Hell: The Fire and Brimstone Myth
Devils with pitch forks, little men in red suits with tails, burning fire and eternal damnation never made much sense to me since the God I know is loving and compassionate. I also never gave much thought to what punishment on the other side might truly be. Lots of books and articles portray Heaven but I don’t think I’ve seen much of anything written about what hell might really be like.
Then, in 2004, I had a dream. It wasn’t your normal dream; it was one hell of a dream. It was emotionally gut wrenching, full of fear and guilt and was so intense that even when I woke up, I still felt the unbelievable pain.
Let me try to explain the subject matter. The images that still stick with me were that of a single mother (me) with a young son (Jon, age 3 or 4) in the midst of an orgy of bodies. Everywhere I looked, the bodies were grotesque, and every detail of those sexual images were explicit and disgusting. The bodies looked like 16th century art with prominent body parts that were slightly deformed and those emphasized were swollen and exaggerated. It wasn’t titillating in the slightest, but I was keenly aware of the focus and the subject matter, impactfully so. It was obvious that this experience was an expression of guilt I had felt decades past.
As a single mother, at the time, I’d felt terrible guilt leaving my son for an evening or for a weekend in order to date, especially since I worked so many hours every day with my new business. But, since I was desperately trying to find a suitable mate with whom I could rebuild a life for myself and for my son, dating was necessary. Every time I was away from my precious son, I missed him dreadfully and felt guilty doing anything. I adored my little guy and I felt like I was abandoning him for my own selfish interests even though he typically stayed with my parents. I had also felt a lot of guilt working full-time, well actually more than full-time, but that was survival. My work was not a choice, as dating was, so the guilt associated with seeing men for an evening—for me was much more intense.
In this dream, with all the bodies and body parts everywhere, I couldn’t find little Jon. He was gone. I ravaged through the throngs of people desperately trying to find my beautiful son, but he was nowhere to be found. I was terrified and frantically searched and searched through the masses of bodies. Throughout this process, my guilt was so intense and the pain so horrific, I can’t even begin to describe it because I also felt Jon would be in danger if he wasn’t located soon.
As it turned out in the dream, I never found Jon and ended up waking up to and agonizing from those horrific and excruciating feelings. The pain in that dream was 1,000 times greater than anything I had ever felt in my life and I wondered how anyone else could survive such intense, emotional trauma.
Even walking around for the first few moments after leaving bed, I was exhausted and still experiencing that pain. I ran to my meditation room, grabbed my pad and began asking for help with this. I needed to understand. The answer I received was surprising – but rang true. I was told I had just experienced “hell”.
That “hell” is the self-punishment and judgment we experience over emotions in our lives with which we never effectively dealt: anger, fear and guilt among the most prevalent. If not released adequately here on earth, on the other side, the primary emotions surface and we experience them to the Nth degree while living through related experiences that intensify those emotions. This judgment and punishment are self-inflicted and not bestowed on us by anyone or anything else.
To prevent that type of trauma when in the afterlife, we must learn to release those feelings of guilt, especially, while still living. Learn to forgive ourselves because forgiveness heals. Since we are told that God loves us unconditionally and forgives us for everything, we are the ones who need to be more like Him and have the same charity toward ourselves that we are asked to bestow on others.
But, “hell” isn’t just reliving our own harmful emotions – it’s also reliving the pain we caused others. Again, the punishment is self-inflicted, but as we review the life we just lived, we’re able to feel the pain we caused others through our indifference and our actions. We relive the pain others felt—again, magnified many times over, so we grasp the emotional angst we caused others. Once we satisfy ourselves by realizing what we did wrong and are repentant enough to recognize how to do better in the future, we can move on to more comfortable places in the afterlife.
Even though this blog draws into question some of the picturesque descriptions of what hell entails, it’s still a terribly painful experience which I’m sure we’d all try to avoid or minimize. So, to prevent the type of pain and trauma I described on the other side – a person could quit being so selfish and be more kind and thoughtful toward others. We could also promptly apologize with sincerity if we recognize we caused someone pain in this lifetime, that will also help. Making amends is always a good thing.
In terms of being pro-active, we could all try to remember a simple rule to live by that is taught by almost every religion that exists. Although the exact words are paraphrased by each institution, the core meaning still remains exactly the same.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.