On one morning each year, the arc of the rising sun passes in just the right place through the bare January tress so that its first rays fall upon the chair in which I sit to read. It so happened this year that this morning, a Sunday morning, was that particular morning.
It also so happened that the morning was cloudless.
It further so happened that I settled in for my morning reading at just the right time for those rare rays to fall directly upon me as I sat in that chair, an event which only lasts briefly as the sun quickly rises above the Kent West Hill ridge and passes behind the trees. Had my normal morning routine not been disrupted slightly by a conversation with a new friend–yes, a talk between fellow early-risers–the timing would not have been quite right.
But as it was, the sun fell upon me as I read from Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem by Bradley Jersak. In Chapter 5, Jersak discusses the history of orthodoxy and exegesis related to the scriptural “Lake of Fire.” One of the passages he unpacks is Hosea 11, in which God relents of his vow to destroy Ephraim. Quoting Phyllis Trible, Jersak notes that God’s justification for mercy, “I am God and not man,” is not a repudiation of the values of the human race, but a refusal to behave like a guy–like some Packers fan at a barfight. “If you trace Hosea 11 through, it’s the whole story of God’s life as a recovering practitioner of violence in which God says, ‘I’m not going to do it any more.’”
Jersak then quotes from Walter Brueggemann to follow up that thought: “God’s got all this stuff buried in God’s history the way we all do, so the issue is not to explain it. The issue to ask is, ‘What shall we do now?’”
Jersak answers for God, from Scripture. That is, he provides God’s own answer to the question What shall I do now?, from Zechariah 14 and Ezekiel 47, in which God declares what he will do with the River of Life: send it cascading from the steps of the temple, out through the main gate of Jerusalem, down into the Kidron valley, through the wastes of Gehenna, and to the waters of the Dead Sea–transforming and redeeming them all: the reeking, burning garbage pit which stands as our central metaphor for the fires of Hell, and the steaming brimstone-tainted waters that serve as the Scriptures’ inspiration for the Lake of Fire.
In short, argues Jersak, God promises that the River of Life will ultimately sanctify and redeem all to which Hell and the Lake of Fire lay claim. I find the argument compelling.
Beyond that, I find it refreshingly hopeful. After all, do we not believe in a God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, as the Apostle Paul put it?
What a beautiful dawn. I choose to embrace it. I choose this day to live in hope–not of my new future, whatever it may hold, but God’s.