How are you?
Funny question that. One we all ask when someone we love is facing grief, loss, torment, challenges, despair (etc). And so often we don’t. When the pain is too much to even ask the question. That can be one more torment piled on a pile of torments for the person suffering.
Strikes me that “souls” and “spirit” are the same thing. Strikes me that “hopelessness” and “hell” are not too far apart. Strikes me that “love” and “heaven” are in the same ballpark. Strikes me that we all focus on the “how are you” whether we have a God or not.
And when there is a God involved?
That’s when religion takes over too often. When labels take over. Ologies takes over. Being right and being wrong takes over. Being saved or not believing in being saved takes over. Having the right faith – the true faith – or disregarding any faith – or embracing all faiths – takes over.
Religion – the final frontier. To boldly go where God never does. To seek out new theories, to debate new labels, to divide into ever more distant groups. We have the sophistication!
(we just seem to have accepted losing our humanity – our kindness – along the way)
“Then Jesus began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.” ” Matthew 11:20-24
Woe to you! Repented long ago! Sackcloth and ashes! Day of Judgement! Brought down to Hades! Woe to you! We seem to be tuned in to others’ misfortune (so long as we are spectators and not participants).
Nothing is asked of spectators. Spectators are armchair experts. Spectators are distanced. Spectators watch. Always full of advice. Full of critique. Full of “if only”. Until they are not.
Now take away your hope. Now take away your energy. Now take away love. Now take away your smile. Look down. Look in. Look at how others look at you. With pity? With judgement? With “if only”?
Without hope … why look out? Without spirit … why look up? Without connection …. what is there to cling to?
Almost all of us have been there for one reason or another, for one lifetime or another, in one way or another. Unreachable. Inconsolable. Unfixable.
I am happy to call my memories of those times “hell”.
I never debated in those moments. The full-on sensory word of “hell” worked for me then. And those words “spirit” or “soul”? Either word is okay when I am in hell. The “right words” never matter right then. The right words are just more fire on the all-consuming fire already burning.
So when I see endless “religion” about the finer points of this, the underlying meaning of that, about demystifying the language of God (who actually “mystified” it in the first place?), all the lectures, the academia, all the “words” …
I see spectators.
And I wonder where our humanity went. Because I know our “words” cannot connect with those who are in hell right now. And if you are in it right now today you do not want to be surrounded be “spectators” – religious spectators who obsess over what brought you to “hell” – what will keep you in “hell” – what will release you from hell … so many hells!
The hell of hiding love because others judge you as sick and sinful. The hell of being alone with your pain because others suit themselves in spiritual warfare suits. The hell of finding that “all are welcome” comes with a lot of small print. The hell of finding that so many “relationship issues” cannot be mentioned or admitted in the very place that preaches “relationship” and “love”. The hell of being expected to smile only because you have been “saved”. And the hell of being alone in a crowded church community.
Hell is everywhere if we listen to each other. So I look around and I am convicted that hell is real. And if hell is real then I really don’t care whether heaven is or is not. Because hell is just one moment away from me every day. I have no control over when or how.
So I care for those who are in hell on earth right now today. Those who are deaf to pretty words and fine arguments. Those who are blind to relevant verses and insightful theology. Those who are disconnected because “we” prefer to spectate from a distance. Those who call hell a religious “something” that “we” dare not enter (even to connect with those are).
Is this really the way to heaven? Does that not sound very familiar? Very “Pharisee”? Do we actually read the bible we teach? Do we experience the bible we preach – or are we theological spectators – full of words and debate – suited and booted in a spiritual isolation suit to keep me pure?
Is that not the same mind-set – the same “soul-set” – that Jesus challenged again and again? Did he not enter hell on earth – again and again – to connect with those who suffer? Did Jesus really need His “spiritual isolation suit” as we love to debate and need? Did Jesus really “keep stuff out” like we keep stuff out – all that fear with which we insulate our “isolation suits”?
And I wonder … If you are in a hell today … someone telling you they are “convicted” (of whatever they are convicted today) … what does that do for you?
And why do I hear that word so often?