READ: 1 Samuel 4-6, Psalm 82, John 14, Ephesians 3
In 1 Samuel 4 the ark of God is captured. Israel had gone to war against the Philistines, and knowing they needed help, knowing God dwelt above the cherubim, they brought God along (v. 4). “God has come into the camp!” they shouted, and the earth shook. The Philistines heard the report and, knowing they were up against a formidable foe, exhorted themselves to “be strong and conduct themselves like men, and fight” (v. 9). If it’s good for the goose (enemies of God), that sure seems like good advice for the gander (His people as well).
The battle happens and stunningly God loses. The ark is captured. Eli falls over backwards, and Phineas’ wife gives birth to a son and calls him “Ichabod” – the glory has departed.
We need to give our fathers and mothers in the faith more credit. Eli did not mourn the slaughter of his sons, and he really did not care about a box. The anguish was not that God was captured (nestled in among the cherubim) because that is impossible. The anguish was that God was gone. The only way for the enemies to capture the ark was if God had left it – God had left His people. This is functional hell, the absence of the presence of God. Eli and his daughter-in-law were astute enough to realize the implications of a captured ark. God was no longer with Israel, the glory has departed, we are in hell.
The Hebrew word for glory (khavod) has a sense of “weight” in the meaning. There is a heaviness to the presence of Jesus. When Jesus is present in power, He can be felt. You can sense in your spirit when God is pleased, when God is moving, when God is speaking, when God is present. Eli carried a double anguish – not only was God gone (and His people in functional hell); Eli realized that he was partially liable for God’s absence. His unrestrained son had led the people astray (1 Samuel 2:24); they made the Lord’s people transgress.
Functional hell is the absence of the presence of God. Pity the man or the woman who bears liability for the absence of God due to their sin or their leading others to sin. Let us not be the damned who are responsible for the absence of God – this is the opposite of mission. Real mission is to bear the glory (the weight of the presence of Jesus) to the peoples that know it not. Anti-mission is to grieve the Spirit of God by our sin and cause Him to abandon us to a deserved hell. Mission is glorious. Anti-mission is inglorious hell.