what if Jesus' story about hell is true?

Jesus tells an interesting story about hell in Luke's gospel, chapter 16, just a few verses after the parable of the unjust steward. (See my earlier wrestling with that passage here.) The story goes like this.

An unnamed rich guy ignores the beggar at his gate who hopes for the rich man's crumbs. Then, as happens to all humans, they both die. In the afterlife, the roles are reversed. Lazarus the beggar receives comfort while the rich guy is in agony. He asks for permission for Lazarus to merely dip his finger in cool water and drop it on his tongue. Abraham denies this request saying, "Nah bro, there is a chasm between us." Next the rich guy asks Abraham to send a warning via a resurrected Lazarus to his brothers so they will not make the same mistake. Again, Abraham is like, "Nah, bro. It's not gonna happen. They wouldn't listen to him regardless." The end.

If you are a poor person exploited by the one percent, someone who feels taken advantage of by the system you can do nothing about, you are cheering Jesus on when you hear this story. Jesus is promising justice. The rich guy is in agony. The rich guy is still ignoring Lazarus in the afterlife. He would rather talk to Abraham. He still sees Lazarus as someone to be sent on errands. He is missing the point of his suffering. He says is in torment. But he doesn't get the relationship between his current pain and the pain he caused Lazarus. Abraham tells him the truth and gets ignored.

In my thinking, we all have an afterlife to get things sorted out. If we have have caused a lot of hurt in our lives, we will have to endure a longer purging, refining, a revealing of our true colors (not to God but to ourselves) before the chasm between us and God closes.

Jesus tells a story relevant to this discussion earlier in Luke. In chapter 12 he talks about the fates of those screw ups with great and not so great responsibility. The degree of responsibility affects the consequences, unlike our world. In our world, if you are a banker who nearly collapses our an entire country's economy, you still get a bonus. If you are a minority who gets high, you get shot dead on the street.

But in the afterlife, the impact of one offender is justly reckoned.

Jesus isn't being exhaustive. He is a great poet. He doesn't go into the lawyerly nuances, such as Lazarus was a drunk who beat his wife and kids and they eventually kicked him out decades before. Few of us are innocent to stride right past Abraham into the heavenly city. We all have confessions to make, Forgiveness to offer. I certainly believe the more of that we do now, willingly participating in our purgation and purification, the less there will need to happen later.

I do not think saying the Jesus prayer is sufficient. When a wrongfully imprisoned and tortured Muslim who dies in Guantanamo Bay and his born again patriotic CIA torturer shows up in heaven, I imagine the person who knew Jesus will have much more to account for than the other guy. Jesus brings grace and truth to everyone. We all receive the grace for heaven, but need to get there truthfully, through the hell of reconciliation.

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