Is Cowardice Worthy of the Lake of Fire?

So here’s a weird bit of scripture:

He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death. (Rev 21:7f)

Who’s going to burn in the lake of fire? I understand the faithless, the polluted, murderers, fornicators, etc. But why put “the cowardly” at the top of the list?

I ran across this verse when doing some cross referencing with the word “fear.” (See previous post.) To be clear the Greek word for fear (phobos) is not used here (although the KJV does translate it “fear,” so it showed up in one of my searches). Rather it is the word deilois, an adjective meaning “cowardly” or “timid.”

Remember Martin Niemöller’s famous poem that begins, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist. … ? Pastor Niemöller was railing against apathy, but timidity can also lead to such inaction. And Niemöller’s contention was that those guilty of innaction are as guilty as those who did the evil deeds. As great a sound bite as that poem is, I always found Pastor Niemöller to be a bit over the top. I attributed it to survivor’s remorse. I argued that reality was a bit more complicated than that. There are, after all, extenuating circumstances. Ethics can always be black and white after the fact; doing the right thing is often gray and murkey in the midst of the crisis. For this reason I always preferred Bonhoeffer, who, in all his absoluteness, was far more nuanced than Niemöller. (That’s pretty funny, heh? Describing Bonhoeffer as “nuanced”?)

(And don’t call Bonhoeffer a martyr. He didn’t die for confessing Christ, he died because he was a spy and was caught in the midst of an act of treason. The cause for his actions was his Christian faith, but that was not the cause of his death. In his Letters from Prison he struggles with the issue of “disobeying Ceasar when we are commanded to respect our authorities.” This gets to the heart of why he is such a great hero of mine. Did he do it because he was a Christian or did he do it because he was a German? I’m not sure Bonhoeffer could fully distinguish the two. It’s this fundamental ambiguity that makes him so great in my mind. He’s a confused Christian and accidental saint. While I’m convinced that God will give him the white robe of martyrdom, it was political expediency that drove him to plot to overthrow and/or murder Hitler.)

But in the end, it may be Niemöller who had the clearer vision of truth: “But as for the cowardly … their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.

Caveat. I’m not preaching this as gospel truth. I’m just trying to make sense of a really weird verse of scripture.


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