At the risk of this column’s being mistaken for one by my syndicated Kilgore News Herald colleague Dr. Roach, I encourage everyone to take care for themselves, their families, and their pets in our August East Texas heat! Especially those who work outside should drink extra water and, when they can, take breaks inside air-conditioned spaces. And, after several fatalities nationwide, apparently not to leave either family members or pets in turned-off cars does not go without saying.
My August 10, 2013, column titled “East Texas summers are not hotter than hell” addressed the existence of hell and its “legendary” heat. In that column, I perhaps wrongly took for granted that hell-fire, in passages such as Isaiah 66:24 and its quotation in Mark 9:48, is literal, when some orthodox theologians prefer to interpret hell-fire as figurative. (We will talk more about the nature of hell-fire as our “Last Things” Adult Bible Class continues at Pilgrim tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.)
Of course, as John Gerhard, a Lutheran theologian of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is translated as saying, “It is wiser to be concerned about escaping this eternal fire by true repentance than to engage in an unprofitable argument as to the nature of this fire.” And, God’s warning of hell-fire and His enabling call to such repentance that it serves extend both to unbelievers and to Christians, especially Christians who may otherwise mistakenly think that they are safe from it even as they continue in mortal sin (Mark 9:43-48).
Where there is such repentance, with faith in the redeeming work of the God-man Jesus Christ on the cross, there is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, given through God’s Word read and preached, applied with water in Holy Baptism, with a pastor’s touch in individual Absolution, and with bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar. Our sure and certain hope of escaping hell-fire, with its possibly literal heat, should be in Christ, and not in the false teaching of universal salvation or of second chances, after either Christ’s return or some period of time in hell (Hebrews 9:27).
The Rev. Dr. Jayson S. Galler is Pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.pilgrimlc.org.