Forever and ever and ever …

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If you search the internet, you’ll find various versions of a fable about infinity that goes something like this …

Imagine a rock that’s one hundred miles long, one hundred miles wide and one hundred miles deep. Then imagine a bird that flies to the rock once every thousand years to sharpen its beak. Each time, a tiny speck falls from the rock. The bird then flies away again, waiting another millennium to return. The time it takes for the rock to turn to sand is Day One of infinity.

When I was a boy, I heard this story and had two immediate thoughts.

1)      That’s one old bird;

2)      If heaven lasts for eternity, that’s a painfully long time listening to a harp.

My Mom and Dad used to listen to Tchaikovsky and he featured the harp in The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. To be honest, I preferred the Beatles. If I had to listen to the harp for eternity, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go to heaven.

Many years later, I read Alice Siebold’s – The Lovely Bones – the story about a teenage girl going to heaven after being raped and murdered on earth. When she arrives in heaven, she’s greeted by the most beautiful music she’s ever heard and makes the assumption that everyone is listening to the same gorgeous sound. She’s quickly told that everyone in heaven listens to different music, but it’s the most glorious to them.

I felt better knowing the harp wasn’t destined for my playlist. But, I began thinking about hell and the music played by the devil.

This was the music your Mom warned you about – the tunes D.J.s would play backwards to prove how evil these little ditties really were.

When I thought about hell, I imagined acid rock playing night and day with the speakers turned up to 11 (thanks Spinal Tap).

That, to me, was Hell.

Funnily enough, it was heaven to someone else.

I pondered these things in my heart and realized that maybe this was the way it was supposed to be.

It always seemed a bit unfair that the good guys got to go to heaven forever and ever while the bad guys suffered in hell.

When I was in my early twenties, I visited India for a month and was dismayed by the caste system where people at the bottom rung were “untouchables.” These people handled garbage, shit and corpses. They weren’t allowed inside the temples and were prohibited from drinking from the wells used by the high castes even if they washed their hands.

This was wrong. Just wrong.

Then I thought about heaven and hell, which seemed like a caste system, but worse. The untouchables were sent to hell for as long as the bird sharpened its beak.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this can’t be. Nobody would design Hell to be this way. We must have it wrong.

The obvious solution for a lot of people is quite simple. They ponder this madness and stopped believing in Heaven, Hell or even God. The concepts we grew up with didn’t make sense to them so they dismissed everything.

I took a different path.

In my book – Lovers, God, and Eggs Benny – I imagine a different kind of Hell.

It’s not something to fear. It’s not harps playing 24 /7.

It’s something much more just.

At least to me. 

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A Kinder Hell

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Many years ago, I worried that a friend of mine was going to hell. I wasn’t sure on the exact criteria that sent us one way or the other, but I knew he was going down.

I didn’t want it to happen.

I’m going to call him Tony, but he could be Paul, Jim, Ralph, or even Sam.

Tony did some awful things, but I liked him. So I checked the rules, looking for an out, an exception, a technicality. I consulted a bunch of lawyers. I read the fine print.

Nothing.

Tony was definitely going to hell.

That upset me. I wanted him with me.

In heaven.

I thought about his eternity.  

The Bible talks about a lake of fire.

Imagine that. Every day you wake up and it’s the same damn lake of fire. 

I thought about his beard. He had one of those full, rich, Zach Galifianakis type beards that seemed to grow in an afternoon. And I couldn’t help thinking that his beard was going to be hell in hell. Beards are fine in heaven, where’s there’s always a light breeze, but that wasn’t Tony’s destiny.

No, day after day, so close to the flames, it wasn’t going to be easy where he was heading.

Suddenly, I thought to myself that I had it wrong. Tony wasn’t a saint, but maybe God was more forgiving than me.  Perhaps Tony was going to heaven and I just misread the rules.

I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. But that raised more questions.

So if Tony isn’t going there … who is?

Does anyone deserve to go?

I thought about “the worst guy in the world.”  He kills millions. He hates his Mom. He kicks dogs.

This is an asshole. Way worse than Tony in my book.

So I started thinking about this guy. And I wondered.

Did he deserve hell?

So I did a poll. I got a bunch of my friends together, described this prick, and asked them if he deserved hell.

“Yes,” they all agree, clearly miffed by the dog part.

Surely, the worst guy in the world deserves hell.

But then I started wondering again.

Really?

My life has been short. My birthdays seem to flit by, faster than my candles flicker out. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty years just zipped by.  T.S. Eliot measured his life out in coffee spoons. My decades are doled out in teaspoons.  

If I ever hit the century mark, I’ll look back and wonder where the time went.

In short, we don’t live that long. Some of us much shorter than others. How can we be judged based on this Timbit of a life?

How can we send someone to hell forever and ever and ever … based on this pittance of a life?

This can’t be what God intended. We have it all wrong. Maybe God is sitting up in heaven shaking his head, wondering how we could have got hell so wrong.

And I realized. We need a kinder hell.

My book – Lovers, God , and Eggs Benny – is the journey that Simon, Tony, Kate and others travel  along … asking questions … making mistakes … breaking the rules … and finding forgiveness.

I hope it makes you think.

Peter