LET'S TALK ABOUT HELL. In David Bentley Hart’s remarkably important book That All Shall Be Saved, he outlines the reasons that we should not fear an afterlife of unending torment in a Dantesque lake of flame. “It makes no more sense, then, to say that God allows creatures to damn themselves out of his love for them or out of his respect for their freedom than to say a father might reasonably allow his deranged child to thrust her face into a fire out of a tender regard for her moral autonomy.” Read the book—really, read it. It will inoculate you against some of the ideas about God that can’t help but edge their way into your psyche.
But then let’s talk about the other kind of hell, the one we make for ourselves. And here I’m going to skip the usual discussions about the various “hells” we might build by our greed, our narcissism, our selfishness—the hells of addiction, loneliness. They’re very real, very sad, and very overwhelming, as are the Hades of poverty and of racial oppression.
For now, though, I want to talk about the hell that looks like hell. In Australia, in the first days of the new year, bushfires were creating walls of flame 100 feet high or more. The greatest heat wave in Australian history meant that the average high temperature for the whole continent one day topped 105 degrees Fahrenheit. In the suburbs of Sydney, one of the world’s richest cities, the temperature topped 120 degrees, and the lovely capital of Canberra had the dirtiest air on earth as wildfire smoke turned the midday black (and the night red).