Unquenchable fire

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:47-48

I live in complete and total fear of death. Not so much the act of dying, but what does or doesn’t come afterwards.

My childhood was filled with propaganda about the afterlife. Sermons yelled from the pulpit of my Pentecostal church and soft words spoken from the teacher’s podium at the Baptist school that I attended worked in unison to terrify me with mental images of flames and people screaming in unending torment. The excesses of heaven weren’t nearly as appealing as the idea of getting there meaning that I didn’t end up in that other place.

I remember my mom, dad, sister and I visiting another family when I was quite young and watching a religious film that showed people dying or being killed in accidents before being thrown into the flames of hell. Lack of television at home meant that my sister and I hadn’t been properly desensitized to such horrors, so we simply sat and sobbed uncontrollably until our parents took us home.

I could say that my religious beliefs have evolved dramatically over the years, but in all honesty, I haven’t been able to completely shake much of what I believed as a child, even though many of those beliefs now seem too convenient, too perfectly packaged, too elementary.

No matter how I try, I am unable to get beyond the fear of not meeting God’s expectations. While many would consider my lifestyle as the ultimate rejection of God’s will, I haven’t adopted a “consequences be damned” approach to my life at all. I’ve simply decided that I have to be myself and be happy in this life and trust that God will be merciful to me in the next.

But what if He isn’t? That question always gnaws at me.

There is rarely a day that goes by without something reminding me of those hellfire and brimstone sermons of my childhood. I can’t burn leaves without a quickening of my heartbeat as I consider how those flames might feel for eternity. I think of the young lady that I knew who burned up in an automobile accident and wonder if the pain stopped when she died or if it simply continued.

It isn’t uncommon to hear expressions of similar sentiments at the memorial services of friends and family members. After my cousin was killed in collision with a snow plow a few years ago, many of my family members and acquaintances made no apologies for their belief that she went straight to hell. Her own father requested that “Lost, Lost” (a song about dying without any hope of salvation) be performed during the ceremony. Thankfully, the singers refused.

I never could wrap my mind around the possibility that this vibrant young woman, this person that I loved, could somehow be punished forever just because she didn’t meet the expectations of those with a specific religious affiliation. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if God truly loved her more than anyone on earth possibly could, would He really send her to hell if mere mortals wouldn’t even consider doing such a thing? Surely not. But, then, how do we know?

In fact, in spite of all of our studying, praying, and believing, none of us can really be sure about anything that happens after we die. We might think we do, but until we draw our last breath and our eyes dim completely, we won’t know a single thing for sure.

And that, my friends, is enough to keep my fear of death alive. It’s my own personal version of hell. An unquenchable fire that burns constantly… inside of me.

Author: Brian

Blogger. Bookworm. Michael Jackson fanatic. Lives in Kentucky with partner of 12 years and three fabulous felines.

6 thoughts on “Unquenchable fire”

  1. Bryan,
    God is all merciful. He made us in his likeness and image with all our faults. He supplied the DNA, the parents and the environment. . .and, I might add, our hormones. So, instead of feeling guilty, I just remember WHO made me and remember how much He loves me and how He would do anything to keep me near Him . . .just like the Prodigal Son (also in the Bible). No matter what I have done, he always forgives me and takes me back. If you read your Bible, there are plenty of instances about how He forgives. How about Mary Magdalen? “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” God bless you. Sue

  2. Brian, death is described in the Bible as rest. A body at rest cannot be tormented in fire. We often say, “rest in peace” because of that. Death is like a waiting place (except you would be at peace, unaware of waiting). People are not judged one by one as they die. According to the Bible there will be a resurrection for everyone and a time of adjustment before the actual judgment day. Then those who were unsure of God’s supremacy in this life can have a second chance to dedicate their lives to Him. Then on judgment day God will separate the repentant from the truly evil. That’s what the Bible promises. I’ve not had a fire and brimstone preacher in my life, but it doesn’t seem like that kind of preaching is even based in the Bible. I hope if you study the verses in the Bible about death and resurrection you will be able to shake your fear. I mean, I agree with you that it is impossible to know what will happen, but if you believe that the Bible holds the truth, then you can find comfort in how death is described. Peace.

  3. Brian, our childhoods are similar (and I’ve got the emotional scars to prove it) and I know first hand the struggle and the fear. The comments shared by others are a great comfort. What the Bible teaches is important… and it’s important that it be rightly understood.

    God forgives us and takes us back–His patience and mercy are incredible. When Jesus forgave someone he also said, “Go and sin no more.” Why not use this lifetime to make adjustments in preparation for the Judgement? The biggest adjustment people will need to make is in how the view Jesus:

    If you’ll allow me to thump one passage from the Bible:

    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)

    We’re asked to simply believe in Jesus (as decribed in the Bible) and trust God with the rest. Thanks for letting me “share”; hope I wasn’t too preachy (occupational hazard).

    Love you, man! Hope you and Honey have a merry Christmas!

  4. Brian,

    I don’t know what to say except to reassure you that God is surely merciful, that He knows and understands us more than anyone can in this world. One of my favorite theologians, St. Isaac the Syrian, believed that God would in the end save all things. So do I.

    It is not the way of the compassionate Maker to create rational beings in order to deliver them over mercilessly to unending affliction in punishment for things of which He knew even before they were fashioned, aware how they would turn out when He created them—and whom He nonetheless created.

    …It is clear… that demons will not remain in their demonic state, and sinners will not remain in their sins; rather, He is going to bring them to a single equal state of perfection in relationship to His own Being – in a state in which the holy angels are now, in perfection of love and passionless mind. He is going to bring them into that excellency of will, where it will not be as though they were curbed and not free, or having stirrings from the Opponent then; rather, they will be in a state of excelling knowledge, with a mind made mature in the stirrings which partake of the divine outpouring which the blessed Creator is preparing in His grace; they will be perfected in love for Him, with a perfect mind which is above any aberration in all its stirrings.

    St. Isaac the Syrian, The Second Part

    Peace, my brother in Christ!


  5. Brian, Christianity is a broken and fear driven religion, full of hypocrisies (ironic, right?). I am as terrified of death as you, maybe more so. But look at it this way: if, theoretically, there is NO divine beings, we cease to exist. Crappy, yes, but not suffering. If Christianity is real, over 75% of the CURRENT population is going to Hell, not counting the dead (where was god earlier?) so you will likely see me at least, lol. AN all loving being would not punish his creations for an eternity stemming from less than 100 years of life. Being gay is “an abomination”. So why is it that gay people don’t have a choice in the matter…I know it’s a genetic, hormonal combination like heterosexuality. If being bipolar was a sin I would go to Hell. If god knows all, then he already knew who would go to heaven before he even made the human race. Complete nonsense. God wouldnt have a “chosen” people…if so, then racism is okay (and why pick the bagel-makers?) Etc. etc. etc.

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