Jesus said, “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
In the last reflection, we discussed how it is never too late to come to Christ, so long as we are alive. There is a point where it is not possible, and that is when we die. The Bible gives us some clues about heaven and hell, and everything I’ve written about in this unit is based on information that is right from the Bible. Yes, there are many church fathers, saints, theologians and others who have expounded on Scripture, and who do so in a way to help us understand Scripture. And while it is good and important to understand the things that are “around” the Scriptures, including writings, things like the Divine Liturgy (which is based on Scripture) and Traditions (that have their basis in Scripture), we are supposed to spend time in the Scriptures ourselves, so that God can reveal Himself to us in our own reading of the Scriptures.
Let’s look at this passage from Luke 16:19-31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The story presents us with two men, a rich man who is not given a name, and Lazarus. The rich man is VERY rich, he feasts sumptuously every day, and is clothed in purple and fine linen. At his gate lays a poor man named Lazarus, who we are told is covered in sores, and has nothing to eat. He would be satisfied with the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. And yet the rich man won’t even let him have those.
Eventually both men die, as we all will. Lazarus is carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. We don’t really get much of a visual of what this looked like, but I imagine Lazarus being embraced by Abraham, and feeling safe, secure and loved. The rich man is in Hades, in torment. It’s interesting that the rich man is able to see Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. So not only is he suffering in hell, but he can also see heaven and he can see Lazarus there. The next clue we are given about hell is that it is hot there. The rich man is in anguish and asks Abraham to have Lazarus dip his finger in water and put it to his tongue.
Abraham then shares two things with the rich man. First, he tells him that in his lifetime the rich man received his good things and Lazarus evil things. The rich man was in Hades not because he was rich, but because he was indifferent. He had ample opportunities to help Lazarus and he didn’t. He didn’t even have to go far, the man was right at his gate. If he didn’t help the man that was right at his gate, presumably he wouldn’t have helped those beyond it. Second, he tells him that there is a chasm between heaven and hell. Those in heaven cannot go to hell, and those in hell cannot go to heaven. Those placements in heaven and hell are permanent.
Then the rich man implores Abraham that he has five brothers, who are doing the same things he was doing, and that Abraham should send Lazarus to warn them. Now, all of a sudden, the rich man has a conscience, he wants to do good for someone else. His whole life he spent being self-absorbed and now he finally wants to do the right thing. Except that Abraham tells him that his request won’t be granted. It is too late.
If we are going to come to Christ, we have to do it in this life. Now you might be asking, what about those who have never heard of Christ and thus never had the opportunity to come to Him? The answer there, I believe, is that those who have never heard of Christ are perhaps in a different category—perhaps He will give them a chance to believe. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m not in that category and neither are you. We have had the opportunity to know Christ. We’ve had the opportunity to serve Christ by serving others. The rich man had ample opportunity, at his gate, every day. And what’s sad is that poor Lazarus desired to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. He didn’t desire to take the rich man’s wealth, he didn’t even begrudge him that. He just wanted some crumbs and that was too much for the rich man, the crumbs he wasn’t going to eat anyway. The thief on the cross, whom we discussed in the previous reflection, threw the crumbs of his life to Christ at the last moment and that was enough. The rich man couldn’t even do that. Only in death did the rich man repent and start to desire to serve, the things he should have been doing in his life, but it was too late. To believe and to serve are things we must figure out and do while we are alive on earth. The ability to believe and repent ends when we die.
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly moved. How long will you set upon a man to shatter him, all of you, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence? They only plan to thrust him down from his eminence. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Men of low estate are but a breath, men of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no confidence in extortion, set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them. Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God; and that to Thee, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For Thou dost not requite a man according to his work. Psalm 62
As long as you are alive, it is never too late to come to Christ—once we have died, it is too late!