Hell is a very misunderstood place. There are too many complex misunderstandings for me to iron it ALL out for you here. First off, I am not the qualified person for the task, and secondly, this blog post can’t handle that much information, and C, the controversy I would generate by trying will all be a distraction from the point of this blog.
So, without ironing out everything, I will make a few simple assertions and let the chips fall where they may.
When I was young, HELL was deeply explored by Christian preachers and do-gooders extensively in nearly every Sunday sermon and nearly every Tuesday prayer service. Actually, Hollywood helped this view too. And my impression, my understanding, revolved around the ideas of death, of subterranean devils, fire, brimstone, and unimaginable pain that drags out for eternity! (Something I learned in church (and at the movies)).
Somehow brimstone, pain, and eternity all go together to paint the picture. When I was a teenager, I read Dante’s Inferno, and I strongly suspect that book is responsible for these headlines on HELL. But after I was grown and gone to Bible school, I read C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, and my understanding changed dramatically. From Lewis I learned the problem with HELL is the neighbors!
I remember a sermon illustration I heard many years ago which suddenly began to make much more sense of things for me. The preacher’s parable was told about a grand feast put on my the king who invited everyone from his kingdom to come and eat at his magnificent table. But at this meal, there was just one problem: every one of the attendees could not bend their elbows. Thus, though they could stab their fork into the scrumptious food, they could not then put it into their mouths. These poor guests were stuck there in agony looking at and smelling a lovely meal fit for a king, but could not actually partake! This, the preacher said, was HELL. However, the feast in HEAVEN was all exactly the same with one exception: the attendees carefully placed the food stabbed on the end of their forks in the mouths of the neighbors sitting next to them, and thus in HEAVEN the guests enjoyed the lovely meal whereas in HELL the guest were tortured by the lovely meal.
Lewis’s “Grey Town” – a place where the citizens argue whether the day is ultimately dawning or fading as it is perpetually stuck in twilight – captures the point. God gives us a wonderful creation and grants us his own Spirit empowering us to LIVE in it in peace. But then we either make a HELL of it or HEAVEN of it.
As Lewis says it:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in HELL, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no HELL.
I want to take care at this point and say that I have no intention of reducing this phenom to American politics, for certainly the blanket statement Lewis makes there is true for Greeks, Babylonians, Assyrians, as well as Romans and Democrats. But neither I, nor any of my readers (to my knowledge) are any of those. But the demons ravaging the Republican Party and the demons ravaging the Democrat Party, meanwhile, are raving America at large (and according to trickle-down philosophy, the rest of the world too).
“Who is my neighbor?” A question Jesus was once tested with, and the answer he gave was quite unsuspected, and the neighborliness shown by the hero of his story with which he gave answer, was remarkably like that of the guests at the King’s Table in HEAVEN.
If you are a Republican, and if you think this nation is worthwhile in God’s creation, then be a good neighbor to a Democrat today – a fellow American. Hold one another’s interests as more important than your own – I might have read that somewhere!
I’m not asking you to suddenly vote in favor of abortion, but maybe if your church will make a public offer to adopt any child in any condition who for whatever reason is unwanted as a pregnancy, then you will address the demons ravaging your fellow Americans who think this child will be the destruction of their joy and peace – their pursuit of happiness, and you will address it with LOVE! The best way to exorcise a demon!!! And you will leave very little room for anything that sounds reasonable in the argument for abortion, and you will have done it without having passed a law or a statute at all. And you will bring the heart of one so eager to kill innocent babies for the sake of “a right to do with their own body” into the light where even that person, with all her reasonable fears eliminated, will see the utter selfishness of her own position.
You, Republican (especially one taking the Lord’s Name), have this responsibility to God who allows your party and your nation to exist in HIS creation for which, if you are not careful, you make a HELL of it. You have a seat at the feast! What kind of neighbor will you be???
And while I am addressing YOU, you Republican (especially one take the Lord’s Name), why would you order a world God makes in such a way that we all should serve Mammon? And that those who do not serve him conservatively, should then be punished with poverty? That is not the meal at the King’s Table in HEAVEN! That risks taking the Lord’s Name in vain! This creation you are ordering has been quite gracious to you! Forgive the debt! (I might have read that somewhere.)
You, Republicans (especially those taking the Lord’s Name) have a deeper allegiance than that of flag and apple pie and you have a deeper fear than that of communism or terrorism or “big government.” You have a first allegiance to Jesus and a true fear of the Lord! Or else you are not a good neighbor, and the world you order is HELL, and the problem with that is YOU, the poor neighbor.
(Yes, I could turn the tables on Democrats too, but odds are you, dear reader, are not one of those. So why waste my blog on addressing those not reading here? But if you are a liberal, Dem who takes the Lord’s Name, please leave me a comment below, and I will be happy to address you too.)
The problem with HELL is the neighbors. And brothers and sisters, we are working quite diligently – hammer and tong – on making a HELL of God’s good world every day. I see it in the headlines every morning, and I hear it in the conversations over coffee at the café and coffee shop every morning. I find it defended in Bible class! We are making quite an industry of hate and fear. We have such a lovely feast set before us. But the only way we will be able to partake of it is if we be good neighbors!