6 – LOST
“This brother of yours was dead and has come to life;
he was lost and has been found.”
LOST. What a terrible word. And the fifteenth chapter of Luke gives dramatic focus to this word. It is used to describe the fundamental condition of the younger son, “He was lost.”
Three times we are told that a sheep was lost. Twice we are told that a coin was lost. Twice the father of the runaway son cries out in joy, “This my son was lost, but is found.”
The word “loss” is an intriguing word. We use it in a variety of ways.
It is used when we lose an object and we seek to find it in some version of the lost and found office. A friend of mine came into my office some time ago. His face was pale. He looked confused and bewildered. He had lost his ring of keys. He couldn’t get into his home, his office, or his car.
The word “lost” is used in another way. It is used of those who have lost their sense of direction. I have pulled into enough gas stations in strange places and begun the conversation with the words, “Excuse me, I’m lost. Can you help me?” In my part of the world persons are lost every summer in the wilderness or in the forest. People are lost every winter in the middle of snowstorms. They simply cannot find their way home, cannot get their direction. They are lost.
There is a another way we use the word. Sometimes persons are not aware that they are lost. They are not lost to themselves, but are lost to others. Concerned parents face the problem of runaway children. Children run away and begin a life on their own, and just never communicate. Family members do not know whether they are dead or alive, in trouble or safe. The runaway may not feel lost, but others feel their loss terribly.
We use the word in another context. Young people in our culture are still heard saying, “I am trying to find myself.” They are saying that they feel lost, disoriented and confused. They know where they are physically, but they don’t know where they are going. They sense there must be a purpose to life, but they cannot find it. They feel like lost waifs in a lost world!
Sometimes we speak of a person’s life being a real loss. There was so much promise in that person’s life and yet they failed to fulfill the dream. So much skill, such great talent, such a good mind, going to waste! What a loss!
The word is used when we sell something far below its real value. “I took a real loss on the sale of my house.” When a thing has decreased in value, a loss has taken place, though the house is still in the same location.
We also use the word as a euphemism for death. The doctor comes out of the emergency room to say, “I’m sorry. We lost him.”
Now, the son who went wandering was lost. It was not that he didn’t know where he was or how to get home. He had not developed amnesia and lost his memory. He wasn’t that confused. But it seemed like he had lost any sense of direction. He was a bit like the airplane pilot who is reputed to have said, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is we are making great speed; the bad news is we don’t know where we are going.” Because the son was lost in confusion, he quickly lost his money, lost his friends, lost his dignity, and almost lost his life. Those looking upon this young man could sense that the promise he had shown initially had been lost. They could sense that he was wasting his life. He even looked like a loser!
The Scriptures frequently use the word “lost” when they speak of men and women out of relationship with God. Throughout the Old Testament Israel is viewed by the prophets as the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Psalm 119:176, Jeremiah 50:6, Ezekiel 34:4-16) Jesus uses the very same phrase as he attempts to divert the “lost sheep of Israel” from their impending doom. (Matt 10:6, 15:24)
Jesus also uses this word in a warning in Luke 9:24-25. “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” Other versions amend that phrase with the words, “… but loses his soul?” Jesus in the fourth Gospel reminds us again, “He who loves his life will lose it.” (John 12:25)
But it is in Luke’s gospel that the theme of the lostness of humanity comes to focus. In chapter 15 he tells of a lost sheep, a lost coin and two lost sons, but then comes to the reason for the coming of Jesus in the first place, as he announces the theme of his entire gospel, “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” (19:10)
The young man of this parable is lost. But he is not alone. It is our universal plight, and that is why this young man is every man and every woman; LOST and needing to be found!
There has been a vigorous debate about this matter of being lost that I need to bring to the surface. It is a fight that Christians of all stripes have fought among themselves for most of the past century.
Lost in Eternity.
There is one school of thought that thinks primarily about a person being lost in eternity. The picture that comes to their mind is that of the judgment seat of God, where each of us will appear and where God hands down the final sentence on our lives. Some of us will be saved from judgment and allowed into heaven, while others will be lost and consigned to hell. The parable of the sheep and the goats recorded in Matthew’s gospel comes to mind here. Salvation is seen primarily as getting people safely home to heaven, having enabled them to pass inspection at the judgment seat of God. Salvation is seen as providing a “green card” that guarantees access to heaven. The position is clear; if a person has not been converted to Christ, they will be lost for all eternity! To be “saved” then means to be saved from such a fate. The doctrine of unconditional eternal security developed in part from this understanding, that to be “saved” was to be “safe” from the final judgment.
Lost in time.
But another perspective has developed on this matter of what it means to be lost. It has less to do with eternity and more to do with time. It has less to do with the law court analogy of a final judgment, and has more to do with a judgment that is at work already in our world and is demonstrated in our lostness.
People are already lost. The judgment for sin is here already playing itself out in our lives. As Augustine is reputed to have said, “The punishment for sin, is sin.” We have already suffered a terrible loss, and if that cannot be reversed, that loss will become more pervasive in our lives.
Some voices have left behind the impression that God is easily offended, and that he will make us pay for any infringement of his will, with eternal damnation as our punishment! Salvation then has often been portrayed as being saved from the wrath of God.
But other voices tells us that God is less interested in saving us from His anger, as saving us from our being angry so easily and so often. God is less interested in saving us from hell, as he is in saving us from being hell to live with. God is less concerned with saving us from his righteous judgment, as he is to save us from being unjust in our relationship with each other. He is less preoccupied with getting the guilt of our past erased, as He is in strengthening us with might by His spirit so that we cease from our habitual sinning in the days that still lie before us. The father of the profligate son is less interested in what the son has done; he is filled instead with joy because of what the son is now doing and might be doing in the future. The son does not need to be saved from his father’s wrath so much as he needs to be saved from his self-destructive ways that are mutilating his life.
Of course both sides need to be heard. There is truth to be heard on both sides. It is interesting in this regard to notice Jesus’ view of hell. The word that he chooses to use is “Gehenna”. It is employed only 12 times in the Bible and 11 of those occurrences are on the lips of Jesus. The word is intriguing. It is from the Hebrew word “Ge” which means “valley” and “Hinnom” the name of a family in Israelite history. The sons of Hinnom had possession of a valley to the southwest of the city of Jerusalem.
In the days of the monarchy it had been used as a site for pagan worship. Upon returning from exile in Babylon the Jews had turned it into the city garbage dump. It was where the refuse of that city was brought day after day, decade after decade, for centuries. It was a place where fires burned continually, clouds of black smoke never ceased to ascend, and where the worms and maggots foraged through the putrefying mess. Anything sent there was considered to be no longer of value! And Jesus with sadness knows that there are people who live such a damaged and damaging life, that they will end up discarded on the garbage dump of life, and that will be hell![i]
[i] For further discussion of this theme read: Rob Bell, Love Wins; A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. (Harper Collins, N.Y. 2011.)