August 28, 2011

Hard Sayings XVII: The Rich Man, Lazarus and the Great Chasm

“And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” ~Luke 16:26

This is the reply of Abraham to the Rich man who is in Hades. Abraham is explaining why Lazarus, the poor man that has made it to Abraham’s side (assuming this is Heaven) cannot bring water on the tip of his finger to him in his agony in fire. All the rich man is requesting is a measly and meager drop of water to ease his torment. It would be surprising Lazarus would even want to help him considering the rich man ignored him throughout his life and in his destitution. So what if he wanted to help the rich man? What of this chasm? It is referred to and a physical place but in reality it may not be. It is not as if this conversation is taking place somewhere as we understand it…as in a geographical location. It is not a chasm or abyss that could be measured per se.

We also cannot assume that “Hell” is what we envision it as. The text says the men died, Lazarus was taken up to Abraham’s bosom/side carried by angels (honored by God) but the rich man was buried (honored by men). The Rich man was looking up from Hades or the place where the dead are not distinguished or literally Hades in Greek ᾅδη means “unseen”…the abode of the dead. It is not because the rich man is in Hades that he was in discomfort and agony but because of the deeds of his life. Hades is clearly denoted as Gehenna a place of punishment. His life put him in torment. If the man had at least given Lazarus the benefit of the doubt and helped him out even slightly, this chasm probably wouldn’t have been impassable and impossible to cross. This gap was of the rich man’s own making.

Ironically it is as if the rich man still has learned nothing. In terms of his sin and wicked demeanor it seems as if everything is still status quo as far as he is concerned. Just as on in life on earth the rich man pays Lazarus absolutely no regard and addresses Abraham directly in Lazarus’ presence, pretentiously asking Lazarus to act as a go between. It is an arrogance that seems to have transcended the grave. We begin to see what it is like in Hades. The rich man still has the same attitude he had in life. Assuming he can just “dump on” Lazarus. He assumes he can just have the poor dude shoot across this gap and serve him up some water. It is as if his sin has been let go and his bad attitude continues to fester since in an absence of God one would be able to chase their sin and depravity ad nauseum. It is also as if the old rules still apply for him wherever he is. He is still an arrogant jerk even though he is suffering, which tells me his mind isn’t working right. Most likely this is because it has been given over to a reprobate nature at this point. This dude is “gone”. As C.S. Lewis once said, the reason this gap is not passable is not because the gates of hell are locked but rather because they are locked…on the rich man’s side. He has locked them. Wickedness cannot enter heaven, even so evil and wicked people, in effect, lock themselves out of heaven or lock themselves into hell through their own desires and wanton lusts. It is the proverbial alcoholic drowning to death in his own alcohol.

Once the rich man realizes this is a one way street and he will not be coming back across, he wishes to send out warnings to his brothers to get their act together. If they do not they’ll end up like this sorry sad sack roasting in Hades. Again, in his arrogance the rich man assumes he was not warned and had he been warned this would not have happened to him. You know these types. They are all around us in society and in the Church. “I didn’t know”, “It’s not my fault it’s the pastor’s fault for not telling me what I needed to know!”, “If the Bible had been clear and not had so many contradictions I would’ve been about to figure out what I need to do to be saved!”, blah, blah, blah. Abraham addresses him sternly and clearly, “they have Moses and the Prophets (the Bible)”. Just as he did in life and just as we all do, no one has an excuse for ignorance that has the Bible at their disposal. If the rich man had paid the Bible no attention what makes him think his brothers will? The rich man basically wants a special sign. What did Jesus say about signs?

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” ~Matthew 12:39.

With Jesus and here with Abraham the same thought is brought to light. Abraham even blatantly states it here for clarification, “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." Hello! This is exactly what Jesus did and yet people still deny it, mock it and still scoff at it and scream, “Impossible!!!” Man has no excuse to remain unrepentant...unless it is by choice.

If Jesus’ own works and words were not able to convince spiritually dead lunkheads, then no external sign, however impressive, could be any more persuasive. I suppose in is a little more than ironic that another man of the same namesake as Lazarus did come back from the dead and this was an extraordinary sign for a large amount of people. Of course there were also the others who, not only wouldn’t believe, they actually wanted to kill Lazarus again because he was making others believe! Dopey Pharisees! It was as if the Lazaruses are a case-study of this situation.

Jesus told this parable not to show what the afterlife was all about even though it gave us a glimpse. Frankly, I am tired of folks telling me that they know a lot about what hell or heaven will be like based on this passage alone. They're missing the point sort of the like the rich man. Jesus told this parable because He as trying to emphasize the importance of how we live in this life not the condition of the afterlife. There are plenty of other pieces of Scripture from Jesus that paint a nasty and vivid picture of Hell. Poor man Lazarus had the riches of God hidden inside his heart and mind. The rich man on the other hand had his poverty of righteousness on full display. The riches themselves do not put people in Hell. The rich man being in Hell had nothing to do with the riches themselves it had to do with how he apportioned them and used them. In this case selfishly and sinfully

In the end we should look closely at the use of the word σου – “of you” or “your” in verse 25. Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things…" The Rich man had chosen things for himself and things that brought him his own honor instead of turning outward to help others honoring both them and God. The Rich man had what he chose in his life. He got what he wanted and because of this God gave him what he had coming to him. You can try to get everything you want here and live the way you want here in this world but when you die you are going to get what God gives to you or lose what God takes away from you based on how you lived.

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