By Chuck Griffin LifeTalk Editor
Galatians 5:15 (NLT): But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
As painful as it is to consider, let’s take a few moments to imagine what life in hell must be like. I’m not going to deal with all the fire-and-brimstone imagery—while there are some fiery biblical images associated with Satan or hell in the Bible, much of what we imagine is rooted more in secular literature.
Here’s what I suspect is really painful about hell. It is a place where souls are cut off from the grace of God. (Grace simply is unmerited love, given freely to the undeserving.) In hell, God no longer gently tugs at people to make them aware of his existence; God no longer provides a way to escape the power of sin; certainly, God no longer works as the Holy Spirit to grow us toward a state of holiness.
And of course, if God is not present to inject grace into people’s broken existence, then people cannot possibly show grace to one another. If there’s any kind of society in hell, it is a nasty, backbiting, hateful, grudge-holding, vengeance-seeking kind of culture.
I fear some people are trying to develop a little microcosm of hell in our own culture right now. Popularly, it’s called cancel culture. If you’ve ever tripped up, letting poor judgment lead you to say or do the wrong thing, you’re liable to pay, big!
Criminal behavior needs to be dealt with, of course—under the rule of law. A lot of the criminal events triggering our current social unrest, such as the killing of George Floyd, will be settled under the rule of law. And if the rule of law needs to be changed, we have a process for that to happen. You go to the polls and you vote for representatives who will make that change.
What strikes me as strange are the efforts to destroy people for decades-old poor judgment, when the cultural context for what they may or may not have done was very different. We saw a glimmer of this when Neil Gorsuch was being vetted for the U.S. Supreme Court, as opponents went as far back as his high school years in an attempt to discredit him.
Such deep, unforgiving vetting is now a bizarre extension of the social unrest we’re seeing. It has gone so far that statues of brilliant-but-imperfect historical figures are being torn down. The basic complaint: People living in the 15th through the 20th centuries didn’t have 21st century values.
Well, duh. We honor most of these people with statues not because they had it all figured out, but because in difficult times they figured out important pieces of the grand puzzle, helping us see the clearer picture we have today.
Back to the need for grace from God and grace for each other. In the Galatians text above, Paul makes clear what happens as we begin to bite and devour one another—destruction! In Romans 3:23, he also notes another important fact: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”
There do seem to be important developments that show the Bible to be right. Some of the people who might have initially supported much of this divisive behavior are now finding themselves bitten as their shortcomings become public, be it over the wearing of blackface, insensitive tweets or some other sin of speech or action. It helps when we remember the “everyone has sinned” part.
Perhaps we will soon get to a place where we all take a breath, rub our painful bite marks, and say, “Let’s show each other a little grace. Let’s try to work together as the people we are now, rather than fighting over who we used to be.”
In an environment like that, we will better deal with both our history and our current crises. God might even bless us anew.
Lord, give us the long pause we need to overcome animosity and rebuild our nation, trusting the scriptural truth that your forgiving grace is always available and can be imitated. Amen.