Thursday, April 18, 2013
Hell in Proximity to God
When I think of Hell, I don’t think of a fiery place where people are being tormented by the devil (or by someone else, since Revelation 20 dispatches him). In fact, I don’t really think of a place at all. I think of proximity. Proximity to God.
I imagine all kinds of people on the other side of death. There are folks playing, laughing, luxuriating in the joy of God’s presence. Others are staring off in the distance in wonder, marveling at the recognition that God has embraced them at all. But a good time is being had by all (granted, I’ve not explored whether this is post-physical resurrection or not, but I’m doing art right now, not science).
There are, however, others in this scene. They are turned, not so much away from God as they are turned into themselves. There are those who are still demanding their rights—including the right to dislike or deny God—and they are oblivious to the joy that surrounds them. There are genocidal maniacs, like the aforementioned Hitler, who are screaming their rabid rants into an airspace where only they can hear their own, constant vitriol, while some of their victims come along and lay flowers at their feet, hoping that just for a moment, they might just look around see the possibilities that eternity holds.
These are shadow people, who stand in their own private spheres of darkness. They are seen by the others, but they see no one but themselves. There is also something wrong with them—parts of their bodies are burned away, the result of the persistent light of God that is life to many, but continues to act as a surgical fire to those in the shadows, slowly burning away the evil. For some, there may soon be nothing left.
Some of those are people of various religious groups who, having met Jesus in this place for the first time, realize he is the one they had always been looking for. Some of these are the wondrous gazers, who are stunned by God’s generous love.
Every so often one of the shadow people, having stood in isolated darkness for the equivalent of months or years or centuries, looks around suddenly and realizes that what they had staked their life on was not worth it all. As they face the light, their fractured bodies begin to slowly heal, and they become real for the first time.
Jesus wanders from person to person, participating in the joy that is expressed by so many. He also stops at each shadow person, laying a hand on a shoulder, not troubled by those who shrug away, the tears on his face evidence of his love for even the most broken of them. Once in a while one of them shudders and looks him in the eye, recognizing him at last and breaking into wracking sobs. Jesus embraces that one and leads the person out of that cobwebby space and into the freshness of eternity. His tears flow anew as the person’s body is reknitted into wholeness.
Okay, so I know there is no direct mention of sheep and goats, outer darkness, gnashing of teeth, or any other biblical image of judgment. But if Paul was right, and “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,” then there might be something to think about in my fanciful story. Maybe all will stand forever in proximity to God. For some, it will be life. For others, darkness and decay.
But does it end there? Well, not to worry. It’s only a story.