Rescuing Folks From Air-Conditioned Hells

by Joe McKeever

<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>

Writing in the July, 2003, issue of Christianity Today, Timothy George discusses the medieval theology which sent unbaptized infants to limbo, "a sort of air-conditioned compartment of hell in which there was little suffering but from which there was no escape." What a picture. Every day I see people in my city living in air-conditioned hells from which they can find no escape. My guess is they know Christianity to be a nice respectable religion for people who have their act together. We wonder if they know at the heart of this movement is a divine Redeemer who rescues people from their own private hells.

In a 1941 volume called I Saw England, CBS radio newsman Ben Robertson details his experiences in wartime Britain. One day in Liverpool, he discovered an American named Harvey Hiott wasting away in a British jail through no fault of his own. Nearly two years earlier, nineteen-year-old Hiott had met the skipper of a Danish ship in Charleston, South Carolina. "How would you like to make a three-week trip to Santo Domingo and back to Charleston?" the skipper asked. That sounded like the perfect diversion before heading back to school, so Hiott ran home and packed a bag.

To his dismay, the ship traveled to Jamaica, then to Spain, to Africa, Ireland, and finally Liverpool. A year after leaving home, Harvey jumped ship and sought out the American consul in Liverpool for help.

"He seemed like a fine boy," the consul general told Ben Robertson. "He had no passport, but there was no doubt about his being an American. Nobody but a Charlestonian could have that accent."

Since all Danish ships had been commandeered by England, young Hiott was arrested by the British as a deserter. The consul general intervened in court, protesting that Harvey was there through the criminal acts of another. The court threw out the charges, only to be followed by the British government filing an alien deportation order against the young man.

At this point, the red tape became hopelessly ensnarled. As an American, Harvey was bound by the American Neutrality Act which prohibited its citizens from sailing from England in anything but U.S. vessels. However, the last American ship had left in July and no one knew when another would arrive. Under British law Harvey could not stay in England, but under American law, he could not leave. The British saw their only recourse as throwing him into prison in Liverpool, a jail that-by the time Ben Robertson arrived-had been bombed by the Nazis with heavy casualties. 

Ben Robertson called on Harvey in the prison, taking him a woolen shirt, some socks, fruit, and candy. "We'll get you out," he promised.

Back in London, Robertson visited the American Embassy and took the situation all the way to Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy. Kennedy placed a call to the British Home Secretary and in five hours, Harvey Hiott was a free man. An American family stationed in Britain hosted him at their farm in Surrey until passage opened up back to the States and home.

Stuck in illness and grief, with the lonely torment of accusing friends badgering him day and night, Job called out, "I know that my redeemer lives! And at the last He will take his stand upon the earth"  (Job 19:25). Languishing in the prison of his pain and despair, Job knew God in heaven had a rescuer for him. In another place, he yearned for someone to take his case with God. "There is no umpire between us," he pined, "who may lay his hand upon us both" (Job 9:33).

An umpire. A redeemer. Someone to step in, like Ben Robertson did for Harvey Hiott in Liverpool. You and I were hopelessly stuck in a prison of our own making without any possibility of escape. We could not retrace our steps and undo what we had done. We could not push our way forward to find a way out of the maze. We were stuck. Then, a Savior came to our rescue and set us free. "We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous" (1 John 2:1).

Two gunshots rang out in my neighborhood a few nights ago. A wife screamed and called 911. The police found a distraught husband outside on the lawn, brandishing a pistol. Neighbors heard the commotion and milled around in the street in their nightclothes. A family member said he had heard the husband crying over and over, "There's no way out!" When the man pointed the pistol at the police, it was all over. Law enforcement people have a name for this kind of tragedy: "death by cop." Personal and financial pressures had so overwhelmed the man, he saw no escape but the permanent, final out, for which he used the police. 

Like Ben Robertson, you and I can open no prison doors. We may however find those in prison and minister to them. We can give them hope and take their cases to Jesus-heaven's Ambassador and earth's Redeemer-who has the power to unlock all shackles and set the prisoners free. That is why the gospel is such good news.

"I was in prison and you came to me" (Matt. 25:36).

<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>

Dr. McKeever until recently pastored at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana. He is now director of Missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association.

<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>

<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>

<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>

2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad