Radio Sermon with Brother Layne
A lot of us worry about a Hell that none of us has ever seen, about some unknown future torment, punishment after death. But the only Hell we can know about for sure is the one that exists when we are alive.
“Hell is other people.” It’s a line from the one-act play called No Exit, by Jean Paul Sartre. It was not a justification for shunning society, not an excuse for blaming everybody else for your troubles. But that misinterpretation became so popular that Sartre had to clarify, which he did as preface to a 1965 recording of No Exit, a play about three people who’ve been sentenced to eternity in a room together. Their judgment is not their own to make. How the others see them, how their deeds are seen by other people in the room, that is the judgment. Hell on Earth is when your fellow man and woman judge your deeds and you can only see yourself through that harsh reflection.
Or as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.” That’s one of the Buddha’s Five Remembrances, the last one, and a good little daily prayer you can say. I say it like this: “My deeds are my only possessions.”
That’s pretty much what the heavyweight great Joe Louis said about one of his lesser opponents in the ring: “He can run, but he can’t hide.”
If you like those superhero movies about Thor, or if you just enjoy Norse mythology that made such a lasting impression on the world, then you might know where the word “Hell” comes from: Hel is the Goddess of Death, or the essence of the grave itself, and she presides over a realm of that same name: Hel. She’s Loki’s daughter in one telling, and she’s probably another version of Kali the Destroyer, the Hindu goddess. The vikings got around.
She’s called Hela in the comic books by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. How’d that end up in Christian churches? The usual way. We mix it all up, try to make sense of a mad world, all that beauty and wonder and love mixed up with death, with pain, with fear. Hell on Earth. It’s the only Hell we know for sure is real. The rest is a lot of Greek underworld stuff. Hades, the River Styx, all of that.
We see the satisfaction in the face of the border guard when he rips a baby away from a weeping mother, the policeman who smiles and jokes about the young man he just murdered in the street, the sneering devils who stand in Washington D.C. claiming every act of evil they perform is the law.
These people already suffer the torments of Hell, and more are on the way. We need not worry about what happens after their ugly lives come to an end. They roast in the fires of their hatred and torment right now. Take some comfort in that.
As bad as our own personal Hell can be—as much as we torment and are tormented by the people in our lives—the suffering of the intentionally evil is without end, as they are without remorse.
“But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
“There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner, whom would hurt all mankind, just to save his own.”
There is no escape for those who delight in hurting their neighbor, who have turned their backs on love. It never ends well for these characters. We all make mistakes, we all suffer through our own failings, but the embrace of hatred and evil is a moral mistake we can rarely walk back, a possession we cannot sell at any price.
Until next time, may your actions be good, and may God be with you. Or as we say today, “Good-bye.”