Tuesday, May 7, 2013

That Scared the Hell Out of Me!

Even 20 years later, this is still embarrassing for me to recount:  

I was probably 17 years old.  When I became conscious I was in complete darkness, the pitch-black.  I had no idea where I was.  I pulled myself up on my knees and started groping with my hands, but they didn’t make contact with anything.  The only sound I could hear was my own breathing.   “Where am I?  Hello … HELLO ...”  
Nothing.  I felt absolute terror as the realization seized me that I was alone – utterly ALONE.  I don’t know how my mind jumped to it, but my next thought was, “I am dead; I'm in Hell!”  Alone, isolated – forever.  Without any forethought, I found myself screaming, “Help!  HELP me!  HEEEEELLLP me!”

The darkness and isolation was suddenly invaded by a thud and burst of light on my left -- my younger brother was silhouetted in the doorway of my bedroom, "Shane, what's wrong?"

Overwhelmed by embarrassment and adrenaline I shouted "Get out!" and threw myself back down on the bed.  (Talk about no good deed going unpunished!)  Snapped back to reality, I layed in the darkness of my basement-level bedroom - embarrassed but grateful.  "I'm not in Hell; I'm not in Hell.  Thank you God."

There it is - not the most embarrassing moment of my life, but hands-down the most frightening.  For the span of almost a minute I thought I would spend eternity alone; and there couldn't possibly be anything worse.  Most people are familiar with Jesus likening of Hell to the valley where trash was burned outside Jerusalem (Gehenna; see Mt. 5:22, 29; 10:28; 18:9; 23:33), but my understanding of Hell has clearly been shaped by another image used by Jesus - that of being "thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mt. 8:12). 

My understanding of Heaven and Hell is grounded in that of relationship.  If I am united to God at the moment that my connection to this world is severed, then I will enjoy Him forever.  But if I am spiritually at a distance from God then once this world melts away ... I will be forever cut off.  I psychologically tasted that for a minute, and it was the most horrific experience of my life.

The reality is though, mortal (deadly) sin completely forces the life of God from our souls.  We can choose actions that, if we were to die without repenting, would leave us adrift forever.  What kind of sins are considered mortal?  St. Paul gave two lists, not meant to be exhaustive, in the New Testament.  As I look at them, objectively speaking, I think we as a culture should be concerned:

1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Galatians 5:19-21
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the:
The acts of the flesh are obvious:
  • sexually immoral
  • idolaters
  • adulterers
  • men who have sex with men
  • thieves
  • the greedy
  • drunkards
  • slanderers,
  • nor swindlers
  • sexual immorality
  • impurity
  • debauchery
  • idolatry
  • witchcraft
  • hatred
  • discord
  • jealousy
  • fits of rage
  • selfish ambition
  • dissensions
  • factions
  • envy
  • drunkenness
  • orgies
will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified …
I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Think about our divorce and remarriage rates – even among Christians  –  and listen to Jesus, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Lk.16:18).  (Read about annulments here) Or consider what we choose for entertainment and the topic of conversation and recall Jesus teaching, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt.5:28).

Think about what is commonplace in our culture as you read these words from the Didache, Christianity's first catechism (written circa 70-120 A.D.), “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions [probably a reference to contraceptive potions]. You shall not procure abortion, nor destroy a newborn child.”


So long as we are on this earth, we can turn back to God - the infinite source of life, Who loves us -  and we can be forgiven and renewed.  Mortal sin and the Hell that puts us in jeopardy of is nothing to flirt with.  If you find yourself engaging in any of the behaviors listed above, then please stop.  If you find yourself encouraging or enabling loved ones to live a life apart from God, then that must stop too.  "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Mt.18:6).

Nothing in this world can compete with living as a friend of God, and nothing in this world is worth the lonely agony of Hell.  Come on, let some good come out of me telling that embarrassing story! 

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