And here I thought that throwing in this extra week in our Salvation Story about being Save From Hell would be “easy” and “fun”… This message has been Hell to create.
Why? Maybe because I am now keenly feeling the Hell of what my life is like during this pandemic? Maybe it’s because I, like most people in this day and age, don’t believe in a Hell after we die. Dante’s nine circles of Hell that he wrote about in the 14th-century don’t really resonate with me and my enlightenment thinking in the 21st-century. And, I don’t have to look very hard today to see the Hell on earth that we human beings have created for ourselves and for each other.
Maybe this has been so hard because the Hell on earth right now is so…very…Hell-ish. I hope we are all honest with ourselves and even more than that, really taking the time to look out on a creation that is groaning with labor pains – which Paul writes about – a creation waiting…for us.
And I find that helpful. Paul is working with the metaphor found in Genesis where by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil Adam and Eve set this mess in motion. God cursed the ground because of their action. It is this ground that is groaning according to Paul. And oh how we hear the groans because we now know good and evil. We know Hell. And it is here.
Several years ago I wrote a weekly religion column for the Noblesville Daily Times. Every week a word or two on something religious, ethical and/or philosophical. And then every Monday I would have at least one maybe two emails in my inbox telling me that I was going to Hell. Some were nicer than others whereby the sender indicated that they would be praying for my soul. I suppose I should be grateful for her or his pray but then I got to thinking about the sheer audacity and arrogance of someone thinking that her or his prayer could save my very soul. Tell you what God can handle the endpoint for my soul without your prayer. So, I wrote a column about that thought and guess what…
I wrote a column suggesting that some biblical practices condemned as sinful were more about the times and cultures of that tie than about morality and God’s will. Guess what?
An aside: Isn’t it interesting that those who seem to be the most vocal and most sure about the soul of another going to Hell also carry with that judgment the idea that her or his soul is headed in the more upwards direction? I could guess what my inbox would contain if I wrote a column reflecting upon that observation…
If the number of messages in an inbox saying, Go to Hell, is indicative of one’s chance of actually going to Hell, well…Hello, Hell!
Hello, Hell. Which brings me to Eric’s Helpful Hints to Hold-off Hell. And I use the words hold-off as way to say avoid with an H-word so I could gain some rhetorical power with alliteration in my title, “Helpful Hints to Hold-off Hell.”
First, remember my first sermon to you where I said, “Hello!” And I indicated what happened when you drop the “o” from “Hello”? Hint number one: Always say, “Hello.” When you don’t you create Hell.
The next seven hints come from Christian tradition beginning with the 4th-century desert father, Evagrius Ponticus, who was the first to enumerate what became known as the Seven Deadly Sins. It’s a good list. A great list.
And as I quickly run through this list keep in mind that these seven deadly sins come out of seven basic needs of the human being. Those needs become sins, deadly sins, when we make those needs all-consuming. When we become addicted to a particular need. Or when we become blind to the effects our needs are having on those around us.
With that said, here’s the list:
As I say that list once again, which of them creates a bit of heat under your seat.
Lust. Uncontrolled desire. Physical. Sensual. Spiritual. So very much a hallmark of our consumer-driven society. How difficult has it been for you to be holed up at home unable to go out and shop? Lust.
Gluttony. How much stuff do you really need to be a human being that lives for the sake of other human beings? I would suggest that we are not gluttons for punishment. We are gluttons of stuff.
Greed. Gimme. Gimme. Gimme. Sure we all need the basics. But some need more. And worse. Some need what others have.
Sloth. I am so lazy I am not even going to take the time to explain sloth. Back to my video game.
Anger. It’s that reptilian response of fight type anger that is dangerous. I have shared before how in our study of Joy with the Dalai Lama and with Archbishop Tutu how important it is to create space and time between a stimulus that…creates anger…and our response. It’s the immediate response that is dangerous and destructive.
Envy. The classic example of Cain killing Abel. Somehow we get it in our minds that God loves another more than God loves us and WATCH OUT, malice is soon to follow.
And finally, Pride. The BIG ONE. Throughout Christian history Pride has always had the pride-full place of being number one on the list of the seven deadly sins. Oh, how pride conceals itself so very, very well. I am not racist. I earned my living. I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps. I deserve what I have. I worked hard for my way of life. AND, my way of life and my religion and my sense of well-being is right. And, here is a real sneaky one: God has blessed me. I don’t often quote from America’s first and foremost fire-and-brimstone preacher, Jonathan Edwards, but he puts pride in it’s place 400 years ago when he says, “Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ; it was the first sin that ever was, and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan’s whole building, and is the most difficultly rooted out, and is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts, and often creeps in, insensibly, into the midst of religion and sometimes under the disguise of humility.” Oh, my…sweet, sublime Rev. Edwards, grandfather of Aaron Burr, who ironically, was unable to realize IN HIS PRIDE that the world was wide enough for Hamilton and I.
Interestingly enough, pride, the most difficult to root out, the most hidden, secret and first sin, is right in front of us, looking at us in the mirror in which we are looking at ourselves. When we look in that mirror and see me, myself and I, or when we look in that mirror with others and see us, ourselves and we, how quickly we create Hell. Or, how quickly we go to Hell.
Believe it or not. There is a simple way – which is a theological way of saying, A very difficult way – to avoid Pride as a deadly, deadly sin. And it also works for the other deadly sins. And that is, my high school English teacher would love me for this, Pronoun Usage. If in your Facebook posts, and conversations with those around you and in your neighborhood and your community, you are using me, myself, and I and using us, ourselves and we, pause. Is that who God is seeing and loving and pouring out compassion upon?
Sometimes I point out that Jesus lived and died to show us proper pronoun usage and to give us one helluva chance to stay out of Hell. Jesus was constantly for the Other; healing, teaching, feeding and eating and drinking with the other. Jesus died not for himself but for everybody else. God so loved the world. And I may approach a bit of heresy here – and my email inbox will probably fill up – but we turned what Jesus did for Others into believing that Jesus did whatever Jesus did…for US. When Jesus was giving us an example, his very way of life AND his very life, to show us how to bring heaven here on earth for the other by living and dying for the other. And we turned that into having faith that Jesus died for us to save us from Hell.
Is it any wonder that spiritual master after spiritual master all say that when she or he dies they want to go to Hell? The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu say that very same thing in the Book of Joy. Because the compassionate and loving response to the gift of life is always to go to where there is no life. If there is Hell on earth, go and work to bring heaven to that place on earth. And then in death, if there is Hell in Hell, to go to Hell and save everyone.