“What In Hell Are You Looking For?”

…are the words I hear as I open my eyes from my momentary daze to hear Robert ask those words. It is Freshman year in this Christian college, a place I really didn’t want to be at the time. He’s giving our daily devotion in class and everybody becomes stunned by his use of “Hell”. As he explained our human tendency to revert back to the habits that only make us sick, he captivates the attention of every student. Everything pointing to Hell intrigues and appeals to our fallen nature. Seven years later, that thought lingers in my mind. I look at my own life, as decrepit and disgusting and vulgar the man I have become, and ask myself the same question. I feel like a maggot feeding on a rotten fruit laying in the gutter. The thought of forgiveness is laughable, at best.

Sunday morning Mike walks into a big church building with people everywhere, through the doors into a room filled with the sound of praise. As his sweaty hand grips his Bible, he tries to find a seat for himself. “Just one,” he tells an usher who points him to a seat in the third row. As he lays his Bible on the seat, he looks up on stage to see an array of musicians and singers offering their musicality to their God, their Jesus, and they are filled with emotion in doing so. A recognizable song begins and he starts to sing, but as he does so he is immediately struck by the debaucheries of the previous night. He tastes the scent of every kind of alcohol and feels the pain in his lungs from all the smoke. As he closes his eyes he almost loses balance from his body’s remaining withdrawals from all his poison. As he prays with humility, he becomes keenly aware of all the guilt he feels. His request for God’s presence somehow does not match last night’s attempt at pleasure and fulfillment. If anything he is relieved by, it is that he observes his wallet’s slot for tithe, “At least I did that,” he whispers.

In every movie I watch and song I hear, the “real” world over and against what some portray as the “Christian bubble”, expresses nothing but depravity—a black hole sucking every life around it, never satisfied. The truth about a matter always seems to lead to evil. Perhaps so many people are apt to believe all the trash-talk about Jesus, all the claims about Him that make Him seem corrupt and menacing (as told in the gnostic gospels, first-century tabloids) because it is far more believable. All we know a person to be is less than impressive. Anything more sounds too good to be true, because it probably is.

Recently, a friend introduced a girl from Britain who moved to Austin, Texas as part of her lifelong journey to meet various people who can, in her eyes, redeem her perspective of humanity. As she furthers in conversation with a fellow she’s sharing a bottle of wine with, she finds that he too, an intelligent gentleman-like figure, shares a value system of exclusivity and pretention. The discovery appalls her as he attempts to explain his family background of high society unaccepting of people in certain societal classes. “Wow, there really is no decent human being!” she blurts as this already awkward atmosphere finds a response of “Oy vey” from her friend, who finally realizes his indirect insult on her esteem. “People will always disappoint you”, I finally interject and gain her attention as I try to imply that redemption cannot come from broken humanity.

Because we have a problem, an issue, and we cannot define it on our own. We can look all through our recorded history and read libraries upon libraries of various writing of people with different worldviews trying to figure this thing out. If Christians allow themselves the assumption that either God does not exist, or at least that Jesus is not legitimate, and begin to depend on human philosophy and rationale, then we can observe our different philosophies only to realize that we all understand a problem to exist. Try as we might, we are blinded out of really defining it—this is why every religion and philosophy essentially fails. The human experience of life itself seems trumped with death—it is literally all around us, we cannot ignore it. Many attempts have been made to make some decency out of life, hoping to somehow affect this time-before-death into being meaningful. Even Sigmund Freud, the father of psychology, himself admits and explains humanity to being obsessed with death—he called it the “Death Drive”.

This leads us to Hell, our own Hell. Christians become overly concerned with eternal destinations past the human time on earth that we misunderstand the complexity and depth the sin problem affects in this world. God values life on earth—He created it! He is not merely throwing us in despair to determine “Who goes where?” later on, He created humans to be humans—beings created in His image. This itself is a beautiful thing. However, we are broken—there is a problem! We are Hell-driven. This does not mean we are necessarily born destined for Hell, that notion is a misunderstanding of what it means to be “born with sin”. Humanity, even in birth, possesses a failure—a tendency and motivation for self-Hell, ultimately leading towards eternal confinement separate from our Creator. This condition spurs us into being independent individuals—totally away from any dependence on God. At heart, sin is essentially pride. This creates a formula leading to our dilemma: pride plus the intrinsic nature of God’s image equals the sinful path of complete independence from our Creator. Satan was the first to walk this path and he intends us to follow in his footsteps. Eternal Hell is this total separation, total independence, a forever thirst for God’s presence but in utter absence.

The world lives for midnight, because midnight is all it knows. Yet, Jesus is very literally the sunrise, for He is the risen Son. As the world’s night never changes, God calls us to live in the day with Him. So, what in Hell are we looking for?

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