The modern world is fascinated with how we die and telling the stories how victims have come to a violent end, no matter how much else there may be to tell of their lives. We joke about after-life, and paint imaginative pictures to console ourselves when confronted with the cold facts of mortality and the dissolution of the body. We know so much about the universe we inhabit, so little about ourselves. We don't know whether or not anything of ourselves survives death, apart from solid achievments and other peoples' memories of us we leave behind.
We know the universe began and will inevitably end. What then happens to any trace of our existence for others to recall? If death spells annihilation in the short or long term, what are we? What is the point and purpose of existing at all? Can life be lived to the full and to good purpose in the light of such profound unanswered, unanswerable questions? Faced only with what we think we know for sure, the facts, these are profound and disturbing issues confronting us individually and collectively.
Hell in every religion is an imaginary realm where the dead end up, punished for consequences of wrong actions when they were alive - but what constructive purpose does this imagery and mythology serve, apart from deterring evil-doing? The prospect of death as mere annihilation hasn't removed the notion of hell as punishment from the modern world view. It has identified and re-located the experience of hell in the midst of life itself. Hell is perceived wherever tragedy, disaster or brutal conflict imposes suffering on people. Humans are adept at causing each other suffering. "Hell is other people"
At least as long as we are alive there's a possibility of rescuing others from hell, by working on putting right relationships with one another. It's the most noble and significant way we have of making existence meaningful even if, in the end, life came to nothing.
Any experience of unrelieved torment and suffering can drive us to long for an end to existence. Yet, for the most part, we cling on to life for as long as we can cope with it. We want more than we get, we long to know if there's more to life than life itself.
Do I in any sense exist? Not just when my mind and body are failing and cease to function, but when it is reduced to its component elements? We long to know, but are confronted with not knowing, disturbed by by longing, immortal longing. Yet we have no means of imagining what we long for, what existence would be like beyond the realm of present knowledge, experience and understanding.
This longing is part of our consciousness of self, something which seems to distinguish us from other creatures. It's part of what being in in the divine image means for those who stake their existence on believing in God.