Saturday, April 4, 2015
Sheila, do you believe in hell? Do you believe in eternal damnation?
So what is "hell". If hell is defined as a lake of fire in which damned souls burn forever and ever throughout all eternity, no, I don't believe in that "place." And at this point in my life, no, I don't believe in eternal damnation. What I believe is that Love never fails. God is Love; Love is God, and Love never fails. Period.
I do believe in hell as a state of being unable to receive Love. This thought came to me a number of years ago, probably around 2002, because the thought included Sadeem Hussain, our modern-day Hitler. In prayer one morning as I was contemplating hell and eternal damnation of the wicked, I thought about this wicked man and all he had done. But I also considered the culture he was raised in and his own possible childhood of abuse, and I considered Julian of Norwich's revelations of Love, that God never blames, but looks on humanity with pity.
As my mind wandered through various thoughts, I considered life after death. I don't know anything for sure about all that anymore, except I believe in life after death, but I have no clue what it looks like...so, what if after I die, I find myself right next to Sadeem Hussain, and the only thing that divides us is that around us everywhere as far as we can see and feel is Love, and I can receive that Love, but he can't. That would be hell. And it seems we can be in hell while we're still alive, here, in this state of being.
I have a picture of Holy Saturday that has stayed with me for 23 years now. On the night before Jim and I married, our soon to be joint family sat around a little table made for 4, Jim and his two girls, me and my 3 sons, his mom and day, and my mother, 9 of us around a very little table meant for 4. And Jim's youngest got mad about something. Her favorite word at that time, at the age of 3, was asshole, and she knew exactly how to use it. In retrospect, I'm quite sure she was afraid about losing her daddy and all the hubub of all that was happening was shaking her little world, but at that moment, she was just mad, and she proceeded to yell her little heart out, calling everyone around the table an asshole. It was not a pretty sight, and me, being the disciplinarian I was demanded that Jim do something about her, or I would. Finally Jim sent her to her room. He condemned her to her hell. She marched straight there screaming and crying and continuing to hurl the word asshole over her shoulder back at us. She got to her room, went in and slammed the door.
I was so embarrassed. That's what their sin does to us. It embarrasses us. So we condemn them to hell. You and I do that - Love doesn't do that. We do.
And the screaming and shouting continued until I leveled with Jim about how important it was to take charge of this situation - "Either you make her stop and control her, or I will!"
So Jim dutifully descended into her hell - but the shouting continued, so I marched myself down the hall to correct the situation and to practice parental discipline. Thanks be to God, I didn't barge in, but quietly opened the door and I saw Jim, sitting in the middle of the floor holding this 3 year old banchee indian who was still kicking and screaming and flinging insults. He was rocking her and whispering into her ear, "It's ok, Daddy loves you." Over and over he would smooth her little flailing arms and legs and seek to calm her down, rocking and whispering his love to her, until at last, she rested and slept.
That's the picture I have of hell, and Jesus' descent into hell. In all our pain and screaming and hurling insults at the life we've been give, even in all our anger and rage toward others, he sits with us, holds us, rocks us. Hell is the inability to receive Love. But Love never fails. Love is stronger than death. And Love will finally and fully win.
Have a blessed Holy Saturday.