“I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit….If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and withers, and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:1,2,5)
Well, really what else can you do with dead wood? It’s a messy job to rake it all up on a pile and burn it. Jesus is talking not about wood, but human beings. It brings us to understand some problems we have about living in Christ during this lifetime and what happens in the next world. In this life we are baptized into Christ and blessed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit to grow, develop and increase in godliness. By ever growing in faith, prayer, growing up in communion with the people of God and giving an example of a person who loves the Lord and enjoys His presence in us, we know we are His and He is our loving Lord.
What happens when we are injured by others, mocked for our beliefs, or bad things happen to us even when we had prayed so hard that they wouldn’t happen? ”...every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” So we should expect to be tested. We are being “pruned,” challenged, tested, put upon like faithful Job in the Bible. Christ calls us to “abide in Me. ” It means that we must go through the difficult times and come out even stronger in our faith. The one who abides stays put. He or she doesn’t whimper or consider it unfair to be tested. Yes, of course God is still filled with love; but He prepares us for heaven by placing obstacles on earth that will make us stronger.
The word hell in the Bible comes from kolazo. It has two meanings: It can mean either pruning or else punishment. Usually we mean the latter definition. However, it is not God who punishes people; it is they themselves who choose not to utilize the spiritual gifts that are given to them when they are made Christians. The obvious conclusion in this glorious self-definition of our Lord Himself as the “True vine” is rather ominous. It seems not to offer much hope for the dead wood, but what does one do with something that has no life and produces no fruit? Worse, there is a sort of contradiction in our understanding of the afterlife. As for the dead branches, “they gather them up and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
The spiritual fathers have this explanation. The souls of those who once lived are never obliterated. Even beyond this world they continue to exist. Those who have borne spiritual fruit in this lifetime will be brought to the Light of the Holy Trinity, and they will develop an ever greater affinity to that Light. Like the three apostles on Mt. Tabor witnessing the Transformation of Jesus Christ, but who could not adjust their vision to the brightness of that light, they will do so in the life beyond. The ones who have turned from worship, choosing to follow other paths in this lifetime, rejecting the love of Christ and the life in the Holy Spirit, they also will be exposed to the Light of the Lord; however, it will be for them a fire and not an illumination. It’s not God who is condemning them. He is filled with love for all creation, but He has no power or rather He chooses not to force anybody to respond to His love.