One month ago I was doing a 14-hour long route in the Cairngorms. Although I went there well-equipped, for the last two hours of my route I was dying with thirst because of the weather. I had no drinkable fluid left in a bottle or a flask. But I wasn’t so desperate as to take water from burns along the path; I was afraid of poisoning myself or swallowing a parasite. Just before passing a difficult and dangerous rocky gap I asked my partner for a drink. She gave me some leftover tea from her flask; but that was tea with ginger. It was like liquid fire pouring into my dry throat! That was horrible! No relief, but additional pain to the existing one.
But I remember passing the same gap a year before; I was soaked to the skin, frozen to the marrow, the wind was gale force and yet speeding up in a narrow gap between two rocky walls. And no place to hide; I was totally exposed to the violent forces of nature.
Traditionally we equate hell with burning fire and heat. Some people still believe, that hell is a space somewhere with large pots full of boiling pitch. This image of hell took its form from the Bible. It wasn’t given by a person who had visited hell and then described it. This image of hell was taken from the common experience of the people living in a hot climate, settled in semi desert and sometimes travelling through the desert; the experience of people whose greatest worry was lack of drinkable water and drought. But we know that the myths of the peoples threatened by different conditions have different visions of the reality equivalent to the biblical image of hell.
Actually today’s gospel is not a guidebook to hell. The most important message of the gospel we find at the end of it, when the rich man is talking to Abraham. The man (let’s call him Ritchie) at first is begging Abraham to send Lazarus to give him some relief. For Ritchie Lazarus remains just a somebody who might be used for his own purpose. When Abraham refuses, Ritchie changes his request and asks the patriarch to send Lazarus to Ritchie’s five brothers. And at this point we get the message. “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them” and going on: “If they not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead”.
Ritchie’s punishment didn’t come upon him because he had been a wealthy man; not even because he had had fun. His problem was other people, who had disturbed his well being. Sometimes we can see such people around us; constantly complaining, bearing grudges against others, irritated by someone’s imperfection… Such people don’t have to worry about hell after their death; they’ve already established a private one here, on earth. Some others build a local hell for their families or neighbours, co-workers or casual acquaintances. We have far too many examples delivered by the news, like a teenager killing a completely innocent man.
Thinking about heaven or hell is simply a waste of time. Neither would the biblical vision of hell scare anyone sufficiently to stop them doing bad things nor would the biblical vision of heaven encourage someone to do good things. We should consider the Ten Commandments and live according to them, because “the kingdom of God is not here or there; the kingdom of God is among you”.