January 11, 2013

What Do YOU Think of Hell?

Have you read chapters 20 and 21 of the book of Revelation?  They're probably on the next-to-last page in your Bible, right near the maps and concordance and those blank pages your kid scribbled on.  

Those are exactly the chapters someone was discussing this week at the youth prison.  He didn't start there, but somehow the description of heaven came about, which led to the description of hell.  All the while, the usual scene was going down--a few guys washing their clothes, some cooking over a fire, some running around the yard wrestling with each other, some still in their cells.  

There are generally lots of distractions, and in the course of the hour or so that we're there, different guys will get up, do other things, maybe come back, maybe not.  Sometimes those who are doing other things will eventually make their way over to where we are, sitting in a circle at one end of the yard, talking about the Bible, singing, or discussing life.  It's a bit chaotic at times, and can leave you feeling like you've been talking to a wall.

The bulk of our Friday morning time is spent with a pastor giving a short Bible lesson, and that's what was happening this morning when we got on the topic of heaven and hell.  This pastor said something I had never thought about, referencing various scriptures that speak of the possibility of different degrees of punishment there.  

I guess I never really studied hell much.  I heard from a very young age about those worms and flames and gnashing of teeth.  Back before the days of Carman and Karen Wheaton, we acted out hymns from the blue book--well, I was a child, but the BIG PEOPLE acted out hymns.  I was perhaps a bit traumatized by all four verses of The Great Judgment Morning* on page 208.  You remember that one, right?  Its chorus went  a little something like this:
And, oh, what a weeping and wailing,
As the lost were told of their fate;
They cried for the rocks and the mountains,
They prayed, but their prayer was too late.
If there were enough folks to act out all the parts, I watched people I knew dressed up as the rich man, the guy who crucified Jesus, the drunk, the bartender, and the gambler--each being sent away from the throne with all the expected weeping and wailing.

This was one of my worst childhood memories.  It may be the biggest reason I was too scared to do any of those things I considered sin in my teen years, thinking that at any moment I'd be at that big white throne, condemned to the eternal flames.  So as much as I hate fear tactics, I have to admit that this one probably saved me a world of woe in the long run.

Back to my story.  So the pastor is speaking, I'm adding comments here and there, and the guys are distracted by the smell of lunch cooking and their friend cutting grass.  Until he mentions those levels of hell.  I wish you could have seen the ears perk up on that kid across from me.

He jumped up from his seat to move as close as he could to the pastor.  "Wait a minute.  Are you saying some people will have it worse than others?"  Pastor quotes the scriptures again and explains the reference.  Boy asks again, "So some will have it better in certain levels of hell?"  As the pastor began to go into further detail about the scriptures, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to what this boy was really asking.  I paused the pastor to speak directly to the young man who was all of a sudden so interested.

You see, he wasn't curious about what heaven and hell were like.  He wasn't intrigued by John the Revelator's mind-blowing vision.  Nope.  He was convinced that he'd never make it to heaven, so he wanted to know if he at least had a shot at the best of the worst.  I suspected his concern, but when I spoke to that thought, his eyes told me it was true.  So we spent the rest of our time telling him again how accessible heaven is, how Jesus came for everyone, how His sacrifice is enough to cover any sin--even those that landed him in prison.  And before we left, he decided that was true.

*Hymn by Bertram H. Shadduck, 1894, Public Domain

1 comment:

  1. Totally awesome story! And it is a great reminder of how Jesus is--He doesn't want us to aim for the best of the worst. He not only shows us what is the best of the best, but he provides road to get us there.

    I never thought of different levels of punishment of hell. I thought that Jesus was speaking figuratively about the towns. But then again, if there will be different levels of rewards, then it would make sense that there will be different levels of punishment.


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