A Glimpse Into Hell: Eternal Isolation

keyser-sozeThe greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world that he didn’t exist. – Kevin Spacey as Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects, 1995)

Last week, my drawing addressed the topics of death and judgement. The second week of delving into the afterlife proved equally heavy, focusing on hell’s reality.

 

Hell

Like your position on the afterlife, what you believe about hell is evident in how you live as well. Sadly, a great number of people who believe in heaven and call themselves Christians reject hell being a real place. “Christians” who do not believe in hell’s existence for unbelievers will not speak of their faith with the same tone of gratitude and urgency as those who understand its grave reality. These are the people Craig Groeschel refers to as Christian Atheists, people who claim Christ but live as if he doesn’t exist. I am not saying the only real Christians are those who get up on their soap box and condemn everyone in earshot. I believe many of those people will fall into the “goat” category,  referenced last week. The difference will be clear in how each person lives, one looks out for “the least of these” the other just looks out for themselves.

The same book that opens our minds to the concept of grace and redemption also warns us of justice and condemnation. How can this be? If you believe God is a god of love, how can any loving being let a single person experience hell? This perceived contradiction is what offends many people about the Christian faith, but the issue really boils down to semantics. While God is love, love is not God. God’s character is a perfect harmony of love, justice, wrath, and mercy. So…..God created everything. Why create a hell in the first place? The answer to that question lies in understanding who Satan is.

What’s the first image that pops into your head when you think of Satan? A muscular, bright crimson humanoid with a black cape, Satan imagehorns of a goat, carrying a pitch-fork? Do you think of him as hell’s equal to God?

I can’t say what Satan looks like, he manifests himself in many forms throughout the Bible. What I can promise, though he has seniority in hell, his place is not comparable to God by any stretch of the imagination. Leaving the comforts of heaven for the torment of hell was not a “grass is greener” situation gone bad. It was not a promotion, much less a voluntary move. Satan and his band of angels were cast into hell by God as punishment for attempting a coup.

OK, Satan’s not a god in his own right as leader of hell and arrived there for attempting to overthrow God (his own creator). So what? Still doesn’t justify God creating it for all unbelievers, does it? Couldn’t God have just vaporized Satan on the spot, along with the corrupted angels, and that be the end of it? Why the ongoing presence? Mercy.

Lucifer (Satan) craved maximum power, he wanted to be God, he chose to try to take the position he wanted by force. The angels he corrupted chose to follow Satan instead of God. Despite knowing the agony and torment that accompanies being separated from Him, God gave these beings what they wanted; out. God created hell, not as a grand scheme of ultimate torture and punishment to hang over our heads and keep us in line. Hell was created so beings who did not want to be in God’s presence wouldn’t have to be. In that sense, hell is a byproduct of God’s mercy.

God does not force anyone to stay in His presence, doing so would violate a crucial key to being created by a loving God; free will. Every soul has a choice, including you. You can choose to be with God (heaven) or you can choose not to be with God (hell). In Luke 16:19-31, we read about a rich man and Lazarus. The rich man chose to spend everything he made on himself, living a lavish lifestyle and being lord over his own life. Lazarus was the man he walked past every morning, the man starving on his doorstep (v.19-21). Both men died. Lazarus chose to spend eternity with God, the rich man (by his selfish decisions during life) chose otherwise, eternity in hell (V.22). What we can understand from this passage is that, while in hell, the rich man is able to see Lazarus in heaven (v.23). The rich man begs for mercy from God, asking if Lazarus can offer just a drop of water off the end of his finger to ease the rich man’s thirst. The response he received sends a chill down my spine, “between you and us, a great chasm has been set in place.” (v. 24-25). Realizing the permanence of his situation, the rich man changes his plea. Send Lazarus to my family so he can convince them to change their ways and not wind up like me. (v. 27-28) Finally, he gets it. Life is not about you, it’s about you helping everyone else. His revelation is too late, as Abraham explains, he had his chance and so does his family through the prophets that already told them to embrace God. The options are plainly out on the table, the decision is theirs to make. (v.29-31)

My drawing shows the state of the rich man. Not a state of active torture or perpetual incineration, total isolation. Consider these documented effects of temporary isolation in humans: severe anxiety, panic attacks, lethargy, insomnia, nightmares, dizziness, confusion, irrational anger, delusions, paranoia, “a dysfunctional state and inability ever to live normally outside confinement.” This alone is hell enough. But wait, not only is the rich man spending eternity experiencing this, he can see the paradise he rejected.

I used only charcoal on today’s drawing to make the image as dark a possible. The background is completely black, the presence of no color in the light spectrum, the color most children fear at bedtime, the color of complete isolation. The head at the bottom of the page looks up through this blackness, recognizing his lonely environment and looking to the paradise he could have enjoyed. The lightest parts of the drawing are outside the borders of the black space, the whites of the eyes of the figure (symbolizing his self-awareness, and the tear running down his cheek (symbolizing his eternal regret). My hope is you will feel the despair flowing from this face and choose to avoid it in your eternity.

To summarize, God created everything out of love, He then established order by His justice, He keeps that order by His wrath, then created hell out of mercy.

O Death

‘O, Death’ author unknown

O, Death
O, Death
Won’t you spare me over til another year
Well what is this that I can’t see
With ice-cold hands takin’ hold of me
Well I am death, none can excel
I’ll open the door to heaven or hell
Whoa, death someone would pray
Could you wait to call me another day
The children prayed, the preacher preached
Time and mercy is out of your reach
I’ll fix your feet til you can’t walk
I’ll lock your jaw til you can’t talk
I’ll close your eyes so you can’t see
This very air, come and go with me
I’m death I come to take the soul
Leave the body and leave it cold
To draw up the flesh off of the frame
Dirt and worm both have a claim
O, Death
O, Death
Won’t you spare me over til another year
My mother came to my bed
Placed a cold towel upon my head
My head is warm my feet are cold
Death is a-movin upon my soul
Oh, death how you’re treatin’ me
You’ve close my eyes so I can’t see
Well you’re hurtin’ my body
You make me cold
You run my life right outta my soul
Oh death please consider my age
Please don’t take me at this stage
My wealth is all at your command
If you will move your icy hand
Oh the young, the rich or poor
Hunger like me you know
No wealth, no ruin, no silver no gold
Nothing satisfies me but your soul
O, death
O, death
Wont you spare me over til another year
Wont you spare me over til another year
Wont you spare me over til another year

Two things in life are guaranteed, death and taxes. Well today, April 15, we started a new series; Afterlife: What the Bible says and what we’ve made up. Naturally, before we can really dig into the afterlife we talk about what gets us there, death. Something else that is certain in life, what you believe about death and eternity will affect how you live.

Physically speaking, the mechanics of death is simple, the parts of the human body that must function to sustain life simply stop working. Spiritually, death marks the moment when the body and soul separate. Our bodies are nothing more than the vessels we use while on the earth. Upon death, the body is nothing more than a mass of dead matter that is slowly returning to dirt(Genesis 3:19). The soul does not die, it lives on after it is free from the body (Matthew 10:28). The question that has to be answered is where? The answer is determined by the choices made while you’re confined in your body (John 11:26).

Even for the Christian, death does not mark immediate transportation into paradise. We will all face judgement. Some will sand before a great white throne for this spiritual review. White is often a color associated with the positive aspects of the Christian faith, but in this case, white is not where you want to find yourself. The souls whose lives are judged in front of the white throne are there because there is no place for them in heaven (Revelation 20:11). These are the people who did not place their faith in Jesus, choosing to trust in their own ability to obtain righteousness. For them, judgement is swift and disastrous.

Contrary to popular belief, Christians will also have their lives judged. Not a judgement determining whether they will enter heaven, Jesus already opened that door. This judgement will decide their reward once they enter heaven. What!? We won’t all receive equal pats on the back and “well done good and faithful servant” ego boosters? This passage in Revelation refers to two books being used during judgement. One is the book of life, the other has records of what each soul had done with the life they were given (Revelation 20:12) When a person genuinely accepts Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection as  necessary for their own righteousness, then begins living to emulate Christ’s example of selflessness, their name is recorded in the book of life. Without this record, you doom your own soul to a dreadful eternity in what John could only describe as a lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

So if having our name in the book of life gets us into heaven, what’s the purpose of the second book? Getting into heaven is the goal, right? Wrong, at least not completely.

Heaven is where we all want to end up, an eternity in paradise with your creator and savior can’t be bad! Jesus taught us to be more than that, though. His life pointed us to God, yes; but He also showed us how to navigate life, interacting with creation and each other as God designed. He taught us social lessons as much as He did spiritual ones.

That is the purpose of the second book, to keep us accountable for how we live on earth. Christianity is more than just picking spiritual sides by saying some magic words and making sure your name is on the guest registry. It is a decision to live a life dedicated to serving other people, deciding everyone else is more important than yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). While the Christian’s entrance into heaven is not dependent on our deeds in life, the reward we receive is. Several places in the Bible speak of crowns some will receive as reward for their deeds (1 Corinthians 9:25, 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:7-8, 1 Peter 5:2-4, Revelation 2:10, Matthew 6:20). The Bible also speaks of people who claimed to be Christians but were punished for their lack of deeds (Matthew 25:31-46).

My drawing this week is a simple representation of death, an eye closing.

I drew an open eye first, using dark, soft lead, then erased it to leave a mirage-like image. Using a charcoal pencil, I drew the closed eye on top. The eye is closed, but the iris and pupil are still visible to show it was once open and full of life.

The open eye plays a second role, gazing back at you. The eye looks at you as if to ask, what are you doing with the days you have? Much like my piece ‘Torn’, this one is meant to make you reflect on your own life, inspiring changes as necessary. Tell me, does it work?