I know someone who knows a guy who had a near-death experience.
You hear about these things all of the time, and whether or not you think they are real, they say a lot about how we are wired, deep down, to think about eternity.
Well, this guy was in a fatal car accident and while the paramedics were reviving him, he claims he went to hell. Do you want to know what he said it felt like?
He was a lifelong smoker and he said all he could feel was his entire being filled with the most ferocious desire for a cigarette, knowing there were cigarettes within reach and just not being able to get to them. He could feel the smoke curling around him, but couldn’t quite grab a taste.
And I think there is probably something quite accurate in his experience.
I look around and I see that we are beings who seek something outside of ourselves. There is something in us that tells us to pursue satisfaction. Whether that leads us to work, sex, drugs, friendship, fame or church, it’s in every human being who has ever existed. By day, I am an editor of books on religion and I can tell you: all major world religions agree on at least this point: we are seekers. And we are seeking a name. Something to tell us who we are.
I don’t know about you, but I have lies in my head. Names that I call myself. Ugly, twisted, fearful names that I fight against. There’s a Fear that whispers that I should be called Broken, Aimless, Useless, Scarred, Failure, Forgotten. The list goes on and I fight it every day. And I believe everyone struggles with this to some degree. The names we call ourselves, the lies we believe. I think it’s why most of the time, we’re in a mad scramble to find a different opinion, a different name, a better name.
From what I can tell, the Bible doesn’t have a lot of information about Hell and what it does have, seems to be metaphorical. But in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, we can see that the rich man in hell can see Lazarus somewhere far off in Heaven. And he is parched and begs for just a single drop of water (sound familiar?) but is told that he made his choices on earth and that even if someone wanted to help him, they can’t cross over the chasm between Heaven and Hell to where he is. He then begs for them to send someone to warn his brothers on earth about how terrible Hell is. And they tell him that if his brothers don’t believe what is written in God’s word, they’d never believe a messenger.
So here it is, while we’re still here and can still make these choices, quoted from my previous post on this ever-touchy subject:
No, I don’t think Hell is a parallel dimension that also somehow exists at the molten core of Earth. I don’t think demons will poke us with their forks and toast us over fires. I think Hell is what a soul feels when it’s left with its choice and that choice is the absence of God. When the Mercy and Goodness woven throughout our broken world is lifted and the soul is crushed with the weight of everything imperfect. Everything unGod.
I think that Hell is unsatiated desire, on the deepest level, to our deepest desire: to be named. It’s being left defenseless to that voice in your head, the one that calls you Worthless, Purposeless, Guilty, Hopeless. Hell is separation from the only One who loves us perfectly. Who calls us by our real name. Who answers that question ‘who am i?’ , who quenches that desire that is entrenched in us, deeper than any insecurity or addiction – the desire to be FULFILLED.
I’ve been reading through the Bible like a book, trying to grasp the literary rhythm of this sacred canon, and I realize there is a very broad but obvious cycle so far. God’s people seek, find and forget. And God responds, rescues and remembers. Back and forth. It seems the whole of this Message is just God finding endless ways to remind His creation of who they are. God responds to this question in all of us with the lavishness of “every good and perfect gift.” He finds so many ways to tell us that we are called
Heaven is where we learn our real names. Heaven is FULFILLMENT. Jesus experienced that hollow loneliness and desire that the near-death guy felt and the rich man felt. He was ripped from God’s fulfillment, heaped with our sin, our lies and our ugly names and died in that crushing absence of God to bridge that chasm that the rich man couldn’t cross so WE COULD BE CALLED CHILDREN. So we could find our faltering way to Heaven.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. (Is. 53:5)
So stop living in Hell.
Stop believing the names you call yourself.
Because that’s been taken care of, and you have a new name.
It is BELOVED.
And I’ll let good old Henri take us out because man, does he know how to preach it.
“Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: “May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country, or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.” But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.Well, you and I don’t have to kill ourselves. We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, “You are my Beloved.” – Henri Nouwen