hell: an invitation to have a conversation
Recently, I attended the funeral of someone my wife vaguely knew (but I didn’t at all). The venue was the sanctuary of a huge church. The floors were made of a stone-like material, and I could hear the slight tap of shoes hitting the floor as people passed me. Several current hits played softly in the background as people came in and took their seats. Soon, the place was full of those who came to pay their respects.
The Officiant opened the services with a few words and acknowledged that the deceased person had been a personal friend of many years. A few more words were spoken, and then we reached the part of the service where family and friends are given a chance to say something kind about the decedent. A couple of family members rose to speak for a short time, and then the Officiant opened the segment for friends to come up. We all sat still. It was a painful experience. Silence. Crickets. I was bothered that no one wanted to speak, so I started thinking of things to say. After a few more agonizing minutes of stillness and more offers by the preacher, the opportunity passed. No one rose to the occasion. I sat there wondering how the family must have felt. The program listed so many beautiful things about the life of the person we were honoring, but no one in that full room moved.
Finally, the Official made some concluding remarks and then closed the services with a prayer. Shortly after that, save for a couple of other people and me, the room was empty. The large pictures of the honoree were taken down, and except for some tears from those I figured knew and loved the departed person, it was all over. Done.
Was that it? Is that all there is to the end of life; a one-hour gathering of people who sit quietly, listening to a selection of contemporary music and viewing a collage of happy moments? I know some people are convinced that there is nothing more to death than that we return to the earth. You know, the “circle of life” thing. They will verbalize that nothing you feel about death will change the reality that there is nothing after death (although I suspect many who think this way are in good health – now). But how can they be so sure?
Then there are Christians. We believe there is more to life than what we see “topside.” But many, if not most, also think that those who don’t go to heaven will be torched forever. Yikes! I think many who believe in an eternally burning hell base their thinking on texts like Matthew 25:46 which says: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” However, I think it’s reasonable to read that verse, and others like it, in a way that comes to a different conclusion. So, let me extend to you an invitation to have a conversation.