My mom had a phrase she used from time to time, but only in emergencies: “Hell isn’t hot enough for someone like that!” She did not intend her words theologically. I’m pretty sure she did not believe in the literal existence of hell. She used those words when someone committed an act so evil that it defied description, let alone understanding. She applied it to the perpetrators of the Holocaust and to people who abuse children (or animals). When she couldn’t find words that were adequate to depict how a human being could carry out an act so heinous, that was her phrase of choice: “Hell isn’t hot enough for someone like that!”
Many contemporary biblical scholars contend that the word “hell” was employed in scripture as a literary device, symbolizing any condition so deplorable that even the last flicker of goodness seems to have been extinguished. I write this blog having just watched the evening news as it related a situation that deplorable. Today President Assad of Syria, almost surely with the full approval and assistance of President Putin of Russia, once again bombed his own people. That is always immoral and indefensible, but today the ante was upped to a level so heinous that my mom, were she still alive, would almost certainly have said, “Hell is not hot enough.” Assad (and presumably Putin) decided to bomb three hospitals and a school. Children were killed and maimed. They are also targeting missionary medicalpractitioners from Doctors Without Borders as “enemies.” At what point can a reasonable human being decide to bomb hospitals or schools or to designate humanitarian medical workers as “enemies”? Or, am I giving the ones who made those decisions too much credit by referring to them as “reasonable,” or perhaps even by referring to them as “human”?
Assad claims to be a Muslim. Putin claims to be a Christian (and is a baptized member of The Russian Orthodox Church). I can also claim to be the point guard for the Knicks, but that doesn’t make it so. Jesus clearly said: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for a tree is known by its fruit.” (Luke 6:43) “A tree is known by its fruit ….” When the fruit involves the indiscriminate torture and murder of the innocents including vulnerable children in incubators or classrooms, don’t think anyone is foolish enough to believe the tree has anything to do with Faith or with faithfulness to God. Acts that evil are purely hellish and cannot be condoned by civilized humankind. In fact, acts that evil can only be carried out either by those who know nothing of God’s will or, perhaps worse, who know of God’s will but intentionally choose to oppose it.
I don’t know what the political answer is in face of the indescribable crisis in Syria. I do know that if I were Syrian, I would insist that my family be among the refugees seeking asylum almost anywhere but there. People in Syria are in peril from the very ones who are sworn to protect them. Nor do I know what the political answer is for the increasingly dark specter that is contemporary Russia as it takes giant leaps backward toward the days of Communist oppression. Perhaps that’s not altogether surprising when that nation is subjected to the leadership of a man who was formerly a KGB officer. I do not know the answers for so many other hot spots around the world where people created in the image of God discard that image and mercilessly offend and oppress others also created by God. I simply know that “a tree is known by its fruit.” Or, as the old adage teaches: “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear a thing you say.” Our actions, on global levels politically and on individual levels personally, reveal both who we are andWhose we are.
So, may our prayers continue for decent, innocent, vulnerable people wherever they are and whatever they have to endure. May our prayers continue for peace. May our prayers continue that someday all of us who claim to believe in God will begin to live in godly fashion. And may our prayers continue that the temporary hellishness of this world may at last succumb to the power of One called “Prince of Peace.”