Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned! Go to hell. To hell with it! Give ’em hell! What the hell? Oh, hell! Today was hell. What the hell IS HELL?
There is a frightening amount of people who believe that hell is fire and brimstone and eternal physical torture. I was, in fact, taught this belief when I was younger–all my life growing up. We are taught that to keep us in line, of course, as no one likes the thought of any kind of physical pain. But do I believe it? No. Our bodies can feel pain. Our souls–our spirits can’t–so the idea of physical suffering in hell makes no sense, does it? Assuming with the second coming of Christ we are reunited with a transformed body, the same line of thinking would apply. It’s not eternal burning in hellfire we should fear or expect, but the separation from God, which is still hell itself.
Nor do I believe there is a satan–the title itself means “accuser”– who rules hell and oversees the everlasting punishment of the unrepentant sinners. I do believe Lucifer was a fallen angel–his arrogance was his fatal flaw and he was cast out of heaven, but he was God’s favorite and most trusted angel at one point. But that is as far as my belief in him goes. I also believe that those who believe and preach hell and damnation too often blame satan for their short comings, failures and bad behavior. Did man create this image of satan in order to shift the blame off himself? At some point, did the fallen angel Lucifer and satan, the ruler of hell, become fused into one being? (God does not operate on the same concepts of time and space as we do, either–heaven is not “up,” hell is not “down.” They are not physical places–we only imagine them as such because it’s what we can understand). We alone are accountable for our mistakes, regardless of how destructive they are; to blame an evil entity means we have no control over our choices, and therefore, we can’t be held accountable. How absurd a notion is that? That idea alone has permeated like a cancer into our judicial system, as well. Blame a neglectful or abusive parent, a bad teacher, an abusive husband, whatever, to explain a horrific crime…and get off scot-free. Televangelists, even evangelists do this, too. “The Devil made me do it” excuse just doesn’t fly with me.
So, getting back to hell…
What is it if it’s not fire and eternal torture? Hell is hopelessness and separation from God. That’s all. No fire, no demons, nothing dramatic like that. Remember in your darkest hours how hopeless you were? I can imagine mine…all of them. Can you also remember coming back from the edge of the darkness? There was always hope and on some level we knew that. Now imagine that feeling of sheer hopelessness multiplied exponentially…times a bigger number than you can imagine, and knowing, truly knowing you will never get through it. You can’t die; you are already dead. And God is no where for you. And it’s not that He wouldn’t have loved you or forgiven you, it’s that you chose to turn your back on Him. He won’t force you to love Him. He’s not about that; he gives us a choice. Whether you knew it our not, in our darkest hours, He was there. He was hope. I believe hell is eternal hopelessness and despair. The eternal darkness. The eternal nothing.
There was a movie that came out in 1988 called “What Dreams May Come” starring Robin Williams. The movie is based on the 1978 novel of the same name by Richard Matheson. It opens with a man and wife and their children just leading their day to day lives when one morning their two children Ian and Marie are killed in a car accident. Later, Chris is also killed in a car accident. In her grief, his wife Annie can’t take the compounded loss of losing her entire family and commits suicide. Now, keep in mind Chris, Ian, and Marie go to Heaven, but Annie is consigned to an area of hell, specifically for suicides. His heaven is beautiful and colorful and absolutely peaceful and he’s OK as long as she is alive, but when he finds out what she’s done, he decides to leave heaven to bring her to him. He is warned he may not get to come back.
He decides he can’t exist as a soul in heaven without her, so he goes to find her. He suffers great peril and many obstacles just to get to her and finally finds himself on a type of sea. He looks down and realizes he is walking in the dark, on the sea, but it is filled with the tormented faces of those who have committed suicide. They aren’t in hell yet at all, but in a type of dark, despairing, watery limbo. He has to go even further to get to her. Finally, he reaches her and finds her in what appears to be the ruins of their old life. It is colorless and gray and she is sitting there alone. She is in so much despair and hopelessness, she doesn’t recognize him, is frightened, and runs and hides from him. He decides he will trade heaven for an existence in “hell,” even if she never recognizes or acknowledges him. Hollywood does a take on the fact that suicide is a selfish, violent act of no redemption, but also poses the question: What if someone loves you enough to lose heaven to suffer hell with you?
So, the movie goes on… They go through hell to get back to heaven and be reunited with their children, and we all cry at the end. His willingness to give up heaven redeems her. OK…so where am I going with all this?
I guess it’s because I really don’t believe our reward or punishment is of this earth. Heaven is not being in a happy mood due to a material or self serving choice we make. Hell is not a bad day or lonely life, or disease, or failure. Our true suffering doesn’t come from separation from a loved one, it comes from separation from God which is sheer, utter, eternal hopelessness. That assumption alone means I do believe in an after life. Why do terrible people “seem” happy or experience good fortune? Why do some who experience misfortune enjoy and live life to the fullest. It’s our choices, I guess, but God doesn’t care about our finances and won’t “bless” any one with good fortune. Nor does he “choose” to dole out suffering on a whim…what a chaotic world we’d live in if, like in Greek mythology, God doled out happiness and misery at His leisure or based His outcome for us based on our human actions. I think some people still believe in that ancient line of thinking, and their lives reflect it. As a sinner, all my bad choices have no bearing on whether I’m a good person or whether I’m good enough for God’s love. Those two are mutually exclusive. Historically, Jesus was always among the whores, the diseased, the thieves, and the murderers because he loved them most…and they needed him most. He didn’t dine with kings; he didn’t seek out the self righteous and surround himself with the elite and outwardly”holy” to sit and adore his human form. I try to understand, I try to listen to what God says to me. I do, however, question God’s existence when I hear of a child who has been abused by his parents, or when I see someone suffer the loss of a child or spouse, or when I see disease ravage the body and slowly destroy the life someone close to me. Sometimes I do figuratively shake my fist at my Creator and truly question His existence, His reasons, forgetting God does not work on our human timetable or to our will, ever. But we should question, we should wonder, we should sometimes doubt. We are merely sheep if we don’t.