Tuesday, 11 December 2012

11th December 2012

One modern idea of Hell is of a condition of of chaos and relentless material suffering, seen in the most serious disasters, conflicts and societal breakdown. There's no need to describe a mythological or symbolic place that reflects current social structures, as Dante did. The focus now is on personal experience, not only of physical suffering, but also being trapped and isolated in despair without meaning.

More people than ever in history live in cities. The majority cope well enough in crowded conditions, whether by choice or necessity. Sartre's 'Hell is other people' reflects an experience of breakdown and non-communication in relationship, unable to share any understanding of what is going on, and unable to escape a sense of isolation in close proximity.

This applies in interpersonal communication. It also applies to individuals who admit they don't fit in society, who can't find a place or a community to identify with or belong to. This also applies between a person and God. The isolated individual fails to grasp how to pray, how to reach out and commune with the author of life. Or if they do, they experience the silence of God as utter non-response. They don't know if God exists, or if God ignores them. If so, why?

The ancient poetry of the Psalms voices the experience of isolation, chaos and suffering as part of the journey into faith, but the modern experience of alienation and anomie witnessed to is of a different order. General consensus about any authoritative world view that can give a basis on which meaning in life can be interpreted is not evident.

Science observes, analyses and describes the world but doesn't interpret anything outside its own  disciplines. Ideologically competitive science denys, even denounces the necessity and value of finding a higher meaning to existence. Modern creative art follows its own impulses, striving to contribute something of beauty, truth and goodness to the world, experimenting, but often in a chaotic and individualistic way, rarely contributing to making sense of the whole.

Both attempt to get us to perceive everything in a fresh way and wonder at it, but rarely offers a greater description of reality from which a highest sense of meaning can be derived. A coherent pattern is missing, yet the inter-relatedness and interdependence of everything is devoutly proclaimed as a key understanding of the modern world.

If Hell exists in human experience, is Satan/the Devil the author of it? Does either exist? Questions no longer troubling this age as they once did. It makes the task of accounting for evil more complex. If the Gospel message is taken at face value, Satan/the Devil is a problem. A problem dealt with. Faith recognises the material and spiritual reality of evil and suffering, and invites trust in the victory of Christ over Hell and Satan/the Devil.

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