While critics protest hell fire and brimstone preaching, I can only recall some passing references to the abode of the lost. On the one hand, it seems preferable to emphasize the constructive features of faith rather than the negative results of neglect. Accordingly, C. S. Lewis observes that God is more inclined to employ carrots (incentives) than clubs.
On the other hand, one would be remiss simply to ignore the references to hell as a deterrent. With this in mind, the imagery depicting hell was derived from the Hinnom Valley, where refuse was disposed in Jesus’ time (cf. Mark 9:47-48). We lived overlooking this region for four years. On relatively rare occasions, I would descend into its confines in search for pottery shards. They served as a prized link to the past.
It also impressed on me the idea that hell served to accommodate that which no longer served the purpose for which it was intended. In creedal terms, humans were meant to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Lewis, nonetheless, cautions us against unduly pressing the extended imagery. As a classical scholar, he perhaps had in mind Dante Alighieri’s graphic depiction of hell as eternal torment.
He also insists that hell was provided by a compassionate deity for those who will accept nothing better. He illustrates this by imagining that certain of those residing in hell decide to take a holiday in heaven. No sooner had they arrived than they had second thoughts. They soon opted to return. While fiction, it often contains more truth than that which claims to be true.
Lewis employs additional metaphor. For instance, it is reported that persons increasingly move away from one another—symptomatic of their feeling of alienation. Accordingly, one individual complains that it takes him a full day to reach the person who used to live next door.
In any case, we should not think that hell is something arbitrarily imposed, rather than resulting from the course we have chosen. With this in mind, we should focus on the equity of divine justice rather than its alleged severity. These and similar thoughts come to mind as I hold in my hand a pot-shard salvaged from the Hinnom Valley and roughly dated to the life and times of Jesus the Messiah. All things considered, if we fail to learn from the past, we are destined to repeat its failures.
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