Guardian angels aren’t only about neat dreams and messing with your iPod. Sometimes they tell you to read the Bible.
I admit I’m not good about that. Prayer is one thing: I consistently get half an hour a day of that. I have daily readings emailed to me, but often they pile up unread. A couple of weeks ago I prayed and asked how I could keep my focus better on God, and in response I began getting pressure to read the Bible.
(That’s why I laugh when I get people telling me this fascination with angels is diabolic in origin. If the devil is urging me to read the Bible, he’s incompetent. No?)
I decided to work on Luke. After the first couple of days, I got another course-correction: don’t just plow through it at two chapters a day. Read it nice and slow, take one story at a time, and dwell on it.
(Thereby stumbling on what theologically smart people call “lectio divina.”)
Now for the disturbing part: I ran across the account of the rich man (Dives) and the poor man (Lazarus) who die and whose positions are reversed in the afterlife. You can read it yourself over at Luke 16:19-31, but here’s the place my hair stood on end:
He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
I’ve heard this story approximately fifty times in my life, and this was the first time I realized: that’s compassion.
Compassion. In Hell.
I’ve always figured that souls in Hell are just husks of the people they used to be, that there’s nothing human left about them. That by the time they’re irredeemable, they’re just wracked with hatred: hatred of themselves, of God, of each other. I pictured souls in Hell like atoms that are unable to bond with one another, supercharged and ricocheting off one another with a spark whenever there’s an encounter. Everyone a universe unto himself, totally self-focused.
But this…? The idea that souls in Hell care that other souls not go there? And that they feel some sort of human protectiveness for their own family members? That means that way down, there’s still some basic elements of them that are human.
And that if they co-sinned with someone and that other person goes to Hell too, they see that person in pain and know they’re partially responsible.
I thought it bad before. But this? This is worse.