No Appeal, Or: The Most Devastating Shock Imaginable.
If you are like me you will stop, at times, thinking of how it must be to realise that one is in hell. In all confidence, it tends to happen to me when I wake up at night, because I am a guy who does not get back to “sleeping mode” easily, and advancing age makes my mind revolve more and more often around the Four Last Things.
What always strikes me as so absolutely brutal is… the absolute brutality of it.
If I get a horrible tax bill, I can appeal and get it overturned. If I get a ticket for speeding, I can appeal and see whether the speed camera was rightly calibrated, etc. If I got a cancer diagnose, I could never exclude the possibility of medical error. Even if I were accused of homicide, I would have all possibility to defend myself and hope that justice works correctly. There would always be something that can happen next and change things.
In the case of hell, none of this applies. When one realises he is there, it is the most definitive thing on (or outside of) the planet. There is no “wait a minute”. There is no “there must have been a mistake”. There is no appeal, and there is no hope.
This, we all know. But I wonder how many really get it. How many feel it. How many get not the knowledge, but the shiver.
I have found myself, a couple of times, in the position to really feel what it is, of course within the limits of my poor, human imagination. I have imagined, vividly (as it happens to you, or at least to me, when I wake up at night), that it would happen to me. That it has happened to me. That I am in hell, now.
It’s not that I wanted it. I did not seek it. It is that, at night, my imagination works in 3D and Technicolor.
It was terrifying and, at the same time, a very salutary experience. Salutary but so difficult, that I don’t want to get into the “experiment” again. So shocking, in fact, that the aftereffect of that terror remained with me the day after, in broad daylight, whilst working at the office.
What I remember very distinctly, is the (initial) inability of the mind to even grasp the concept. Your mind, involuntarily but irresistibly, again and again, comes back to the concept of reprieve, of remedy, of “appeal”, of something that happens next and can change the outcome. This is obvious, I think, as our human mind is not really wired for the concept of infinity. Even the mass murderer condemned to life imprisonment realises his jail is, whatever comes next, **not forever**. In fact, even one condemned to death will soon realise – if he has a brain – that he has a last occasion to set up his house in such order that he will avoid hell, forever.
But the one who finds himself in hell, he is screwed forever the very moment he first realised he is screwed; and whilst the concept of screwed will be grasped immediately, the concept of “forever” will require a time of terrifying adjustment as the brain trains itself to understand what it really, really means for him.
This would be terrifying for one, like me, who has believed in hell all his life. I can’t even begin to fathom the sheer apocalyptic feeling overcoming the one who finds himself in hell after never giving a thought to it for decades, unless it be to mock it. The fear of hell I have is, at least, the product of the fear of the Lord. The reality of hell for one without (during life) the fear of the Lord must be the most devastating shock imaginable. I reflect on how many times it happens every day, and it makes for very sobering thinking.
I don’t want to find myself in that situation of imagination running wild again. Still, I think that the experience was salutary. It was a kind of preventative warning. It was like that “chi tocca i fili muore” (“he who touches the wires dies”) writing I saw on electricity pilons as a child, the black skull and bones on top of the words making the point once again for the illiterate and the incurably stupid. To me, the writing gave a slight shiver.
I wonder how many atheists, with degree and PhD, are just that stupid. Their intelligence, real or imagined, is just an obstacle to proper understanding, and the prelude, perhaps after decades of smugness, to the most devastating shock imaginable.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.