Denison Forum – Have scientists discovered hell?

“Imagine if Earth were much, much closer to the Sun. So close that an entire year lasts only a few hours. So close that gravity has locked one hemisphere in permanent searing daylight and the other in endless darkness. So close that the oceans boil away, rocks begin to melt, and the clouds rain lava.”

This is how NASA describes 55 Cancri e, a planet fifty light-years away from us. In the coming weeks, the James Webb Space Telescope is expected to give scientists their first look at this fiery world.

However, you don’t have to turn to the skies to find a planet filled with hellish behavior.

There has been another mass shooting, this one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where at least four people were killed on a hospital campus. Several others were injured; the gunman apparently then took his own life. In other news, the man accused in the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, has been indicted on more than two dozen charges. And the victims in Uvalde are being remembered and honored as burials continue this week. I could go on.

But even in our fallen and broken world, there is a pathway to peace available to each of us today.

Why temptation is spiritual dopamine

In The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World, Andy Crouch explains addiction in a way I had not understood before. He cites Cambridge neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz, who reported that “drugs of addiction” such as cocaine, amphetamine, nicotine, and alcohol “generate, hijack, and amplify the dopamine reward signal.” However, Crouch notes that “the real power of these drugs goes beyond their ability to generate rewards.”

According to Crouch, Schultz and his collaborators discovered that “not only do these drugs unleash floods of rewarding dopamine, but they prevent us from learning that their rewards are fleeting. By interfering with ‘reward prediction,’ the most powerful hijackers of the dopamine pathway create the sensation, at a primal level of our brains, that their rewards are ever new and ever worth pursuing—even as our own self-awareness and reflection tell us they are damaging and degrading.”

Crouch warns that “everything from gambling to social media can grant us the same superpower sensation—and create the same learning-resistant illusion.”

Temptation works in the same way. Satan assures us that we can get away with whatever we are being tempted to do, that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Otherwise, we would not commit the sins we are being tempted to commit.

But Jesus warned us that Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). As I often warn, sin will always take us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we wanted to pay.

In a culture filled with conflict and confusion, what is the path to the peace our souls long to experience?

How to find “perfect peace”

The prophet Isaiah testified, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). Keep translates a Hebrew word meaning to “watch, guard, protect.” Perfect peace translates shalom, which refers to “completeness, soundness, prosperity, being whole.” The mind refers to “forming a purpose through thought.” Stayed means to “support, lean on.” Trusts means to “be full of confidence.”

A literal translation of this assurance would therefore be: “You keep and protect in completeness and wholeness the person who forms his thoughts and purposes by depending on you, because he places his full confidence in you.”

Why should we trust God in this way? The text continues: “Trust in the Lᴏʀᴅ forever, for the Lᴏʀᴅ God is an everlasting rock” (v. 4). The prophet responded, “My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you” (v. 9a). For this reason: “For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (v. 9b).

However, if we seek this peace from any source but God, he cannot bless such idolatry: “If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly and does not see the majesty of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (v. 10). As we noted yesterday, God cannot encourage idolatry lest he participate in it and reward that which harms us.

By contrast, when we seek God, “O Lᴏʀᴅ, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works” (v. 12).

We may have committed such idolatry in the past, but it is not too late to repent: “O Lᴏʀᴅ our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone we bring to remembrance” (v. 13). If we do not, judgment is inevitable: “Behold, the Lᴏʀᴅ is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain” (v. 21).

“How can we be a blessing in this neighborhood?”

Let’s respond to this remarkable text in two ways.

One: Seek divine peace today. 

Ask the Spirit to bring to mind any ways in which you are trusting someone or something other than the Lord for your peace. Then confess what comes to your thoughts, claim his forgiving grace (1 John 1:9), and make the intentional decision to rely on his peace and power.

Two: Extend the peace of Christ to others. 

A church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, asked its neighbors, “How can we be a blessing in this neighborhood?” Their response: “Help us close Rebels Bar,” a “nuisance bar” that had been used for prostitution, drug sales, and other criminal activity for decades. So the church bought the bar. Since that time, new businesses and restaurants have moved into the area. And the church has brought the peace of Christ into its community.

“Let that loving voice be my guide”

Let’s close with a prayer by Henri Nouwen that seeks the peace our Lord offers:

Dear God,

Speak gently in my silence.
When the loud outer noises of my surroundings
and the loud inner noises of my fears
keep pulling me away from you,
help me to trust that you are still there
even when I am unable to hear you.
Give me ears to listen to your small, soft voice saying:
“Come to me, you who are overburdened, and I will give you rest
for I am gentle and humble of heart.” Let that loving voice be my guide.

Amen.

Denison Forum

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