A drunken man gets on the bus late one night, staggers up the aisle, and sits next to an elderly woman. She looks at the man up and down condescendingly and says, "I've got news for you. Mister! You're going straight to hell!" The man jumps up out of his seat and shouts, "Hold it, driver! I'm on the wrong bus!"
Several Christian denominations have denied the reality of an eternal hell. The Unitarian-Universalists, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christian Scientists, the New Age followers, and the Mormons have rejected or modified the doctrine of hell that it is no longer considered a serious threat. If there is no hell, then what is there to fear?
In recent decades, in order to counteract the fear of hell and rationalize the sinfulness of human actions, some people even think erroneously that God’s goodness does not warrant an eternal hell. Indeed, seldom have preachers and priests talked about hell in pulpits and Churches that what Billy Graham once said sounds true, “If we had more hell in the pulpit, we would have less hell in the pew.”
In answer to the first question then whether there is a place after death called hell? My response is--the hell there is. And I say it for three simple reasons.
First, Jesus said so. Secondly, we mention the existence of hell every time we pray the Creed. And thirdly, we believe that hell is a place for those who did not follow God and obey His commands.
But, what is Hell? Hell is something we had probably seen in movies and paintings and perhaps imagined in books and writings. Literary authors and film directors portrayed hell with demons having ugly horns with pitchforks and pointed tails, images of souls being tortured and tormented, and physical fire.
When Jesus spoke about hell, his listeners knew what he was talking about. They had seen it and its everlasting fire. They were repulsed by its stinking smell. And they had pictured different kinds of worms crawling in spaces where the fire had not yet touched.
Jesus used the word Gehenna, which is the ever burning rubbish dump of Jerusalem. It is located outside the city where all the garbage and dust bins are emptied out. Things of no use, food not eaten and refused, those that broke down and thrown away--they all ended up in Gehenna.
Nobody wants to end up in that horrible, horrific, horrendous and God-deprived place. So, Jesus offers a better one--the kingdom of God. But, there are strict and difficult conditions.
If there is anything that impedes, prevents, or hinders us from entering God’s kingdom, Jesus did not mince words—“cut it off, throw it into the sea, pluck it out.” If there is anything whatsoever that should get in the way of bringing us or others to the kingdom, better get rid of it.
Nothing in life could be so important than being in heaven. Losing heaven and not being with God forever is the greatest pain and suffering in hell.
Allow me to share with you my misgivings in preparing this homily whether to give you hell. I recall, however, what President Harry Truman once said to his friends in Congress, “I never gave anybody hell! I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.”
So in conclusion, let me just remind you about two things: there is hell and do not ever think of going there. It is not cool.
30 September 2012