Hell is something that is not discussed about much anymore. Perhaps it is good that some of the old forms of presenting it are no longer with us, because Hell, in fact, is much different than it has been presented in the past. This is because, often, Hell has been presented without the necessary reference to Christ. This is because we forget that “Christ descended into Hell”. When we read this in the Creed, it is meant to express Sheol, the place of waiting. Sheol was a place of shadows, of “mere existence”. Christ’s descent there was one in solidarity with sinners by, in fact, taking on the totality of sin onto Himself and to experience the consequences of sin so that we who choose to follow Christ would need not have to.
Thus, Hell as we understand it as Christians can only be interpreted through Christ. It is not that others cannot experience the consequences of their sin in its chaotic totality, but rather that Christ was the first one to do so and only after Christ could Hell take on its full meaning. What was once a place of waiting became a place of permanent election on the part of the souls that choose Hell because they do not choose Christ.
I start off with this ‘theological preamble’ because it has much to do with what I wish to discuss today. There are many great joys that I experience here. In fact, just today, a group of guys who I have gotten to know very well missed the time of prayer. I saw them as they were standing in line and they asked me to pray with them. About 6 guys huddled around me for prayer. It was one of the coolest and neatest experiences I have ever had.
But today I also continued to experience something that I found to be painful. There is a man who has been coming here regularly but has been showing up with increasing drunkenness. To add to that, he seems to be daily growing in hate and anger. I see good in him, it is there, which is what moves me to want to love him and seek him with the same love that I seek others with.
Yet, he is also going down a dangerous path. I do not claim to know his heart, but we must also remember that words and actions can reveal the innermost depths of our hearts to the world. He has grown to cursing God, to hating Him. He does not deny that God does not exist. He has simply chosen to hate God more. And by doing so, I have seen this man hate himself more. It is sad to see someone who is so much a child of God, who has so much potential for great things in the eyes of God, to destroy himself completely. He has told me on numerous occasions that he is simply trying to kill himself through drinking.
What does one do in such situations. I have learned that there are some devils which can be cast out with prayer and fasting. I ask those who are reading this to do the same for this man. But we cannot keep it to this one man. We encounter such suffering every day. Redemption is possible for all, but it means that we must begin to sacrifice for their sake.
What has this all to do with Hell? It is simple: for the first time in my life, I have encountered it. I have seen it with my own eyes in the words and attitude of this man. Do not misinterpret this as a judgment. It isn’t. But at the same time, where he is in this moment scares me, because if he continues on this path, it can only be a bad way. That is why I am praying intensely that He find a different path, the path to God. But it is also a sobering experience for myself. What is happening in this man is simply more transparent. But we all do the same things each time we sin: we reject God, we hold ourselves back from Him. But instead we hide these small infractions and pretend they are nothing. They are not nothing. They are everything, because they can lead us down bad paths.
It is difficult to see someone seemingly choosing to accept Hell in his life right now. His attitude manifests it. But it is not hopeless, either. That is the point of Christ’s descent: He has been in that complete abandonment, isolation, in that place and state where love is impossible. He went there so that those who are experiencing in the depths of their being the utter desolation that sin brings need not despair. There is always hope to change directions towards a new horizon. And for some people, they need to go to the brinks of Hell so as to encounter Christ even there and, by virtue of that encounter, to turn themselves around and to rise with Christ in His Resurrection. The beautiful thing for all of us is that we all participate in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection by virtue of our baptism. There is always hope for change, there is always hope for redemption.
Yes, today I have seen Hell. I feel helpless to an extent as to what to do for Him. All I can do is pray, fast, love. That is all any of us can do at times. But we can also hope. The Cross is there. The Cross is only a condemnation if we choose it to be so. But it can also be the tool by which all are redeemed. The Cross is there, and it is in the Cross that I have hope. Thus I have confidence that Christ can and will work for this man. All I can do now is hope that his heart will be open to hearing the call of Christ as not a condemnation, but of a loving and merciful acceptance.