Though it’s not common, comfortable nor nice to speak of hell in our modern churches, though it sometimes turns people away, I could not keep myself from thinking of hell during Sunday’s teaching.
I recently had a nightmare. I was in a foreign country with my husband, and we were being arrested. I don’t know where we were or with what we were being charged. It was hot. So, so hot. We were taken to an area behind a high concrete wall where no wind could reach. They led us to a very small room with no windows. It was bright white. I realized they were about to shut us in this tiny room in the dark and heat. I began to panic a bit so I turned and began to call out, “Are you sure this is where you want us?” As I turned, I saw that I was now completely alone. There was no one with me. They had taken my husband somewhere else. But a voice responded to me from a distance: “Yes.” And I continued toward the small room to be shut in alone, totally isolated from all that was good. My panic rose and I awoke.
Hell is too much to bear. What must it be like to be separated from all that is good, from God? Can we even imagine such a state of being? When I try, I find myself quickly shutting it out and praying that those without God might at least be granted the mercy of insanity so that they may not fully process that which they endure. But mercy is of God, and God can not be found in hell.
Wisdom is also of God. When we reject wisdom, when we do ‘something stupid’, we reject that which comes from God. And God warns us of the hell which we will experience without him:
But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
— Proverbs 1: 20–33
When we reject wisdom, when we reject God, disaster sweeps over us like a storm. Distress and trouble overwhelm us. We create for ourselves a special kind of hell here on earth that warns us of the unbearable hell to come. For here on earth God dwells with us even if we have not allowed him to dwell in us. We can experience his goodness through the kindness of a stranger or the magnificent beauty of a sunset. But in hell, all of what is good will be gone, and the insanity we desire for escape will be kept unmercifully at bay.
It is cute to say we do stupid things and it makes us laugh and feel lighthearted. It brings us together in our humanity. But don’t think about it for too long. For soon, the lightheartedness will dissipate into the dark realization that your stupid acts are actually evil. And your evil is a rejection of the wisdom mark of God. Perhaps you just missed that mark, or perhaps you willingly avoided it.
I wish promiscuity, murder and adultery were merely stupid things. I would feel much better about my history of rejecting God if I could label them as such. But it was always written on my heart what is good and what is evil. (Romans 2:15) I willingly chose to do things I knew to be wrong because they satisfied some other desire at the time. And I deserve to be locked away forever, isolated and alone, tormented by heat, hunger, utter darkness and thirst for my intentional rejection of what is good, from wisdom, from God.
But thank God for Jesus. It’s not easy to accept the revelation that you are truly evil. It’s not easy to submit to the wisdom that you have rejected all that is good. It’s one of the hardest things you will ever experience. There is a simultaneous tearing down of your own, personal, earthly self and the entering in of the Spirit of God in this realization. As you can imagine, it’s life shattering and soul elating. But through the acceptance of the work of Christ we are allowed to experience the Holy Spirit, a piece of God pointing us always to Christ. We get not only what was written on our hearts but now also the constant inner witness of God pointing us forever in the direction of his wisdom. And then, though it’s not always easy and we fail often, we can continue listening, learning, growing and following. In the end, God accepts us into his house as those who he knows.
Oh blessed redeemer, full of grace, make shine on us your holy face.