Main Index

 Chapters

 Editor's Note

 Preparations

 My Trip

 My Arrival

 The Stench & Flames

 The Cigarette Man

 The Unpersuaded

 The Valley

 The Rich Man

 The Ministry

 The Island

 The Angels

 Homeward

 Reflections

 The Bible & Hell
 

The Cleft


 
The Stench and Flames

I was in Hell, after all, where, as I had always believed, fear and pain ruled, so it seems foolish to admit how startled and frightened I was. What kind of experience did I expect? you may quite reasonably ask, but due to my experience during the past few hours, if indeed it had been hours, my notion of Hell as frightening had faded, to be replaced with the more comfortable notion that Hell was simply dull and gray.

I pointed the flashlight more carefully into the shadows and saw what appeared to be a wispy, small man writhing in agony.

Between the screams he yelled, pleadingly, "Stop! Stop!" He turned from me and cowered further into the darkest spot against the edge of the rock, burying himself as deeply in a cleft as he could manage.

I shown the light upon him and was shocked to realize I could see through him. "What is the matter?" I asked.

"Take it away!" he screamed.

I was baffled. I knew we were in Hell and people suffered in Hell, but it seemed his screams coincided with my arrival, though I could not figure out if it was just a coincidence or if I had done something to harm him.

"Take it away!" he screamed again.

Perhaps, it occurred to me, his eyes were not accustomed to the light, though his reaction struck me as far exceeding the discomfort caused by the light of a flashlight, but I swung the light away and turned it off.

Now I could barely see him, and was tempted to turn the light on again to see more clearly what had caused the man's pain, but fearing I might cause another round of screams, I did not. He lay there panting, his face buried in his arms, crouched into an angle of stone and soil.

"What is the matter?" I asked.

He remained lying there, silently, breathing heavily, as if recovering from a heavy blow.

I waited until the breathing subsided, then asked again what had hurt him so.

"Ha!" he said, finally. "Just stand out there and burn! You deserve it."

"I'm afraid I don't understand," I said. "I just wanted to know what hurt you so badly."

"Torturer!" He cried. "What right do you have to intrude?"

"Look! I didn't do anything to you. Why are you accusing me?"

"Didn't do anything!" he said, with a curse. "You try to barbecue me and you say you didn't do anything? Liar!"

It occurred to me that he must be referring to my flashlight. Someone living in such a dark place must be very sensitive to the light.

"Was it my flashlight? I'm sorry. I didn't realize the light would hurt your eyes so much."

"My eyes? Ha! More like my eyes to my toes!"

"Well, I'm sorry. I won't do it again."

"See that you don't!" Then, seeming to forget his anger, for a few moments he just watched me curiously, as if expecting something. Then he asked suspiciously, "How can you stand it out there?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean how can you stand it out there?" he yelled.

"Oh, yes," I said quickly, "It is very cold, but I've brought along a parka and gloves, so I'm okay."

He snarled. "I've known some who can stand the fire, but it doesn't even seem to bother you. How can you stand it?" he demanded.

"Fire?"

"The flames, you idiot! The flames that are flowing around you like a river of lava! The flames that are engulfing you and making life pretty damned unpleasant for me as well."

Flames were indeed what I had expected when I got here, so I looked behind me, but could find nothing resembling fire. Just the same dim and distant light from Heaven, which I had left so far behind.

"Do you mean that?" I asked, pointing to Heaven.

"Of course I mean that! he sneered. Do you mean to say it doesn't bother you?"

I laughed. "Not at all. In fact that's where I'm from."

"You're from Heaven?"

"Yes, I am. I just came here as a reporter for my newspaper, to report on what Hell is like."

"So you're one of them", he spat. "Partying in your burning house while I have to endure your stench and be burned by your embers. Where is that oh-so-pretty Christian charity I heard so much about? You hypocrites! If you had the slightest neighborly feeling, you'd extinguish that bonfire and all take bathes. You smell like rotting dogs."

"But... I, I don't understand what you mean. Heaven is Love. It's where Jesus is! It's clean and beautiful. The air is pure. It's warm and peaceful; it's like flowers on a Spring day. Oh, no, it's so much nicer than Spring. I just can't explain how wonderful it is. It just shines with the glory of God. But... I shouldn't have to explain. It's a bit dim, but you can see it from here, so how can you call it a house on fire and say it stinks?"

"Oh yes, I've seen it, and I can still see it if I want to go through the agony. I can feel it from here. That's why I know it's a barbecue pit. That's why I know it stinks. I've experienced it. How you can dance in that sulfurous fire is beyond me. But that you insist on inflicting it upon me, I can't forgive.

"You said Heaven is where Jesus is," he continued, "and that it shines with the glory of God. My, my, how precious. But that's why it stinks! What do you think those flames are you're standing in? They're the glory of God, fool!

"I hate God!" he said. "I resent that you are enjoying Heaven while I am stuck on this little island of misery. I hate it that Heaven burns with a fire I can't endure and stinks of death. It's unfair that you frolic in the flames and breathe deeply of its sewage and call it flowers. It is wicked that the flames and the stench wafts over to the shores of my island. If God was good, he'd have made a Heaven that I could have enjoyed too."

"But why couldn't you have enjoyed it? Did nobody tell you about Jesus?"

"Ha! I'll tell you, and you tell your ignorant readers what I say. But stand back; you carry the heat and smell of Heaven on yourself.

"Ever since I was a child my mother told me of Jesus. 'Surrender your life to Jesus,' she said. To make her happy I pretended, but I never really had any intention of letting anybody else rule my life. I am my own man and I resent anyone imposing himself upon me. I lived my life the way I wanted and I will continue on to eternity being who I am. I can't be and I won't be anyone else."

"You didn't believe what the Bible said about Jesus coming to bring life more abundantly?"

"I don't want life 'more abundantly.' I want my life. If I had let Jesus into my life I would have lost my life."

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but didn't Jesus say that he who loses his life will gain it and he who gains his life will lose it? Haven't you kind of lost your life?"

"I certainly have! And it's God's fault. I didn't want God and now I've got him, his entire broiling stinking self."

"Oh, no! You don't have all of God. There is so little of God's glory here that it's amazing to me that you can sense it at all. Here, come out into the light where you'll be able to sense a little bit more and see how sweet it is."

"No! Stay back!" he screamed as I approached, and shrank back into the shadow of the rock.

"Okay, okay," I said, backing off, "but what is it that you do want?"

"I want to be myself, okay? Just myself! I want God to leave me entirely alone so I can be myself."

"You want nothing from God?"

"Nothing!"

"But you are his. He made you! He made everything. It is only because of him that you continue to exist."

"I don't care. I hate him. I just want to be me. I want him to leave me alone."

"Friend, I think that God has done the best he can for you. You just want yourself but you don't want God, who makes it possible for you to exist at all. I think God has let you be you and has given you as little of himself as he can but enough of himself for you to continue to exist. You should thank him for his mercy."

"Go away! You have no mercy. You're like the rest of them. You stink and burn of Heaven."

"But I..."

"Go away!"

Copyright 2003, Brad Haugaard