Thursday, November 1, 2012

Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell

Halloween asks us to look at the macabre: death, demons, and slutty versions of things. It’s a night of superstition where Hell prevails. But only momentarily. Because the real point of All Hallows Eve is to mock the death and demons (and sluts too I guess). Hell is defeated. Heaven is open. The Church is Triumphant. The juxtaposition of a night focused on Hell and a day focused on those in Heaven has made me think about both places. 

I have a hard time relating to people who threaten about the fires of Hell as if it were a real place. Oh sure, I believe Hell exists, but it isn’t real (I’ll get back to that.) I was never taught to fear Hell. On the carrot-or-stick scale, my upbringing was a bushel of carrots. Aim for Heaven; love God and you won’t have to worry. There were no threats of punishment and torture and fire and brimstone. I’m not even sure what brimstone is. Honestly, I don’t have the kind of energy to carry fear and worry like Hell around with me, and I don’t understand how those kind of arguments can lead people to the God of Truth and Love.

Our ideas of Hell and Heaven can only be speculations.  We know Heaven = with God, Hell = without God. Everything else is postulating on and metaphor for what “with/without” means. One of my favorite C. S. Lewis books is The Great Divorce. In it, Lewis creates an environment to show the super-reality of Heaven and shows the oh-so-human reasons why people would reject it. God is loving and good, overwhelmingly loving and overwhelmingly good. Some painfully face the overwhelming; others just get overwhelmed. 

Dante's Heaven
Lewis says, “Hell is a state of mind… And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind—is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains.”

On Earth, we get glimpses of both Hell and Heaven, so we start to see them as polar, equal opposites, but they are not. Heaven is the pinnacle of reality, the result of conquered Death, and the trans-dimensional realm of the Church Triumphant. Hell is a vacuum. Hell is nothing. The Devil doesn’t rule in Hell; saying such gives him a power he craves but doesn’t have. He is there in the vacuum, weak and experiencing the true meaning of “without.” Heaven is the conclusion of humanity’s story; Hell is a technical footnote. 

“To enter Heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being on earth; to enter hell is to be banished from humanity. What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is remains” (Lewis, The Problem of Pain).

Hell doesn’t need fire and pain and punishment. The nothingness is worse than any of that. In fact, fire and pain are real and therefore serve as a sign that God is there. Suffering is not damnation. That is why we can rejoice in Purgatory, because even in the fire, we have conquered. God will not abandon.

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