Some ideas on hell… from Charles Dickens

Interestingly, I was talking to some friends who are committed to a certain faith tradition and its doctrines, and they started asking me about where I stand on some issues.  I told them right away that I have a very eclectic view of theology, in that I borrow from many faith traditions as well as I enjoy entertaining thoughts and theories about different topics when I read about them in different pieces of literature besides the bible. A while ago, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens because I have seen so many different movie renditions of the book, but I have never read the actual story.  The book is very short but full of some definite social justice commentary that you get a glimpse of in the newest animated version of the movie starring Jim Carey. Tied to Dickens’ ideas on social justice, I wanted to entertain some ideas that he poses about the afterlife.  We see these ideas shown through the dead character, Marley, who comes to visit Scrooge late in the evening of Christmas eve.

Scrooge is a hard, stubborn, greedy, and stingy person who is returning to his home on Christmas Eve.  After he gets home, has dinner, and seats himself near the fire in his sleeping chambers, he hears some sounds coming from below his room and begins to fear whoever may be there.  As the sounds come closer to his bedroom, he begins to entertain all kinds of different fantasies as to the identity of this strange individual.   Finally the apparition comes through his bedroom door, and Scrooge finds that it is his long-time business partner Marley, who died several years prior.  Marley is covered in chains.  He begins to warn Scrooge of the future ahead of him if he does not choose to act differently, for Marley is now subject to experience the suffering of people who cannot get even their most basic needs met.

I found this description of Marley’s life after death very interesting.  I’ve always wondered if our ideas about hell are a little too fantastic (meaning like a fantasy full of fire, brimstone, and other things from the dark ages) because I’ve struggled to find a definitive description of exactly what hell is in scripture.  I entertained then some thoughts about Charles Dickens’ idea about life after death for the selfish person who never shows compassion.  I was fascinated by Marley’s lot after he dies.  He is forced to experience the suffering of the very people that he could have helped in his earthly life.  Because he is dead now, all he can do is watch their suffering and experience it, knowing full well and regretting that he never aided them.

What if hell is similar to Marley’s lot in the afterlife?  What if the tables turn on us in the afterlife and we experience the very pain and suffering that we caused but did not help alleviate in our world?  What if we create, in essence, the hell that we experience later in the afterlife by the very actions that we think are right or good, but we find out later in hell that we had fallen so short of God’s plan?

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~ by randallkoehler on August 4, 2011.

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