September 30

Mark 9:42-50

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” vs. 43

Occasionally we’ll hear stories about poor souls who have taken this verse literally and who have used a saw to cut off one of their hands. They’ve been wracked by guilt for some real or imagined sin and think that amputation is their only salvation. Given such misunderstandings some of us would rather that this talk of hell and unquenchable fire could be expunged from the gospels. We’ve had our fill of preachers who mix calls to repentance with warnings about burning in hell. A better response though is to take the vivid imagery seriously and realize that Mark believes the walk of discipleship may involve extreme sacrifice. His hyperbole hammers home his point. When diversions come our way, when our passions and desires pull us away from our guiding principles, drastic decisions will be required. Of course we won’t cut off our hands or feet or pluck out our eyes…but we will make some possibly painful choices. Even if we don’t believe in the literal fires of an eternal hell there’s plenty enough hell on earth for us all…and that’s no exaggeration! The good news is that in Christ the fires of hell will never prevail. In him there is always forgiveness and restoration. The God of love will never desert us…no matter how hellish our existence!

Thought for the Day: What do I believe about hell?

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