I was in hell.
Now, here’s where it gets surreal (well, admittedly, the whole thing was surreal). When I “came to” in the dream, I was alone, and equipped only with a hand saw. Yes, a hand saw. Don’t ask me why.
In an instant, I became aware of others around me, similarly equipped. They were fighting, everyone for himself (or herself, although this was a genderless existence). There were no alliances. Everyone was together, but thoroughly alone.
The thought struck me immediately, “People are really going to get hurt, fighting with these things.” I mean, how can you not? I soon realized that people were indeed getting hurt, with screaming and wailing all around.
At that point, it dawned on me: there’s no going back. Once you’re in hell, you’re there. No do-overs. The sinking feeling stuck with me until I awoke, thanking God it was just a dream.
So where does one go with this type of experience? Doubtless there are those who could provide colorful psychoanalysis about the state of my wretched soul. Theologians might rightly question the hell-with-a-handsaw motif.
Yet in reflecting on the dream over the past couple days, I arrived at a couple impressions. In no particular order, here they are:
1. If we really understand the reality of hell, we will do everything possible to avoid it
2. The pain of hell is real, and probably worse than people fighting with hand saws
3. Once you’re in hell, there is no hope
All the above viscerally reinforces my gratitude for being Catholic. I love that our faith provides the antidote to hell – the sacraments, including baptism and confession. It’s a happy fact that the Church doesn’t render judgement that any individual, even Judas, is in hell. Jesus (echoed by Blessed John Paul II) made it clear that there are people who are in hell, mind you, but the Church focuses her spiritual due diligence on saints. It’s a good thing.
Just yesterday, I came across a neat little blog post including a video by Jimmy Akin, apologist extraordinaire at Catholic Answers. (Brief info break: I’ll be a guest on Catholic Answers live Monday June 18 from 7-8 p.m. EST, please pray for me!) I’ve never met Jimmy, but admire him tremendously (the jury is still out on the beard). He points out that no one is “sent to hell” by God, rather they choose separation from God, thereby choosing hell for themselves. It’s a rather critical distinction, and important to understand.
One of the most appealing things about the Church is precisely its message of hope in the midst of our sinful world. We all have the ability to avoid hell, given our freewill to say yes to God, until our dying breath. Let’s pray for one another, and ask God for the grace to recognize the reality of hell, and avoid it at all costs through lives of virtue and total abandonment to Christ.