Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rich Man Behaving Badly in Hell

If you have ever searched the Bible for descriptions of Heaven then you have probably run across the parable told by Jesus in the gospel of Luke, chapter 16.  In a way it is one of the few eyewitness accounts of Heaven because theologically speaking Jesus came from Heaven to dwell among us.  That adds both an intriguing curiosity and a certain sense of veracity and so we read the parable in verbatim parsing out its descriptions of Heaven and Hell.

The rich man completely ignored the poor, feeble, dying poor man Lazarus who lay at his feet, literally on his steps.  The rich man did not give him any attention, did not spare even the crumbs from his table, the only compassion such as it was came from the dogs who licked the poor man's wounds.  This Is Vital To The Story, You Must Get This: The rich man completely disregarded the poor man, he never even said, "Let's be practical and fix this guy up and maybe we can put him to work."  No, the rich man ate his meals and ignored the poor man.

Jesus went on to tell us their fates, (Luke 16:22 and 23) "So it was that the beggar died and was carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham.  The rich man also died and was buried."

Now, I want you to get the contrast of this:  The poor man died and was carried to The Most Enviable Place, right to the bosom of Abraham, a spot many priests and pharisees desired, a wish fulfillment of Heaven to the max, but the rich man was just buried.  Buried.  Not lauded.  No legacy.  No shrine.  Dead.  Sent to corruption.  Ashes to ashes.  Buried.  A boxed lunch for worms.

The rich man was tormented in Hades, and seeing the poor man from afar, he called out, "Hey!  Father Abraham!  Have mercy on me!  Send that poor guy over here.  Put him to work.  He's obviously an underemployed servant and he could do something and come cool my tongue."  Of course that is not a precise translation.  No, it's not even an accurate paraphrase, but It Is What You Should Realize About This Jerk's Attitude.  The rich man who had never paid the poor man any mind sees him from far off and thinks that he, the rich man, is still in control and can give orders.  The rich man does not cry out to God for mercy -- that is significant -- he calls out to Abraham, and like Satan he tries to tempt Abraham with some practical altruism.  "I'm really thirsty, I'm being punished enough, just get that lazy beggar to do this one little decent thing and just dip the tip of his finger in the water and cool my tongue."  He calls for compassion but he completely lacks it, he utterly lacks empathy, he lacks pathos, he doesn't think, "Aw, look, there's that poor beggar and now he is getting some decent treatment.  Isn't that nice?  I'm glad that somebody made out well."  No, the rat still thinks that he is superior.  Superiority in Hell.

By the way, he doesn't really complain about being in Hell, he seems to know that he belongs there.  C.S. Lewis put characters like that into some of his books, people who find Hell to be where they belong.  Milton made Satan decide to possess Pandemonium.  Better to reign in hell, he said.  In my house I say, "Better to be a doorstop in The House of The Lord than to find yourself outside it."  But some people expect Hell.  They think of God as someone who sends people to Hell and that is where they expect to go and they claim that they won't be surprised when they get there.

The rich man said, "Send him over here" -- to Hell -- "with some water," but failing that he asked for something else.  Get That:  failing that he tried to give other orders.

Look, the man said, I have five brothers, send him to warn them.  Oh, he was a real problem solver, he still thinks that he can straighten things out, do good, he will send the poor man on an altruistic mission and save his kin.  Nix that.

Abraham explains a crucial detail, "You, rich man, had plenty of good things in your life, you already got all the rewards that you are going to get.  Besides that, a great gulf is fixed between us, a gulf that no man can cross."

Then the dead guy in Hell proves that his problem solving skills are better than Abraham's, he says, "But if someone will go to them from the dead they will listen and repent."

And the last line of this is the most supremely ironic:  "Even if someone rose from the dead they will not believe it."

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