I originally posted this content in January of 2015. I suspected I was on to something, but I wanted to vet my ideas before posting this series. Even if I’m completely wrong, it doesn’t mean our Sunday school teachers were right. We desperately need our ideas of Heaven and Hell to be updated. The typical framework is untenable for most modern people because the supposed savior of the world essentially loses nearly everyone who ever lived to fiery torture. Fear is not a basis for true faith. Marriages are not consummated under threat. The cross was the end of appeasement.
The language of scripture is a means to an end, not the end in itself. As James Finley would say; words are in service of the unsayable. These are idioms, figures of speech, and abstract concepts that point to something beyond all the words. These are not blueprints for the afterlife. They are portals through which we gain glimpses of Ultimate Reality. If we are to make room for a fresh reading of these texts, we must be willing to deconstruct bits of our literal, fear-based, formative container. The new will destroy old wineskins (Mark 2:22).
The idea that residents of Heaven can see the residents of Hell comes from a story Jesus told in Luke 16. People insert hollywood’s Hell into this passage and as a result we are taught to strain out a gnat and swallow a camel (Matt 23:24).
The Chasm is a figurative “Grand Canyon” placed between the poor man in “Abraham’s Bosom” (Heaven) and the rich man in torment (Hell). Despite this impassible rift, a conversation ensues between the characters of Jesus’ story, a rich man in Hell, and a poor man in Heaven.
Many think of the Chasm as a landmark of a literal Hell. I’ve heard pastors explain that it adds to the sinner’s torment if they can see the joy of Heaven. How can we have joy in Heaven if we can see the torment of Hell? I’ve concluded that the chasm is not a geological border feature of Hell, but rather a metaphor for a disposition of the heart.
The Chasm existed between the rich man and the poor man before anyone had died. This becomes the portal through which we learn something vital about Heaven and Hell, namely, they are potentiated. Think of potentiation as a volume control knob for your life. Frequent use of muscles creates motor memory and the nerves are potentiated (enhanced). (Read more here: Hell and Pubes in the Urinal.)
The Chasm of the rich man ignoring the poor man outside his gate potentiated over the course of his life (which is eternal) and now his Hell is the same chasm between himself and the poor man, whom he still views as his servant (v.24). The rich man did not go to Hell when he died, but has always lived in hell. There was never a time when he was not in Hell for he never recognized his chasm of otherness.
An attitude problem now gets bigger when life lasts forever. Our insecurities, anger, greed, lust, malice, racism, and bitterness that resides in our lives are Hell within us. Annoyances become tormenting prisons as life goes on.
We all recognize our living Hell. We know it intimately. Richard Rohr would say that pain we do not transform, we will ultimately transmit. We know our ugly untransformed pain and we know it keeps us from experiencing joy. This is the point of Hell narratives.
Hell then, is not about a punishment for bad deeds (sins). It is the state of being not in Love. Sin is not a bad thing you do, Kierkegaard would say it is the refusal to be ourselves before God. Sin is going after a good thing in a bad way. Hell then is our hiding place before the light of Truth (Gen 3:10). Hell is skimming over this moment. Hell is choosing our pain instead of healing. Hell is the fear that keeps us stuck. Hell is settling for sex, money or power when we really want connection, reassurance and validation.
A spaceship that is one degree off course can be a galaxy away from its destination if enough time passes. The more mid-course corrections the straighter the path. Spirituality is learning to course correct within each moment.
The solution is both easy and hard. The solution is to course correct and surrender our untransformed pain to this present moment. Judgement Day is simply our most honest day, let it be today. Let’s surrender our outcomes and pride will go with them, and Love will backfill the space. Eliminate “otherness” wherever it shows itself and love others as ourselves. This is soul work on which all religion hangs (Matt 22:40). Awareness (Presence) to Love is the Light that dissipates any darkness (John 8:12).
Finding this mid-course correction closes the smallest gap in our hearts and ensures there will never be a chasm or a future Hell. Then in 100,000 years we’ll look back and realize we’ve always been in Heaven.