Did you read ‘Heaven Is for Wimps and Posh Women Part One’? Did it annoy you? – I hope so. Preferably because you sympathised with blokes who can’t connect with churchy views on heaven, not because you thought I was being unfair on the preacher. It’s all lies though—I mean the western secular world’s take on heaven and hell. When you think about the effect this has on ordinary blokes, and when you judge this take against the real thing—well, if there really is a personal force of evil—a devil, then he’s a really cool operator; I mean, really shrewd (1). He could twist us around his little finger. It’s frightening.
There’s this thing which is the greatest thing we can ever experience. What we’ve all been made for, born for and we’re waiting for; the thing which trumps all other pleasures, satisfactions and experiences in life. And he’s got us so we hardly ever think about it and then, hardly ever seriously and often we find ourselves using our flawed church services, as a pathetic illustration of it.
Then there’s this thing which really is much worse than your worst nightmare; something which would be the biggest, most heart rending regret you could ever, ever imagine. And he’s got us thinking about it as though it’s an inspiration. He’s insidious, a manipulator, brilliant, and fiendish. And he’s against us.
We’ve got to break the cultural lie that hell is a tough, blokey, jokey even inspiring idea, not a reality. It’s not said directly—he’s far too shrewd for that. It’s all slowly drip-fed by vague associations.
We don’t have to look far to break the lie. We’ve started to produce the beginnings of hell, right here. In this world, people can be innocent victims of a hell caused by other people or guilty inhabitants of a hell caused by themselves.
Think of how it must have felt, being a child on the wrong side in the Rwandan genocide. You’re hearing the men with the machetes getting nearer and the screams getting louder. Your mum and dad are already dead and there’s nowhere left to run. You’re sinking into a pit of fear and despair with no way out. That’s the tentacles of hell, on Earth in the recent past.
Think of a young East European woman, an illegal, alone, today in a room somewhere in central London, held captive as a sex slave. She’s kept from making contact with the outside world so near at hand and forced to have sex with ten strangers a night. She’s beginning to lose her mind and wonders whether she’s still a person or whether she’s become just a living piece of meat. Suicide is looking like the only way out. That’s hell’s grip on our country, now.
Hell must be something like being a father who was in a road accident while driving under the influence of alcohol, and it killed his child. He lives for the rest of his life in an agony of regret. That degree of frustration might be something like Jesus’ meaning when he said hell was a place of ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (2).
If we can make hells like this in this world where there is still some holding us back by God, through his common graces of law and order and basic civilisation, just think what sort of hell we can make if He finally accepts our repeated rejection of Him and He just leaves us to it, finally and forever outside His help.
If you found yourself in the real final hell and were conscious of its meaning, surely you would see that you had been completely conned about the whole of life, sold out, had been made the butt of a stinking joke, ratted on, been made a fool of because you were one, used and spat out by the person you realised you had been following—no less than the devil– and who you now saw was the Great Con Artist of all time (3), who hated you and who was still laughing at you.
You hardly need to add any sort of Divine retribution to that. But surely there has to be that as well, however unwanted or revolting the idea might seem to us. Otherwise the unknown, unheard victims of hells caused by other people would never have any comeback. They would not, in the end, matter. People would not, in the end, matter. Without real, final justice you do not matter—but you believe you do.
We know Jesus once described hell in terms of a local valley (4) known to his hearers which had a history of being the ancient site of child sacrifices and which at one time had been the place to burn the entire city’s filth. In their minds it must have been linked with everything which made you feel sick; everything which would disgust you.
I was once driving off-road in the mountains of southern Spain, and I suddenly found myself driving through the rubbish site of some village or other. Dark smoke filled the air. I was lost and alone and the only things I could see clearly were the glowing red centres of fires looking out at me like angry eyes, from inside smouldering rubbish piles. Until I finally found my way out, I felt something of the effect of Jesus’ illustration, even though for me the place didn’t have the horrific links which that valley had in the minds of his original hearers.
We should start to describe hell in some accessible earthly terms from today’s world, so men start to take it seriously for what it is.
1. Genesis 3:1
2. Matthew 25:30
3. John 8:44
4.‘Gehenna’(Greek), from ‘Ge Hinnom’(Hebrew) or The Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem.