Epstein’s death gives us a chance to rethink the doctrine of Hell from a different starting point; one where religious and irreligious people across the political spectrum might start actually hearing each other.
In recent years, even the most libertine moralities were challenged by a series of #MeToo revelations. Reports about Harvey Weinstein led to chain of events that cut down many wealthy and powerful people in Hollywood, in the Media, and in government positions.
The worst part was the conspiracy of silence from the very watchdogs that should have warned us of the danger in our midst.
They knew, yet they said nothing.
The silence protecting media billionaires was echoed in the UK where criminal gangs exploited young girls with impunity for a decade or more. Victims had nowhere to turn, even the police and institutions that should have helped them feared being destroyed by allegations of ‘racism’, and did nothing.
In both of these instances, those who TRY to speak up, to sound the alarm, to point the finger of guilt at abusers were pushed aside, threatened or otherwise silenced.
Then came Jeffrey Epstein. His story was also known, but somehow he never *quite* paid an honest price for it. There were apparent political considerations for his silence, and TV networks were more interested in finding and destroying a Project Veritas leaker than they were in getting the truth about a Billionaire Pedophile out.
In the meantime, Epstein was finally arrested, charged, and imprisoned. Before he could stand trial for the sundry things he’s been accused of doing, he died under suspicious circumstances… and any chance he had of exposing the sins and crimes of OTHER people privileged with dizzying levels of wealth and power died with him.
This is our starting point for talking about Hell because there are things most of us can agree on, even if the frames of reference bring us there through different paths.
The typical religious person sees a moral outrage that calls out for divine judgment and retribution. It’s more trendy to say ‘Karma’ or ‘cosmic justice’ than it is to say ‘divine judgment’ but these terms are all pointing to the same thing.
Justice demands that humanity’s most outrageous misdeeds on earth be accounted for — and somehow properly punished — no matter how insulated from consequences their earthly lives were.
The secular left sees the same problem, if through a different lens. They’re not measuring someone by a list of moral do’s and don’ts. They are looking at human interaction.
They see the same problem in terms of power dynamics and ‘oppression’, to use the current language.
Privileged billionaires and politicians (for example) lived a life where they might take advantage of the desperation of the poor, treat them as disposable playthings (think: Ed Buck) and STILL get a pass on it — at least until public outrage blows the lid off any coverup efforts.
In such examples, the secular left sees a parade of victims whose abuse cries out for justice. And they should see that. Both responses are legitimate. The moral failures of the individuals (sins) and the harm those people cause their victims (oppression) are both things that the Bible speaks very plainly about.
And God opposes BOTH. This is where we can find some common ground across the political spectrum.
What happens when someone in the mold of an Epstein — or worse, one of his buddies that was never caught, arrested or exposed — lives to a ripe old age?
What if such a man dies fat and happy leaving, a trail of broken, haunted, or even dead victims in their wake? In every earthly sense, justice has been denied those victims. And even after they are dead and gone, the cry persists… a demand that calls out for ‘justice’.
Where can anyone turn to right those wrongs?
Must we simply accept that we live in a world where the cruel and wicked will get away with it? That justice is a fiction? That bad men go unpunished?
That is exactly the question Jesus answered with his parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus.
But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.
Reading it as a simple denunciation of all wealth would exclude even Abraham himself, who was quite wealthy, as was his son Issac, and his grandsons Jacob and Esau. Jesus was saying something else.
Something deep within us cries out for real justice to crash down upon the heads of those who have obviously wronged others. Our response is the same, even if we would call for it in different ways…
In the language of some: “Those wicked people who have needlessly wounded others and violated moral law.” In the language of others: “Those tyrants who have oppressed the weak and downtrodden”
We can agree that it is good, just, and right that some sort of penalty for their misdeeds should overtake them, where their power, influence, bribes and threats cannot protect them from the equalizing hammer of justice.
There is just one problem with that righteous desire in our hearts: the boomerang effect. If we were truly honest, who could possibly be exempt from that punishment?
Every last one of us has been unjust to someone who was weaker than us. And not just once.
We have wrongly defamed someone. We have put our own desires and ambitions before the good of others.
The REAL oppressor, the REAL sinner isn’t some billionaire stranger ‘out there’, it is the guy or gal who will stare each of us in the mirror.
And though our voices might cry ‘justice’ to rain down on someone more powerful and influential than ourselves, someone else will rightly cry ‘justice’ when our name is named.
And just like that, we fall into a trap.
Either we learn to live in a world where there can be no ultimate justice, where the guilty ‘get away with it’, where the strong take from what they want from the weak with impunity and no consequence, or we face an honest judge that condemns us ALL as guilty.
Becuase to let even ONE of us go without due punishment is to destroy that notion of absolute justice entirely.
Are we all screwed? Is there no hope?
Is there no other way to have BOTH an ultimate hope of the weak being vindicated, without a destiny of unrelenting cosmic punishment?
There is another way, because one was made for us.
How did Jesus end that same parable? He hinted at the solution:
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Moses and the prophets… raise from the dead.
A proper reading of Moses and the Prophets, as Jesus explained elsewhere, PROMISED that someone would indeed rise from the dead. No, not the Lazarus in the story, but Christ himself.
What context did that promised rising from the dead have?
Jesus died for our sins, so that he could fully bear our guilt. Once that guilt was fully borne on HIS shoulders, and fully punished through death on the cross, only then he could offer us the forgiveness and hope we needed.
If he did it any other way, he would be an unjust judge, acquitting the guilty against the cries of those who had been wronged.
But this way he can be what was written in Romans 3:
…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Hell isn’t some kind of a ‘believe in God or else’ cudgel.
Hell is the meaningful consequence we ALL want for *somebody* else, someone TRULY evil… but none of us wants for ourselves, however much some part of us suspects we might actually deserve it.
Christ and the Cross are an invitation to NOT face the condemnation for our sins that awaits us as surely as does the grave… but to be set gloriously free from both guilt and shame, to be freed to enter into a different sort of relationship with God himself. One not rooted in moral rule-keeping and fear, but in love and gratitude.