During my childhood, part of my religious indoctrination included what punishment I would endure if I didn’t embrace, and properly execute, the tenets of my familial faith ~ if I didn’t receive Jesus Christ as my Savior, I would burn in hell for eternity.
That this one decision, to believe or not believe, would determine if someone is condemned to a fiery afterlife. And as taught to me – all regardless of that person’s religion, or lack of.
For a kid, it was the stuff of nightmares. Today, as an adult, it’s a concept that eludes me on many levels.
My grandparents’ hell, a vision of fire and brimstone with a pointy-taled, horned red devil occasionally poking the damned with his triton pitchfork, is a singularly selfish version, don’t you think?
The suffering is mine, the damnation is mine. While there may be other tortured souls languishing in a molten pool beside me, there is no connection, no empathy, or camaraderie.
As in life, there is a certain level of pain, of suffering, I could endure. Beyond that it’s still mine alone to carry, even if I’m witless. My friends and family may love me, may pray for my soul, but they can’t take that pain on as their own.
I can’t wrap my head around the idea that such infernal punishment would last ‘forever.’ At some point, wouldn’t it become all I knew, therefore lose it’s punitive nature? Not that hell, if real, would be rational or adhere to reason of thought.
For that matter, I’ve never heard of anyone who had a near-death experience where that ray of light led to a furnace. It’s highly unlikely that everyone experiencing a paradise visitation at the brink of death is a practicing Christian.
My idea of hell is not that of my grandmother. It’s not a place, an existence, where I would be sentenced to after my death ~ only then discovering my immortal destination. But, rather I think we live our hell while we are on earth.
My version of hell is played out throughout my life. It’s watching those closest to me suffer – those whom I love more than life – and I am impotent to ease their pain. That is Hell.
I’m curious about other religions’ perceptions of hell. Is there one thing that will consign a person to hell, or is it the totality of a person’s life?
* Yes, I realize that technically this billboard is not graffiti, but I went out of my to get a photo of it, so humor me…
** The verse cited on the sign was Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [NIV] I’m not a biblical scholar, but this doesn’t prove the existence of hell to me.