Loneliness

Hell: A Place of Loneliness

This reflection series deals with the topic of Hell. Using Jesus’ illustration of the Rich Man and Lazarus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, this week we’re reflecting on hell as a place of suffering.

Read Luke 16: 19-31

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Last week we discussed the suffering of longing and emptiness that all people can relate to. If asked what remains as another fear common to all, most would likely answer, “loneliness.” We humans were created for fellowship. Even before we were brought into this world, God designed us for fellowship with him.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Genesis 1:26-31

Then, being brought into this world by our parents and family, we were born and raised to be “with” people, loved, cared for and nurtured by them.

As we get older and our lives separate from family and home, we find ourselves apart from people more than we find togetherness with them. While independence does have its place in human development and is an integral part of finding unity with the Father who created us, fellowship with people is where we are given the fullest sensation of what we were designed to experience. Thus, being constantly alone is a fate that most are terrified and tormented by.

The Rich Man, aside from his eternal dissatisfaction and longing for relief from his suffering, is completely alone in hell.  He is left alone to ponder both his condition and the absence of a solution to his suffering. He is alone, with no one to listen to his problems, no one to offer any empathy or compassion.

When confronted with Church or Christianity, many people view both as a burden. For many people (especially in the modern Western world), individuality and the freedom it seems to give them is enough to give them the brash and prideful overconfidence to look God in the face and say to him, “I don’t need you! Leave me alone!” But we learn from the Rich Man that hell is a place where we are finally given our way. Hell is a place where God hears our request for isolation and gives us what our hearts desire. In effect, we request to be alone and God ultimately respects our desires and leaves us alone. Therefore, where many people view hell as a sort of large jar with people scrambling like insects to escape, only to find the judgmental, jealous and cruel God firmly tightening the lid, according to Jesus, hell is quite different. Hell is a place that the people residing there have in their heart of hearts requested, and who have received what they demanded.

We are often our worst company, our worst comforter and our worst coach. On the other hand, Jesus Christ came into this world as “Emmanuel.” Jesus is, “God with Us,” and hell could not be more radically different. Hell is “Man with Himself.”

Hell: A Place of Suffering

This reflection series deals with the topic of Hell. Using Jesus’ illustration of the Rich Man and Lazarus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, this week we’re reflecting on hell as a place of suffering.

Read Luke 16: 19-31

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Describing hell as “a place of suffering” is obviously nothing new. Most people with no experience with Christianity would agree. Throughout the years, hell has been depicted in art and the media as a fiery place of torment and torture. When most people hear the word, “hell,” immediately they think of demons, devils, screaming, fire, blood, all under the terrifying and brutal umbrella of “suffering.” An oft-used tactic from the pulpit has been to illuminate these images in the hopes of scaring the congregation into an increase in attendance or in giving. Not all churches deploy this strategy, of course: many pastors illuminate these images out of sincerity to the truth that hell is a terrible place that we should be terrified of. However, whether used from a self-centered or Christ-centered pulpit, hell equals suffering.

Reading the passage in Luke’s gospel, some might be surprised to learn that the Rich Man is actually speaking from inside of hell. Aside from the mention of the burning that apparently consumes the Rich Man, the stereotypical images of hell are mysteriously absent. Where are the demons? Where are the torture tools? Where is the terrifying Satanic imagery?

What we do find is in many ways more terrifying and far more relatable. In the place of the physical suffering we often equate with hell due to the plethora of images depicting torture, we find that his suffering has much more to do with satisfaction. He has a thirst that cannot be quenched. He feels a burning sensation from within that he cannot escape. This is the suffering of hell that Jesus illustrates in this story. And it is this idea of suffering that should connect with all of us.

While most of us can live out our lives avoiding physical torture, what none of us can avoid is the internal desire for satisfaction that we can never satisfy. We all want things we cannot have, and we all have felt that aching pain of lusting after something that is forever beyond our reach. From infancy there is nothing more torturous or cruel than the idea that there is something that we are being prevented from having. What we learn from the Rich Man is that hell is where that complete dissatisfaction goes on eternally. Hell is a place where we can never be satisfied and will remain forever unfulfilled. Jesus teaches that unity with him and the Father is where we, as the children of God, find complete fullness, where our cup is allowed to overflow. Therefore, hell is a place where God is absent, the occupants remaining out of reach of that fellowship with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, forever suffering an eternal emptiness. Hell is Godless and thus, utterly hopeless.