Heaven and Hell (Part 2)
The Parable of the Talents
There was a master with three servants. He was going on a journey and he called the servants to himself and gave each of them a gift. “To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his own ability. Then he went on his journey.”
You probably know this story. It’s found in Matthew 25 and told by Jesus. Among other things, this is a parable about heaven and hell.
Eventually, the master returns home to, as Jesus put it, “Settle accounts with them.” Jesus doesn’t tell us how, but the first two servants doubled what they had been given and both received a, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”
But the last servant, it didn’t go so well for him. When he came before the master, he said something heartbreaking and revealing: “Master, I knew you to be a harsh and hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you had not scattered seed. So I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is your own” (Matt. 25:24-25).
The unfaithful servant believed a lie about the nature of the master – he perceived the master as unjust and untrustworthy.
And so, the servant rejected the gift the master had given him. “Have what is your own,” he said and he returned the one talent.
This servant didn’t get a well done. “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So, you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?’”
This sentence ends with a question mark. This was not a statement of fact, this was not a master acknowledging the servant’s perspective as true. The master was both highlighting and challenging the deception of the unfaithful servants’ premise.
Then, after telling the servant that at the very least he could have banked the money for interest, the master makes a statement that seems to prove the unfaithful servant’s thoughts about him true: “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
I would like to suggest that if we believe a lie about the goodness of God, eventually we will experience a hell that seems to prove the lie true.
This story reveals something powerfully important: we reap the narrative we sow into.
Neither Death Nor Life
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul reveals in this scripture that Love is sovereign; that there is no place that Love does not exist, nowhere Love does not have all authority and nothing more powerful than Love. And this is true in life and in death. This is also true for the faithless servant, but I digress.
David wrote it this way. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths (in death), you are there.”
While I am absolutely convinced that we can feel separated from God, I am equally convinced it’s never on His end. God is love.
My point? While we can never escape His love, we can reject it. While He is light, we can choose darkness, while He is always the truth, we can choose to believe a lie.
While many would say that hell is separation from God’s love, I would suggest that hell is the willful rejection of God’s love. Hell is not the absence of love; hell is the denial and refusal of the sovereignty of God’s love. Hell is an agreement with a lie that besmirches the always good, relentless, redemptive, healing, transformative, working all things for good, love of God.
The Parable of the Talents Continued…
Have you ever wondered why the unfaithful servant only received one talent where the others received multiple?
I would like to propose that the one talent was an act of kindness by a good master. You see, the unfaithful servant perceived the master as, “a harsh and hard man, reaping where (he) did not sow, and gathering where (he) had not scattered seed.”
Can you imagine what it would be like to be given a sum of money from someone you believe is looking for opportunities to punish you; an unjust and controlling master who is always looking for opportunities to twist the knife?
Because of how the unfaithful servant perceived his master, he didn’t receive the one talent as a blessing; he saw it as a burden. The gift wasn’t a sign of favor; it was simply further proof of the master’s cruelty.
Jesus told us how this can happen in our lives when He said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.”
Essentially, the blessing of the talent that the master gave to the unfaithful servant was perceived through unhealthy eyes as a curse. When generosity is perceived as cruelty, when love is perceived as hate, when light is perceived as darkness, how great is that darkness!
The unfaithful servant hid the talent, and not just anywhere. He was so paranoid, so terrified, that he couldn’t even trust a bank. Can you picture it? The servant out in the deep of night in a mad frenzy of fear, digging a hole and burying the talent where only he could find it?
Imagine how he suffered daily.
Imagine how his family suffered as well – impoverished, insecure, broken-hearted. When they faced financial hardship, an economic meltdown, a fiscal emergency, they had to stay vigilant, they had to defend the talent above all else.
The unfaithful servant spent all his energy on not spending the talent. His focus was on what he couldn’t do. He was behavior-driven in a control narrative, a sinner in the hands of an angry God. His life was a list of “don’ts.” His days and nights were spent in a neurosis of mistrust. He was focused on not losing the talent like a sinner is focused on the horrors of hell.
The good gift given by a good master became his prison, his suffocation, his living hell. Because the unfaithful servant believed a lie about the nature of his master, he experienced hell long before the master returned and confirmed it.
The fact is, what we perceive determines what we believe, our ability to trust, and the entire trajectory of our life.
What We Perceive
Everything is a matter of perspective. If we perceive light through unhealthy eyes we will see darkness. If we perceive truth through unhealthy eyes we will see lies. God is love and His love is sovereign, but if we see love through the lens of control we will experience striving and desperation.
The three servants had very different experiences even though they all received the same gift. The first two thrived while the third suffered. The faithful servants perceived the master to be faithful and received the talents as blessing and opportunity. The unfaithful servant perceived the master as faithless and rejected the talent as a curse.
If we perceive God as a harsh controlling master, then our interactions with Him will prove that misconception. And then everything that happens, every interaction with our fellow man, will support the same, harsh, control narrative in our minds. Furthermore, everything we read in the Bible will continue to enforce that idea. Control becomes our gospel, our supreme reality.
Then our Christian religion will be about control; our ideology will be about control, our history books, and our future – all about control.
And then, of course, hell becomes our ultimate proof of His control.
The fact is, most of the world perceives hell through the lens of sovereign control because most religion teaches it. Hell is a destination to be feared, eternal punishment for those who wouldn’t let God control their lives. Sadly, many believers perceive hell the same way, as though it’s a destination to be feared instead of an experience to be redeemed and a reality to be defeated here on earth.
This article is an excerpt from my book, God Is (Not) In Control: The Whole Story Is Better Than You Think
Part Two of Three
Jason Clark is a writer, speaker and lead communicator at A Family Story ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters to grow sure in the love of an always-good heavenly Father. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children.
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