The Chasm in Luke 16

The bible records Jesus telling a story about two men who lived near to each other. One was rich and lived in luxury, the other poor and was hungry and suffering right outside the rich mans door. After they both die, the rich man is suffering and the poor man is with Abraham in peace. The story depicts a chasm that separates the two men so that neither can cross to each other.

I believe this parable is often used as a dogmatic illustration of the afterlife depicting a stereotypical hell as a place of torment and solitude. Perhaps because it reminds us so much of Dante’s Inferno.

I believe it does tell us something about hell and about our life, but not about its geography.

Most people conclude that the chasm is fixed after death, but I’m wondering if it isn’t actually established long before. In the story, the tormented rich man asks Abraham to send the poor man to dip his finger in water and touch a drop of it to the rich mans tongue to briefly relieve his suffering.  It seems clear that the suffering has not altered the rich mans disposition. In other words, the chasm between him and the poor man still exists. I think the text is telling us that the chasm belongs to the rich man, not to hell.

When the rich man lived in luxury he had the means to help the poor man right out side his gate. He didn’t because of his chasm

  • A chasm of class
  • A chasm of race (possibly)
  • A chasm of power
  • A chasm of ideals
  • A chasm of lifestyle

The rich man, because of his chasm, devalued the poor man. He lacked humility. He lacked the ability to see himself within the life of the poor man. His chasm was “otherness.” He lacked the heart of generosity and service to love and serve this man with his possessions.

After death, the chasm remained. He still devalued the poor man. He still possessed and maintained his chasm. He still lacked humility. He still had otherness.

Later when the rich man asks to warn his brothers about the chasm, he still appeals to his class, his power, his connections to arrange something special for his brothers.  Abraham informs him that so long as this chasm exists, not even a person coming back from the dead could affect their thinking.

This drastically changes the nature of the chasm.

The chasm is invisible pride. It is a misplaced confidence in ones social, religious, personal distinctions. It is that seemingly little thing in the heart of a man that says he is slightly better off than another, and that chasm is actually very big.  It’s a choice of exclusivity rather than inclusivity in how we form our identities.

This means the chasm of hell is not one of geography or physicality, but one of consciousness. The rich man’s inability to walk with Abraham was his unwillingness to see the poor man as his brother, not some cosmic grand canyon. He could not or would not let go of his particulars and his class distinctions. He would not humble himself.

The essence of the chasm was in his head, not in hell. Thus it is reasonable to conclude that an afterlife of peace is one where such distinctions do not and cannot exist. If that is true then at any point in our lives (before or after dying) where we lay these distinctions down in humility then the chasm disappears. In other words we can bring heaven to earth now, or we can bring hell with us forever.  If we cannot love others now, and we remain on this trajectory, then hell is the only fitting description of what the afterlife could be.

The question today is does this chasm exist within us? Is it there when we see a homeless person begging for one of the dollars in our pocket? It’s not too late to change. But if we won’t do it here, we may not do it there.  If we possess otherness now, then we are already in a version of hell and our religions are powerless and our claims of faith are empty.

I supposes if the chasm can be fixed before and after life, then it can disappear before and after death.  And that changes everything we thought we believed about hell and how to avoid it.

Some of you will say, “Keven, once you die you can’t change your mind.”

I would reply that this story seems to indicate that we don’t die. Thus the issue is whether we possess the chasm now and are willing to do anything about it.

  • Do we devalue republicans or democrats?
  • Do we hate gays or those of other religions?
  • Do we despise the immigrants who cross the boarder?
  • Considering our luxury, what have we done for the poor on our step?

You see, the certainty (dogmatics) that makes us think heaven is ours is easily denied by our chasms. Heaven is ours if we but humbly lay these down. We best choose now, because we probably won’t want to later. What if the chasm isn’t fixed after we die, but while we live?

Now, who wants to be dogmatic?

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