The pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of hell shall be disclosed, and opposite it the paradise of delight. (2 Esdras 7:36)
Hell is real. I visited there today. It snuck up on me. I spent much of the day working on some repairs to our deck at home. I was looking forward to it. I don’t always have the time to spend on this kind of stuff. I’m not the handiest guy in the world, but I enjoy working with tools and my hands, and given enough time I get the job done. So I anticipated the afternoon and evening with optimism.
Then I got under the deck and was reminded of the reality that I cannot stand up under there. I have to bend at about a 45 degree angle at my waist to keep from banging my head on the braces and crossbeams above me. It’s not so bad at first, when my back is fresh and my energy level high. But six hours in, I am hanging on by a thread, and thinking to myself … “this is where I will spend eternity. Doing something I love, but in a setting that tortures me.” Satan is real. I met him under my deck this afternoon.
All silliness aside, I have realized by this stage in life that Satan is alive and well. I wish it were as simple as him residing under my deck … that would be an easy fix. But in truth, he lives in my actions and attitudes sometimes. When I make choices that I know are in no one’s best interests, I allow Satan to be the lord of my actions for that moment. When I react with petty deeds and words because I am frustrated or impatient, I invite Satan to rule my life. When I don’t allow myself to accept a word of forgiveness from a fellow sister or brother in Christ, I show Jesus the door, while letting Satan in by the back porch. Now we can split hairs and talk about sin vs. Satan, or embodied evil vs. disembodied sin. But call it what you wish, when we do not embrace all the good things God offers to us, we might as well be members of the legions of doom, whether you personalize that in the person of the anti-Christ, or just the presence of sin in the world.
So … this week in your prayer and reflection, give some thought to the places where you distance yourself from God’s goodness and grace. Reconsider those places where you may be unable to forgive yourself, even though others have forgiven you. Reflect on the kinds of situations that lead you into bad choices in terms of attitude or lack of understanding of others. Recognize that these are places where God’s lordship over your life may be shaky for a few moments, and consider what you can do to to refocus your attention on God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. They are never far from you. Remember that God is always the Lord of your life, even when you have a momentary lapse that suggests otherwise. Choose the “place of rest” and the “paradise of delight” as the Second Book of Esdras advises.