(Author’s preface: This is a Bible-poundin’ sermon on hellfire, so hold onto your hats, ladies and gents.)
Former presidential hopeful Herman Cain died this week, after a month-long battle with COVID.
Then, the disgustingly cruel online comments began.
“Before he died Herman Cain said his God was stronger than coronavirus. Coronavirus disagreed.”
“COVID loves a moron.”
“Sad? I hope it was worth not wearing a mask.”
Our own communities, as well, have been wracked by heated public debate about COVID, public schools, masks, the health department. And again, the comments. People calling their opponents stupid names like “pawns” and “sheep.” People questioning each other’s commitment to their community, their country, even to God. People screaming and cursing at each other openly, with no shame.
For the love of God, let us all take a step back.
I am concerned about COVID. I am concerned about freedom and civil rights. But, as a Christian, my ultimate concern is the eternal souls of each and every one of us.
I will begin this by saying I am not perfect, not even close. I’m a sinner who spends a lot of time asking God’s forgiveness, a lot of time apologizing to people for my own temper. I recognize, with a heart full of regret, that I have many times engaged in the very behavior I am going to warn against. But I also know what the Bible says and I’m not afraid to repeat it publicly:
“Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, “Raca,” shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” -Matthew 5: 21-22
You might reply, whatever side you’re on: “But Jesus called the Pharisees names all the time! He turned over the tables in the Temple! We have a good reason to be angry!”
Yes he did, and yes you might. But the last time I checked, none of us are Him. Our judgments are not perfect. We cannot read the hearts of men. We are meant to follow the advice of our betters, like St. James:
“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” - James 3: 6-7
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.” - James 1: 26
What will you gain if you protect your freedoms but crush your brother with an untamed tongue? What does it matter if we conquer COVID but throw ourselves into hell? Are either of these things more important than growing in faith, hope and love? I’d venture to guess that hellfire is BOTH more uncomfortable than wearing a mask and more painful than catching COVID. More permanent and terrifying than BOTH a lifetime of virus or decades of diminished freedoms.
There are no politics in hell. The Devil is more than happy to worm into your life no matter if you’re right or wrong, Democrat or Republican, if you wear a mask or not, if you’re worried about your civil liberties or not. In fact, it seems he uses just these occasions to convince us all that our opinions are more urgent and more important than the way we treat those with whom we disagree. But that is not reality.
The reality is, as Christian activist Dorothy Day once said: “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.”
That’s a hard word. But it’s the only one that leads away from destruction of our community, our country, and ultimately, our souls.