Outer Darkness and Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth
Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Let’s now address the imagery above from a biblical view. First off, what is outer darkness?
Paul, giving his defense before King Agrippa helps us to understand the meaning in Acts 26: 18 where he says the purpose of his calling by Jesus is “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me."
We can also see many other references to darkness in the Bible. Here are a few:
“The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.”
But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
So Jesus said to them, “For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes.
From all of these passages, the significance of darkness seems very clear: it is wickedness, evil, and blindness to the truth. When the wicked are cast into the outer darkness, it seems that they are turned over to their sinful ways. As Paul says, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” (Romans 1:24), and “God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Romans 1:28). Essentially, God allows us to choose to do wrong.
But why? One significant argument has to do with free will and how it is necessary in order for love to be authentic. This is already a well-developed argument, so I won’t spend any time on it here. Instead, I want to look to Scripture, where the reason is stated plainly. Take a look: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” ( Romans 11:32 )
This is all really remarkable. God allows us free will, the ability to choose what we will do. Yet His will is still accomplished, even through the seemingly random and brutal events of human history. Though we will be judged for our deeds, he will show us His great mercy even through judgment.
Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth
Finally, let’s address the weeping and gnashing of teeth. What are the results of human darkness and evil in the world? Our darkness results in injustice, sadness, bigotry, racism, oppression, hatred, brutality, and other miseries. Sin is destructive. Evil is destructive. Doesn’t it cause us to weep? Doesn’t it frustrate us? That is why we need God to save us from it.
In addition to these natural consequences of human evil, there is also the reality that we will be purified of these evils in Gehenna. Why would this be painful, you may ask?
Well, imagine that you’ve lived your entire life in a self-absorbed state, treating others with contempt, only satisfying your own evil desires at the expense of others. Then, at the judgment, you are confronted with who you are. You see God’s power and His mercy and grace through His Son, Jesus Christ. That alone would make you miserable and racked with guilt. Now, imagine being cast out and having to let go of all of the sin that has defined your life up till then. How could this not be painful?
I think an analogy will help make this apparent. We are all familiar with the power of drug or alcohol addiction in people’s lives. When someone is trying to quit, withdrawals produce agony. Sometimes drug withdrawal symptoms can actually be fatal, they are so bad. Why then do people try to quit? It is because we understand that the addiction is truly destructive. It is better for the addict to quit than be trapped in addiction, even though the quitting produces torment. The torment ends and they are better off because of it and can begin a new life. I believe this is the picture painted of the judgment of God, a merciful judgment that results in ultimate redemption.
But is there biblical evidence that weeping and anguish can produce repentance and redemption? Indeed there is. Consider Peter's denial of Christ. He denied Jesus not once, but three times in a single night with oaths and cursing. What was his response?
And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Notice that Peter wept bitterly. In Mark 14:72, it says that "he broke down and wept." Peter was in anguish, realizing the depth of his betrayal of his Lord. Remember also that Jesus said "whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:33). Was Peter hopelessly lost and beyond any chance of redemption? Would he be forever denied by Christ to the Father?
No, instead his sin led to a deeper understanding of God's grace and complete restoration. His weeping was temporary and resulted in repentance. Look at how Jesus fully restores him after His resurrection and how Peter responds.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep."
Notice that Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him and that Peter responds three times that He does. Jesus allows Peter to reaffirm his love for Christ three times in order to match the number of times that he denied Him. This grieves Peter. The allusion wasn't lost on him. But neither was the grace. Full restoration was given. The outer darkness into which Peter had plunged by His denials of Christ had served to cement his resolve to love Him more. His bitter weeping and gnashing of teeth had done their work. He would never again deny Christ, though it would cost him his life.
And though Jesus stated that he would deny those who denied Him, we see that such wrath and judgment was only temporary and restorative. Mercy, as the book of James tells us, "triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13).
Psalm 30:5 (NIV)
For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.Weeping and anger are temporary. Favor and rejoicing endure. His love never ends.
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