Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Sad State of Hell, Part 1 of 2

Who wants to go to hell?

My question is not a lark. If all persons ever lived were asked, I believe some percentage would answer in the affirmative. The great pianist Billy Joel wrote a whole song to mock the promise of heaven; he would “rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” Rock band ACDC proudly screeched how they are “on the highway to hell” with no slowing down. Famous renaissance-era philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, is oft-quoted for saying, “I desire to go to hell, not to heaven. In hell I shall enjoy the company of popes, kings, and princes, but in Heaven are only beggars, monks, hermits, and apostles.” Perhaps their words should be taken with a grain of salt; maybe their words were a calculated grab for greater fortune and fame (especially the entertainers); possibly they were serious. Whether any of these people earnestly desired hell is not my interest. What interests me is the objective experience of hell. All quoted here have mistakenly painted a cartoon-like version of hell that cannot be reconciled with the Gospel.

Cartoon hell is typically a hot cavern in the center of the earth. It’s like a giant underground mining facility bounded by lava pits and pillars of fire. The heat surely makes for uncomfortable living, but probably no more unpleasant than a poorly ventilated home baking under the summer sun. In other words, it's annoying but tolerable. As for the unlucky persons consigned there, they are bored, working on meager tasks, grumbling away, chatting idly, or doing whatever to pass the time. It’s a bad day at work forever. Lastly, who could forget the evil overlords that rule over hell? Satan and his minions are devil horned, pitchforking toting, red-clad wearing authority figures with bad habits no worse than the worst boss you ever had. Yeah, they eschew joy and get their pleasure out of making their workers miserable, but it’s just another day at the office. What a place!

Do people like Niccolo Machiavelli find cartoon hell appealing because the environment is bad but could be worse? Although it is the least pleasant of two eternities, I think he was wanting to make the best out of a bad situation. Being sequestered with incorrigible prostitutes, adulterers, pornographers, drunkards, druggies, gluttons, liars, idolaters, thieves, rapists, murderers, and warmongers certainly has its hazards. On the brighter side, some people there obviously know how to have a “good time” without hurting another. Maybe he wanted to befriend a few, carve out a section of hell for himself, and make it pleasurable. After all, if hell is the worst punishment, there isn’t one any worse; so why not have a little relief by continuing in the same forbidden pleasures that merited the punishment?

O terrible error! For the good of your soul, never think this way! This line of reasoning is a lark. It is spiritual deception. It is mischievous thinking that will certainly empty your desire to “fight the good fight” (1 Tim 6:12) for eternal happiness. Hell is not second best. Hell is nothing like described above. It is not a place of some pleasure; it is a place of no pleasure. It is not a consolation prize; there is simply no consolation -- only “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:42). I shall roughly quote the Catholic Encyclopedia article on this matter:
Besides Hades and Gehenna, we find in the New Testament many other names for the abode of the damned. It is called “hell” (2 Peter 2:4), “abyss” (Luke 8:31), “place of torments” (Luke 16:28), “pool of fire” (Rev 19:20), “furnace of fire” (Matt 13:42,50), “unquenchable fire” (Matt 3:12), “everlasting fire” (Matt 18:8; 25:41; Jude 7), “exterior darkness” (Matt 7:12; 22:13; 25:30), “mist” or “storm of darkness” (2 Pet 2:17; Jude 13). The state of the damned is called “destruction” (Philip 3:19), “perdition” (1 Tim 6:9), “eternal destruction” (2 Thess 1:9), “corruption” (Gal 6:8), “death” (Rom 6:21), “second death” (Rev 2:11).