Lately, a kind of three legged philosophy of conduct has been recurring in my noggin. If you have any interest in that, read on!
Our lives, our conduct, our priorities and other fine things are a source of mystification to ourselves. For instance, "personality tests" are to reveal who we actually are. Uhm, we don't already know? People go to counselors to sort out their mixed up emotion and try to work through the inner conflicts of their lives. We do things, but often don't know why?
As an unpaid observor of humankind, I have frequently wondered what makes people tick. Often enough also (just as frequently) I have given up on the effort. We are a mystery to ourselves, and I (for one) find that very interesting indeed.
If you are chronic reader of these C.P.E.s then I believe the basic idea for this one is examined somewhat in "The Big Whoosh". We upon encountering any given decision point, have three access routes to consider it by. Ought, want and shall are the three. Ask yourself, what is the right thing to do, what would I like to do, and what (in fact) will occur? Heaven and hell are much closer than we thought!
Occasionally a preacher or teacher will talk some about heaven. I do not recall ever hearing a solid sermon on the topic myself, but (surely?) something along these lines must exist. After all, heaven is a pleasant subject to think over. But, as for hell, I cannot even recall the last time it was mentioned in public, church or otherwise. Who wants to think of that horror? So, as a strategy, we just don't mention it. My point here in this essay of the crazy pants kind, is to redirect our thinking somewhat, and along the lines of the aforementioned three.
So, whatever we might expect from a minister of gospel, it is not lurid details of the hell of fire. If it is even mentioned (highly unlikely) at all, the place is usually linked to "ought". That is to say, the moral failing, the violation of law righteousness is a positive penalty incurred by the soul. Hell in this sense is a kind of prison for spiritual felons, so to speak. Better to let sleeping dogs lie!
There is then an uneasy truce somewhere around here. As I see it, if hell is a kind of dump (on fire!) for souls, and we view those there as moral failures, those who went wrong at "ought", we get what we have, mainly silence. This is because heaven is also full of moral failures, and to insist upon the ought as the method into that darkness "accidentally" places the concept of merit at the opposite extreme. But clearly, heaven is not the place where righteous men go, for there are none!
Well, there is One.
Instead, if we think along the lines of desire, of the want-to, then a different picture emerges. Hell, based upon desire, or more modernly spoken, built upon addiction, is an entirely different viewpoint. Crucial to a redirected view of hell then, is what was truly wanted. This way of seeing produces the remarkable conclusion that people go to hell because they prefer it!
And as outlandish as that seems, if desire of the heart is known, then the heart treasures some things above others. We all make estimates of what is worth what, and of the many; which is most valuable. You cannot be a human and not do so. The heart desires . . . because, . . . because of something we find powerful, something that carries us, something which fascinates.
For just a moment, join me in a thought experiment, will you? What do you desire? Think of something (or someone I suppose) and then ask; "Why do I want that person or thing?". As an example; I almost immediately thought of fresh fruit in the summertime. I next thought of the muffled world of newly fallen snow at night, deep in winter. I thought of the roaring wind in my face, of solid sleep, and joyful times spent with the family. The things we desire are good. This is basic and central to our grasp of hell.
Here is an illustration, money can be a good thing, and it can also be a horrible trap. When the man inside begins to treasure treasure above (let's say) people, or decency, or truthfulness, then what was good has become, to him a good in and of itself. If he does not turn away and rethink things prior to death, he is in a very bad position. Simply enough, beyond death you have the desire, but the thing desired has passed away! Being left with a hunger, a lust-for, left with a desire, for a thing which no longer can be fulfilled, is the place of torment. Hunger is a sign of a lack, but if the thing itself disappears, and the hunger remains, what then?
I recall a hike in the mountains years ago. It was a hot day, and being the "tough guy" that I am, I brought no water. After about five or seven hours I was really really interested in a drink of water! Finally, along the pathway I could hear the distinct tinkle of water running, a little stream, and very nearby! I can still recall the whimpering and panting noises I was making as I descended the scree. So close, and yet so far. Next, it was in sight and I still couldn't reach it! Filled with frustration, anger and a disgust with myself for being weak, I finally got there. And let me tell you, slurping up that cold mountain water was one marvelously good drink; and that's for certain.
Hell is like that, minus the water.
Water is a good thing of itself, but insofar as that is true, the wet stuff is a whisper, a mild mannered hint of the Real Drink. It, along with everything else in existence is a pointer, an echo, a line drawing of the real deal. Hell is the place for those who "settle for" a reward way too soon, confusing the sign for the destination.
Back when I was young and ignorant (I am much older now) I loved a big old motorcycle. Flying down the road, feeling the power and acceleration, wow; what a rush! But, to finally settle for that (as the best thing ever), is aiming far too low. You see? The roar of the wind, the focus ahead of you, the landscape zipping by as you continue to build speed, this too, a whisper of another (and much better!) sprint. If the desire in me for movement toward the loved exists, and also the body is no longer able, then that beloved becomes a torment. But such pain is never the fault of the loved thing. And so, for me to desire what has passed away, yields being left, ever alone; with desire ever unfilled.
The hellishness of wanting a drink very very badly, and no water existing, the desire to see a vista in the daylight, and there is no seeing for there is no light, hell is the place of unfulfillable want. Those left alone in their desires cannot in that day any longer be rewired, they have ceased (by choice) learning. It is the permanency of having finally chosen (badly). To reject Food in favor of of food, to reject True Drink in favor of mere water, is to finally have no choice but to testify; "I chose badly".
The hellishness of hell is that it is entirely unnecessary (not to mention foolish) to so choose, and to ever and ever be very aware of this! But recall that I am a Calvinist after all, have we just now endorsed "freewill"? Absolutely not!
"We are saved by grace through faith, and that (the faith I mean) is the gift of God, so that no man may boast". Faith is the gift. Life is the gift. Grace is the gift. Christ (Himself) is the gift. His truth in scripture is the gift. Hope is the gift. Forgiveness and reconciliation with Him is the gift. It turns out that everything is the gift! But hear me please! This is precisely the problem of hell.
All of these marvels of kindness and good intent toward our kind are good, no; they are really good!. . . but never and never The One True Good (Himself!).
When discussing this with teenagers, I usually go this route. Gather all the gold, rubies, diamonds and platinum of earth. Oh heck forget that, gather all the wealth of all the worlds of all the galaxies and make a heap. All known treasure in one pile, which would you rather have, it; or this homeless hillbilly who thinks He's God? Choose one.
In ourselves, of ourselves; and by ourselves we simply cannot pass up the treasure, and hell is built right here!
That is hell, for truly; all is passing away! The Homeless Hillbilly is the Inventor of the stuff. By His word power, the platinum shines and exists. Of His authority, the rubies were fashioned and continue to shine. Therefore, He is "logically" of infinitely greater value. He is The Reward (in Person!), He (Himself) is the Treasure, He is our true Goal and Destination. You see? We are not trying "to get to" heaven, we are being drawn to Him, and heaven is thrown in as a door prize!
Just here, in the prayer we say "lead us not into temptation". The temptation is to make this basic and unnecessary error of choosing the symbol over the Reality which the sign symbolizes; which (unaided) we simply must make! To ever know this, to evermore be certain of having made the final bad choice, this is hell. For those left alone in the dark, only desire remains.
The folly of preaching is that those stirred by the announced Word, call for assistance. Their most holy of all prayers runs; "HELP!!". He hears. I testify with clear conscience today, He hears.
What makes heaven so blasted heavenly . . . is that He is there! And furthermore, the promise and oath are that He shall ever tabernacle among us. Heaven has come down to us, and The Lord of heaven (and earth) lifts!
Our helplessness, and the fact that we hate His guts for no good reason, are to be serious alarm bells ringing within. They signal, that there is something dreadfully wrong in me, and that it cannot be repaired by me. The impetus then is for us to shout to Him across that vast gulf for assistance.
We call Him by Name; "I Am . . . salvation!". The Bridgebuilder hears, I swear it true.