jesus. I certainly don’t think Jesus meant for his words to be turned into messages of fear or manipulation, but we shouldn’t ignore the reality behind this parable. Hell is real. There is a chasm of eternal separation that prevents those in hell from ever reaching heaven. Most importantly, how people respond to Jesus in this life, either accepting his offer of grace or rejecting it, determines their eternal destiny. Our soft hearts may quail at the notion of people going to hell, but Jesus’ own words and many other passages of scripture confirm this hard truth.
Again, don’t forget that Jesus told this story to draw people to new life in his name. He came to save sinners, not condemn them. He died on the cross to make possible our escape from the flames of hell. He commissioned his followers to go into all nations with the good news of salvation precisely because God wants to spare people from ending up on the wrong side of the great chasm. This parable should make us uncomfortable in a way that fuels our desire to share Jesus’ love and message with those far from God so they too can find grace, forgiveness and the promise of heaven through Jesus the Savior.
Thank You, Jesus, for speaking hard truths and for offering sinners the way to salvation. You died for my sin, and I rejoice in the new life You give me. Help me to share Your good news in joyful, loving ways. I pray this in Your name and for Your glory. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian