Heaven & Hell

In today’s Parade Magazine (a supplement to the Dallas Morning News) there is a brief piece on actor Javier Bardem. He is described as having “a somewhat novel account of the afterlife.” What’s novel about it? He says, “I don’t know if I’ll get to heaven. I’m a bad boy… Heaven must be nice, but is it too boring? Maybe you can get an apartment there and then go to hell for the weekends.”

From what I’ve seen in our culture of late, the position Bardem describes is not novel but rather pedestrian. In the common view heaven is the place for good people – and just about everyone is good. Heaven is pretty much a continuation of this world, though the good things are multiplied, the bad things subtracted. Peace. Joy. Niceness. Boring.

Boredom strikes me as a complaint most endemic in rich countries like ours. We expect to be entertained all the time and when that entertainment is lacking either in quantity or quality, we feel bored.

In our celebrity culture – and celebrities are those who are most adept at entertaining us – we’ve discovered that the bad people are the most entertaining. Goodness? Boring. Love – at least love as something other than sex and romance? Boring. Holiness? Double or triple boring. God? Unless there are lots of pyrotechnics, we think God must be boring too.

So if heaven is the place where good people go it must be boring. Since not being bored is so important to us, we need an alternative. We know something is supposed to be bad about hell, but we’re not sure what. We’ve mostly demythologized all the fire and brimstone. We’re left with a collection of naughty people who didn’t toe the line in this life, the people who dared to live authentically in an otherwise conformist world. Spending time with those folks in hell – if even for a weekend – would add spice to an otherwise dull eternity.

Fortunately, none of this has much of anything to do with the Christian view.

For Christians, what makes heaven attractive is that it is an eternity in the presence of God. This God is no comparison to the portrayals in popular culture. This God is not an infinitely nice guy, never willing to stand for anything, the kind of fellow we can always fool with protestations of ignorance. This God, the God who sent his Son Jesus to live, die and rise for us, is described as holy, as love, as a consuming fire. This God is dangerous.

And hell? Even if we set aside the fire and brimstone as metaphorical, hell is merely a place for naughty people, a place anyone would want to go for the weekend. The sufferings of hell are the sufferings of loss, loss of the relationship with God for which we were made.

Who goes there? Though his account is fictional, I’m attracted to C.S. Lewis’ account in The Great Divorce. Here the people in hell are there of their own choice. They are the ones who would rather the world center around them, the folks who would do anything to avoid having to mess with God. So God lets them.

Heaven? Hell? I’d take life with God any day.

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