Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hell Is For Real,Too

“The hell with it!”, “ That was a helluva ball game!”, “Get the hell out of here!”, ‘Where the hell do you think you’re going?”…Add your own favorites.

It’s amazing how often we refer to hell and yet, apparently, we not only do not fear it, but also seem to think we’re all going to heaven, implicitly denying its existence. Have you read the obituaries lately? At my age, it’s required. As the late George Burns said, “The first thing I do in the morning is read the obituaries. If I’m not listed, I get up”.

Almost every obituary I read these days says pretty much that the deceased has “gone to be with her Lord” or “went to be in the arms of his Savior”. Not to be disrespectful, but, I think the obit should have read “he died and went to be judged”. He may be cast into hell. Terrible thought? You bet.

Hell is mentioned 110 times in the Bible. Imagine. And in those days, they weren’t using that word in a sentence the way we so casually do. If you check a few Bible references, you will get the not surprising idea that hell was (is) a place of unending pain that is punishment for our sins that grievously offended God.

As a cloud is consumed, and passeth away: so he that shall go down to hell shall not come up.” ( Job 7:9) Not come up? Scary stuff.

“And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) He wasn’t talking Walking Dead or True Blood.

Probably the greatest description of hell was written by Dante in his “Inferno”, the first part of his 14th-century epic poem, Divine Comedy. It’s the telling of the journey of Dante through what is largely the medieval concept of Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth. Allegorically, the Divine Comedy represents the journey of the soul towards God, with the Inferno describing the recognition and rejection of sin.

The best selling book, “Heaven Is For Real”, got me to thinking about Hell. The book was written by a father whose 4 year old son claimed he traveled to heaven while in a coma. His descriptions are predictably warm and fuzzy. The enormous success of the book suggests to me that we hope and expect heaven and love to read anybody’s description, including, strangely, one by a four year old.

My favorite description of hell, however, was given by Saint Thomas Aquinas, the brilliant 13th century Catholic theologian who wrote that hell was the absence of God’s love. For anyone who has lost a loved one to death or separation, the pain of loss is sometimes unbearable. Pain on earth is temporary and ends with our death if not before. The pain in hell of losing God’s love is never ending.

Why am I talking about Hell as the holidays approach? Well, it’s my disgust with our culture. Turn on the TV, open a newspaper and see the fabric of our social mores fraying before your very eyes. Immorality is commonplace. And, maybe it’s me, but it seems that no one acts like there will be an accounting for their immoral behavior or they wouldn’t act the way they do.

While I’m no saint and I’m not screaming “ Repent, The End Is Near” but, hell is for real, too. And, that’s a helluva thought.