Monday of Quinquagesima Sunday – Mark 9:38-50

| March 2, 2014 | 2 Comments More

Hans Memling Last Judgment - wikipedia entry on Last JudgmentMark 9:38-50

Hell!  No, I’m not saying this as a curse but as a reminder of this terrible place.  Hell is an idea that has been tamed.  The fact that we can so easily say “Hell!” as a curse, and not as an exclamation about the place of God’s judgment, is an indicator that our society doesn’t take Hell seriously.

I’m sure you’ve heard that it’s only the God of the Old Testament who is judgmental and threatens to send people to Hell.  But actually Hell is more developed as a concept in the New Testament, and we hear about Hell more from the lips of Jesus Christ than anyone else in the Bible!

The word for Hell is actually Gehenna, a place that was so desecrated that it was set apart as a place where refuse was to be burned.  It was a foul, smelly place where worms slithered on the waste and which burned and smoked all the time.  It is a form of the word for the valley of Hinnom.  In this valley Ahaz burned false incense and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the Canaanites (2 Chronicles 28:3).  Manasseh also burned his children in the fire there, and maybe committed some of his other abominations there (2 Chronicles 33:6).

We should be concerned about Hell because it is a very real place.  Though we can’t necessarily say exactly what it will be like, suffice it to say: you don’t want to go there!  If you consider the sufferings of this life, and then factor out the grace of God that exists even in the suffering of this life; if you think of the unspeakable evil that humans are incapable of; if you think of your own life at its worst moments – then you’ll have some idea of what Hell might be like.

*Warning: This next section is not for the faint of heart!

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce provides one of the most graphic pictures of Hell in English literature, based on the Roman Catholic descriptions he must have grown up with.  In the mouth of Joyce’s preacher, Hell is the typical abode of demons and the damned and is a dark and foul-smelling prison.  The people live in a great intensity of heat that burns in eternal darkness.  The fire in Hell preserves that which it burns, and though it burns with incredible intensity, it burns forever and does not go out.  In the bodies of the damned, the blood seethes and boils in the brain, the bowels are a red-hot mass of burning pulp, and the tender eyes flame like molten balls.  Every sense is tortured (I won’t repeat Joyce’s description here.)

All the filth, offal, and scum of the world run into Hell, and the bodies of the damned exhale such a pestilential odor that one of them alone would be enough to infect the whole world!  Imagine a decomposing corpse turned into a jellylike mass of liquid corruption.  Now multiple this a million times, and then a million times again.

All of this misery is compounded by the company of Hell.  The damned howl and yell at each other, and all laws are overturned.  There is no thought of family, country, ties, or relationships.  The pain is compounded further by seeing those who on earth sowed the first seed of evil thoughts and actions, those who tempted them into sin.  You can imagine what they might say to each other.  And, of course, the ugly and fallen angels (demons) are there to mock and accuse.

Now why do I (this is Fr. Charles again, and not James Joyce) bring all this up?  Am I trying to scare you?  Not particularly.  But would it necessarily be a bad thing to consider the eternal fate of those who reject God?  If you are living a life of unrepentant sin – by hand, foot, eye, tongue, or any other part of you – then I think you’d better know what the eternal consequences of such a life would be.

But I have two other purposes in talking at length about Hell.  First, by its pain and terrors we can measure how seriously God takes the sin in our lives.  In fact, as Jesus says, it is better to go throughout life without your hands than allow them to cause you to sin and face the punishment of Hell.

The second reason it’s important to think about Hell once in a while is so that you can give thanks to God that He has delivered you from Hell.  Hell is what you and I deserve: eternal death is the wages of sin.

But by the grace of God, by His love, and by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, we have been delivered from Hell.  Yes, it’s much more important to focus on seeking God and Heaven than on avoiding Hell.  But you should also remember to give thanks to God that He has delivered you from Hell, something you could not do for yourself.

Prayer:  Father, I thank You that You have loved me so much that You sent Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die for me.  Thank You for Your mercy in passing over my sins and saving me from them and from the torments of Hell.  Thank You especially, Lord, that You have given Yourself and eternal life to me through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Point for Meditation: 

As the season of Lent approaches, what sin or sins is God asking you to give up?  Keep in mind that it is better to enter life maimed than to continue to sin and displease God. 

Resolution:  I resolve to thank God today for showing me His mercy in not damning me to Hell, which is what I deserve for my sins. 

© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson

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  1. Richard says:

    With all due respect to you and James Joyce I am not convinced that Jesus and His hearers had the Roman Catholic teachings of hell in mind when Gehenna was mentioned. Same with James and his readers.

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