Hell

image via Flickr

I recently watched the movie “Requiem for a Dream”. It’s a powerful movie about the descent of four people into various drug addictions. The filming is very well done and I couldn’t help but feel like I was falling into the pit along with them. As I watched, I began to see that this movie is a perfect depiction of hell.

I’ve grown up with a view of hell as a place where God points his finger and sends all the naughty people so that, like some Promethean epic, they can be eternally torched and fileted by red devils and yet never die. But in the past few weeks, I’ve begun to see hell as, quite literally, addiction to that which never fully satisfies.

We recently had a guest speaker at RUF who was from (of all places) Duke University, and he gave a powerful sermon on hell by looking at the story in Luke about Lazarus and the Rich Man. It’s amazing to me that I can have heard this story a hundred times and even performed it in a production of Godspell, and yet never really comprehended the significance of it. The interaction between Abraham and the Rich Man is so telling about what hell is really like.

The first thing to notice is that while there is divine interaction on the part of Lazarus, the rich man dies, gets buried and is in hell. He didn’t get manhandled or sent there, it’s just where he went. And thing he says when he sees Abraham and Lazarus is not “Help get me out of here”, or, “I’ve been wrongly put here”, but simply “Send Lazarus to come and give me some relief.”

The rich man doesn’t even recognize he’s in hell! He thinks that he can still order Lazarus around and doesn’t see any reason why Lazarus shouldn’t come to him instead of him leaving and coming to them. Just like an addict, the rich man doesn’t want freedom from his drug of choice, just another fix to tide him over.

In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, Lewis draws a picture of a heaven and hell where there’s a bus that will take anyone who would like to go from hell to heaven, yet surprisingly few people ever make that journey and even fewer stay. The Hell of the Great Divorce is an enormous, empty city who’s citizen, ever more fed up with encroaching neighbors, keep moving further and further away and deeper into themselves.

Humanity has a singular addiction to the drug of self. It is the reason that so many who take the bus ride to heaven decide to turn back, because Heaven requires one to quit self. Heaven is about Jesus Christ and Him alone, because He is more than sufficient. But many would rather get another fix of self and, like a druggie, take that needle and shoot it up as they watch everything they used to care about get burned up in the flames.

The Dark Knight

I went and saw The Dark Knight when it opened yesterday and loved it. It’s an incredible movie with a great script and awesome direction. In my discussion of it, I may reveal some things you may not want to hear before you’ve seen it, so be forewarned.

The movie’s main theme is corruption. Harvey Dent is viewed in the beginning as a crusader against the corruption and both Batman and the Joker know it. Batman tries to protect him, but in the end the Joker causes him to become the very thing he was fighting against.

At the very end, Batman’s police contact, Gordon has a monologue where he summarizes the position of the two heroes Harvey and Batman. Harvey, he says, is the not the hero Gotham City deserved, but he’s the one they needed. Batman is the hero Gotham deserves, but they don’t need him right now.

It’s unfortunate that the writers got this speech reversed. If we look at Gotham City as being humankind, we see it is completely corrupted. Sin is pervasive and insurmountable. When looked at in this way, Harvey Dent is exactly the hero Gotham City deserves. They were made for each other. But Dent is not what it needs. He is a shell of good intentions surrounding a core of sin and fallibility. Dent couldn’t cure the disease; he fell victim to it.
The incorruptible Batman is what Gotham does not deserve. He is an ideal, an untainted reality that stands in contrast to the decay that is Gotham City. Yet he is exactly what they need. Only he was able to oppose the crime and mayhem of the City.

What I see in Gordon’s statement is a kind of entitlement mentality: Because we live in such a corrupt city, we deserve a real hero who can get us out of it. Because there is nothing we can do about the sin in our town, we shouldn’t have to be held accountable and given our just penalty.