This post is the other side of the coin of a previous post, The Unity of Heaven. There, I discussed the unity in heaven, when all will be united around God through the blood that Christ Jesus our Lord shed for us. But what’s this mean for hell? I would surmise that hell is disconnection – disconnection between us and God, disconnection between us and humanity, and disconnection between us and the rest of God’s creation. Hell must be a place void of any sort of soil that gives birth to relationships, even the worst of relationships. C.S. Lewis beautifully captures this imagery when he paints a portrait of hell in his book, The Great Divorce. Lewis does place a disclaimer in his introduction that this it is not in any way an exact replica of what heaven or hell look like. However, I think Lewis may get at the heart of what makes hell hell. The Great Divorce follows the journey of one man from hell to heaven in a fictional novel. Through conversations and actions on the bus on the trip to heaven, we begin to see the world that the man is leaving. Listen in to a few passages:
“The trouble is that [the people] are so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives, he settles into some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours, he quarrels with his neighbour. Before the week is over he’s quarrelled so badly that he decides to move. Very likely he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarrelled with their neighbours – and moved. . . He’s sure to have another quarrel pretty soon and then he’ll move on again. Finally he’ll move right out to the edge of town and build a new house.” – p. 10
“What’s the trouble about this place? not that people are quarrelsome – that’s only human nature and was always the same even on Earth. The trouble is they have no Needs. You get everything you want . . . by just imagining it. . . . In other words, there’s no proper economic basis for any community life. . . . Two fully-inhabited streets would accommodate the people that are now spread over a million square miles of empty streets.” – p. 13
In the book, there is another man who talks about the multitude of houses that they build, which in reality do not even protect its inhabitants from the rain. The narrator asks why they even build the bloody houses then, and then man responds because of safety. Not the actualization of safety, but the feeling of safety.
In these images that Lewis creates, we see a couple of different things that are going on. First, there is a fragmentation of relationships. There is distance between people. No relationships are able to be maintained, let alone begun. Everybody is all by their lonesome. But this fragmentation may stem from something going on just beneath the surface. What if this fragmentation is that people have bought into their own way of thinking? The lies that we can provide for ourselves? The lies that we don’t need others? The lies of safety and security? We see that hell may not necessarily be about burning in fire. Maybe it’s about us being consumed with ourselves. We are so consumed with ourselves and our own abilities that there is no place for God and his/her story and Christ and his story in our stories. Thus, we slowly burn, maybe not tangibly, but deep within our hearts, a burn that is slowly overtaking our humanity, and in effect, erasing the image of God that is imprinted upon us. Our mind-set self-sufficiency has deprived us of the relationships that truly provide for us life.
In reference to an unrelated topic, Frederick Buechner gets at something quite profound that may add some to this discussion:
Jesus says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Maybe the reason is not that the rich are so wicked they’re kept out of the place but that they’re so out of touch with reality they can’t see it’s a place worth getting into.
It’s seems that those who are in hell or end up in hell have lost themselves. Which is exactly the same as those in heaven. Except that we get lost in different things. Those in hell get lost in themselves. Those in heaven get so caught up in God that the rest of the world’s promises pale in comparison. After all, it was Jesus who told his disciples this:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
May we all be lost in the way of Christ. And may we help others get lost too. Lost in a new humanity. Lost in a new way of life. Lost in heaven.