Isaiah 5:14, 14:9-11, 5:14, King James Version (KJV)
Hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.
Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.
All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?
Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.
Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.
Sorry to disappoint some of you, but this reflection has little to nothing to do with the Pretty Reckless song of the same title. 😉
Recently, at church, i was talking with one of the former Bishops of our ward. He was asking me how i was doing, and while i am pretty open and disclosing with every one anyway, this particular man of God has a most comforting of gifts in that being in his presence always creates a safe space, no mater where we are, where i can talk about anything. All of a sudden, i found myself confessing in the most casual manner how my inner voice, my inner self, often senses the mouth of hell opening for me. All of a sudden, during that conversation, i realized how much of an outlier i probably am in my church community. I would probably be correct in assuming that most church goers don’t consider themselves in danger of such a destiny, and i hope they are right. However, in my case, from time to time, that dreadful sense wells up inside me, and not without reason.
Yes, i believe i have reason for experiencing these moments. Every one who knows me knows that i struggle a lot with certain things like addiction, that most of my church family are not so intimately acquainted with. Of course, i also struggle with other things like attendance, and general faithfulness, that probably most of them can relate to very well, albeit, from where i stand it looks like they manage more successfully than i do. However, i think that most Christians don’t see their own sins and transgressions as mortal. In my case, i never feel like i have that luxury, because in the midst of my cups, i lose all sense of free agency. I am under the command of the spirits… and that is a very frightening place to dwell. It consumes me to the point where “i” am cast out of my own body.
When i routinely wall myself off from every one (you), and every safety-net (again, you), i spiral into that malignant pattern of avoidance and insanity of isolation that always precedes me some how persuading myself that opening a bottle is a wise course of action. I am choosing hell. Or, after i have managed to escape Death’s door one more time, and emerge from the acute withdrawal from my latest drinking binge, i often experience a genuine, visceral sense that i am falling into the Abyss. I am going to Hell. This is a sentiment that an addict trying to hold to the right understands very well. And i can’t remember a life where i didn’t feel hell fire chasing me. Once upon a time it did exist though… i think.
Why would i say this, that i still fear Hell as a Christian? I don’t yet know how to fully articulate it. It is like i have this covenant with God, and with myself, not to give up. I will try to explain. Looking back, i realize now that i was already an alcoholic by the time i walked into that church at fourteen, and accepted the Gospel. In that moment, i was gifted the grace to put the bottle away for some years. After flunking out of the Marine’s, and flunking out of church, i turned to the bottle again. By the time i was thirty, i knew i had a real problem. Now at forty-six, i am an advanced alcoholic, and at this point in my illness, each binge is potentially deadly. I can not drink. Period. And yes, i am sober now -but that is always a place i can never take for granted.
So what does my sob story about addiction have to do with going to Hell? Well, whenever i isolate, and cut off my spiritual life lines -that being you -i have in effect, given up. I am no longer living by the right kind of faith. I am withdrawing from my covenant to never quit. It is in those moments that i am in fear of Hell. Some how, my personal redemption is contingent upon never giving up. I can not speak for any one else. I can not project this on any one else. But, yes. Hell is very real to me -not just a figure of speech. Not just an allegory, or an archetype idea of suffering. And yes, Hell can be both in this world and in the next, with the only difference being hell, or Hell. Take your pick. But again, i suspect that every addict who tries to keep fighting has also come to this same conclusion in one form of language or another.
As i alluded to before, as a youth, i was taught the doctrine of eternal security. They made pretty good argument for it. There are also many teachers who can make a passionate argument against it. But my point here is not to argue it one way or another. My point is this. If you really believe in Hell, like you may say you do, would you want to wager your eternal destiny on a disputed doctrine? I know i don’t. I think it is a dangerous game to base my salvation on men’s fallible understanding of the revelations in Scripture. I do not wish to enter the next life under the safety-net clause of 1 Corinthians 3:15, If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
When i find myself in those dark places in my journey; when i close my eyes and feel Hell is closing in on me because i am just using my profession of faith, my lip service to Heavenly Father, as some sort of fire insurance -that is when i know my road is not right. When Hell is looming especially real to you, and literal, one realizes that your own inner guide knows better than all the Doctors of Divinity with all their degrees, about what Hell is and how you end up there! And with that in hand, i would rather base my salvation on a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, than some vague, near forgotten memory of one day when i “prayed a little prayer and asked Jesus into my heart to save me from hell fire for all eternity”. When Hell is stretching it’s maw wide beneath you, It is in those moments when you will realize that some teacher’s assurance of eternal security isn’t enough to replace that day to day relationship with the Savior!
And why is this important to me? Avoid eternal torment? Yes, sure, that is part of it. I sometimes sense that is where my own actions; my own choices are leading me. And while, i am not afraid of God sending me to Hell; i am afraid of making my own bed there, and finding in the end, i have no where else left to sleep. I am afraid of being sucked into what have created for all eternity.
Still, far beyond this, the Gospel means more than deliverance from Hell. It represents everything good; it is the greatest of gifts to this life. It represents the love of God being with us. I need to have something to show in the next life, for my time here. I need to have something that does not burn into ashes in His presence. And as much as i may stumble and fall, i truly believe that my task -at least right now, is to endure to the end. Perhaps at some point i can take on a new calling: to flourish. But for now, i need to work with where i am, and learn how to deal with this life on life’s terms.
And the things that burn away in that moment of judgment? The older i get, the more i entertain a peculiar notion. How many incarnations of myself really exist on a metaphysical level? How many versions of myself are vying to be the final me? Will they burn away? Will they suffer that fate i feel such a pernicious relationship with? Perhaps it is fitting that they do. Perhaps that is the only way i will ever remember who and what i once was before wearing this body. But in the end, i hope that some version of myself is found worth redeeming, and crosses into that eternity with the words, “…Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”