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God’s Word for You

Luke 16:24a the pitilessness of hell

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, October 25, 2018

24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me!

We learn about the torment of hell and the two kinds of hellfire here in verse 24, but before we even begin to consider those things, we need to look at this sentence, this pitiful cry of the rich man. The soul of the condemned man calls out to Father Abraham in heaven with a request. Combined with other verses of the Scriptures, we realize that the condemned soul cannot pray to God, but he does make a request to Abraham.

As before, I will continue to number my observations for this account.

  1. A condemned spirit in hell has an ego, a sense of self, and a memory, even before the reunion of body and soul on the Last Day. The rich man’s soul refers to himself as “me.” He is not a mindless thing, he is not annihilated as many teach, and he is not reduced to some state of brute savagery or an aimless disembodied zombie. He is himself, deprived of the gracious hand of God and now thoroughly lacking any of the image of God. That divine spark, if that was ever the correct way to speak about the image of God, is not the same as intelligent self-awareness. Here is an intelligent, communicating, self-aware being, but without any vestige of the image of God at all. He also retains the memories and learning of the body even while in the state of being only the spirit of the man without the body.
  2. A condemned spirit in hell is capable of speech and is able to communicate coherently even while in torment, even before the reunion of body and soul. The soul of the rich man cries out to Abraham with his present damned state in mind.
  3. A condemned soul in hell, and also a redeemed soul in heaven, are both able to communicate in some way across the vast chasm that separates heaven and hell. Since my own spirit, residing in my body in the conjoined state of the present earthly life, is unable to do this, I must speculate that the flesh in some way limits this ability, and therefore it might not continue after the resurrection when we are once again rejoined as body and soul. The inability to communicate across the void is not hindered by my inherited sinful nature, however, because the condemned soul—possessing nothing but a damned sinful nature—is capable of this communication.
  4. Just as the condemned rich man does not speak directly with God, it follows, based on other passages, that once damned, those who are condemned in hell have no further communication with God at all except for judgment and perhaps as part of their torment. There is no hope, mercy, gospel or pity in God’s communication with the damned, if there is any communication at all. In this lifetime, God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers. “Even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15). The same must be true in hell. Sometimes in the Bible God appears to respond to prayers or statements of unbelievers, but only for the sake of the faithful and to glorify himself. For example, after God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 10:1), God responded to Pharaoh’s plea to end the eighth plague, the plague of locusts (Exodus 10:17). But this was only so that the Lord could bring on the ninth and tenth plagues afterward and cause Pharaoh to let the Israelites go according to his terms, not Pharaoh’s.
  5. A condemned spirit in hell desires comfort, pity and mercy. But it cannot receive any of these things, but the unsatisfied desire for these things is itself one of the punishments of hell. This is related to a later point (17) but is an important distinction by itself. It also has a corollary point:
  6. A redeemed spirit in heaven enjoys comfort and mercy, and is not lacking in any of these things in any way. We will elaborate on this more in connection with verse 25, but note that this means that there will be no grief or vestige of grief or pain in heaven. We will be healed and whole, body and soul, mind and memory.

Without Jesus, none of this would be possible, but through Jesus we have complete and perfect joy awaiting us in eternity. What temptation isn’t worth giving up compared with the knowledge that we will lack no comfort in heaven? What temporary cross isn’t worth carrying here on earth when we have the certainty of absolute healing and bliss in eternity? We will never need to say, “Father Abraham, have pity.” We will be able to say directly to our Savior, “You had pity on us! Bless your holy name!” And Jesus himself will reply, “Well done, my good servant!” And he will welcome us into our everlasting home.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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