On Tuesday, in Charleston, SC, cannon fire and somber-sounding music marked a commemoration of the Civil War – the nation's bloodiest internal conflict ever. The events re-creating the siege of Fort Sumter began the four-year national commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the brutal struggle that nearly ended the literal existence of a young prospering nation.
At 4 a.m., a single beam of light reached far into the sky. A half-hour later, around the same time the first shots of the Civil War were fired, there was a second beam that represented a nation that had been torn in two. Later, an authentic 1847 seacoast mortar fired and was met by sounds of cannons from around the harbor. A Union re-enactor then tossed a wreath into the water after which men dressed in gray fired a 21-gun salute. The display was in memory of all who died during the conflict on South Carolina soil. Lastly, just following these symbolic gestures, two buglers played "Taps."
As most know, this particular war was characterized by some seemingly unsolvable philosophical divides. There were two sides at the time that could not be much farther apart in their core beliefs. The differences were so profound that even blood brothers were sometimes willing to fight each other to the death when the situation arose. Today, such a thing seems nearly incomprehensible.
War, and fighting on any level, typically comes from a gap that is hard for the opposing sides to close or heal - regardless of who may be right or wrong. These can be massive as seen when entire nations engage in battle. They can also be as minor as two children fighting over the same toy. But in the heat of the moment, the combatants do all they can to prevail and make their point.
The Bible really is the story of a gap – the most destructive chasm ever. This great gulf exists between a fallen and sinful human race and a righteous and holy God. No two sides could be more divided and no gap greater, because this one involves the most serious of all consequences because it is both spiritual and eternal.
In Luke chapter sixteen Jesus told of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. To make a long story short, poor and righteous Lazarus ended up going to heaven at his death while his counterpart did not fare so well and ended up in a place of torment. The passage presents a painful exchange with the suffering soul begging for relief and comfort in his great agony. Verse 24 begins, "Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said in response, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”
But to make matters far worse, Abraham also related that this man’s horrific torment and location would also be ‘endless’ and with no way of return or reversal. His eternal fate had been sealed during life by having no time for God. The awful finality regarding his fate is seen in verse 26. “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” His sins were never forgiven and thus his doom forever.
The Civil War is past history and hopefully the great moral and inspirational lessons learned will continue to act as a foundation for future generations. But unlike when men fight among themselves, the war surrounding human sin, although still fully raging, has already been won decisively by Jesus Christ. The victory came when He cried out “It is finished” from the cross where He offered Himself up as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. (1 John 2:2) His completed payment for rebellion against God means there is no reason for anyone to be eternally lost and someday find themselves on the wrong side of sin’s dreaded ‘gulf’ forever. Christ’s built the one redemptive bridge that allows escaping from the eternal penalty caused by sin. But that spiritual route must be found and followed in this life as the story of Lazarus graphically shows.
The same Jesus who spoke the above words, also spoke to Thomas concerning the gulf dug deep by sin and mankind’s universal need to fill it. The Savior revealed to him in John 14:5-6. "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Then John added his own words on the subject in 1 John 5:10-13. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” It would seem that even a young child should be able to grasp this basic and critical spiritual concept!
The awful gap of sin between God and man is real. It has everlasting results and its consequences are far beyond any human understanding. But He has given adequate warning through His word. His bridge back to forgiveness and a right relationship with Himself is equally real, fully effective and clearly defined. Once found, understood, and accepted, it changes ones future destiny instantly and eternally. His is the only pathway able to close and heal the great spiritual divide between God and man as is promised in John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”