“At the end of the age… the angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire.”—Matthew 13:49-50 (NRSV)
There’s a reason Christians have traditionally depicted Hell as an inferno. The horror of fire is meant to deter us from sinning. To burn forever in flames, who’s not afraid of that?
Not many of us, apparently. Sinners are hardly an endangered species. It’s Hell that’s in trouble. These days, a lot of us just don’t buy it. We can’t believe that Jesus wants us to live moral lives based on fear. How could a truly loving God consign us to eternal fire? Hell may exist, we joke, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s there.
Meanwhile, toxic darkness falls hours before the sun sets in Australia, Borneo, and Brazil. Countless creatures flee towards extinction. Flames siphon life-assuring oxygen from the air. Politicians and profiteers steal indigenous peoples’ agency and place, dignity and livelihoods. Unique ecosystems vanish, unrecoverable.
Maybe Hell is due for a revival, at least as a bracing metaphor; although even hellfire seems too pale an image for what we deserve, we who disbelieve metaphorical flames while remaining oddly indifferent to real ones.
Even eternity in Hell seems too light a sentence for us who’ve convinced ourselves that firestorms happen only far away, and who don’t mind that things burn as long as it’s not us.
It was a world-changing day when humans discovered fire. It’ll be a world-ending day when we’re no longer afraid of it. It’s a soul-damning day when God calls desperate from a conflagration, and we whistle blithely in the blistering wind.
Deliver us, O God, from the fires of Hell.