This week's devotional refers to Luke 16: 19-31:

“There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.... (click to continue the scripture)
"In Defense of Hell"
by Rev. Heather Haginduff

In Jesus’ parable about hell, the Rich Man is asleep, asleep to his own privilege and asleep to the needs of others. The Rich Man, who is also a religious man, sees Lazarus, who is poor, every day (he even knows his name) and without fear of consequence, the Rich Man ignores the moral teachings of his faith by ignoring a neighbor in need. This parable gives us a glimpse of the Kingdom of Hell. You read that correctly. There is no surprise ending of forgiveness for the Rich Man.

This seems dangerous to our ears. We are smart enough to know that the theological concept of hell has done more damage than good in the Church. And there has been a diversity of beliefs about the after-life since the beginning of Christianity. Even with this knowledge, maybe we shouldn’t throw out hell so quickly. Why? Because we cannot ignore that Jesus spoke regularly about God’s judgment and a place of “outer darkness.”

In C. S. Lewis’ theological fantasy novel, “The Great Divorce”. The story is about a busload of people in hell who don’t know that they are dead and don’t know that they are in hell. They journey to heaven on a bus and are given the opportunity to embrace ultimate and unceasing joy, just by waking up and choosing heaven. But one by one, they make excuses and choose to return to hell rather than living in the light of God’s will. Lewis writes, “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, ‘Thy will be done.’”

My concern about throwing out hell is this: Without consequence to collective and individual sin, how can we make sense of “kingdom logic” found in God’s forgiveness and grace? God’s viability depends upon this kingdom logic. Therefore, what if instead of rejecting hell, progressives dismantled its literalism so that hell could actually mean something for our lives? Just like the Kingdom of Heaven is a “here and now” concept, what if the Kingdom of Hell was too?

In defense of a non-literal hell, I have witnessed it on earth. I have felt overwhelmed by its darkness. I’m sure some of you have too. If heaven is complete unity with God, hell is complete separation. Hell might look like drug addiction or losing a loved one or being caught in the cycle of poverty or being rejected from your family or being paralyzed by depression…and so on and so on. Dante wasn’t off base in describing one scene from hell where one person is gnawing on the flesh of another. This is a powerful metaphor for hell—an experience when goodness has been removed and is replaced with the self-absorbed who destroy all others, no matter the cost. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, that the doors of hell are “locked from the inside.” Human beings have the free will to say “no” to God, even when we are asleep and don’t realize that we are saying “no”. And sometimes, the grace-filled light of God floods our lives and wakes us up. We say “yes” to God and we are grateful for the darkness because without it , we wouldn’t have noticed the light at all. So, m aybe hell isn ’t a punishment . Maybe hell is an honest description of our darkest hours. And maybe God can use the Kingdom of Hell for redemptive purposes .

So, w hat do you think, Church? Does hell exist in this life or in the next? How would it matter if it did?  

Today's Prayer

God, shine your grace-filled light into the darkest places of our lives. And may we choose joy by saying “yes” to your love of all that you have created. Amen.