(Editor's Note: Bob Urban is busy trying to figure out where to store the Christmas decorations he took down this week. Pinch hitting again today is Bruce Frassinelli, noted journalist and Summit Hill native. Bruce is a 1957 graduate of the former Summit Hill High School. He lives in Schnecksville and is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College)
By BRUCE FRASSINELLI
As I have officially joined the ranks of the "elderly," I admit to a certain fixation on and fascination with the hereafter.
Once we pack it in, what is out there? As best as we can determine, no one has come back to give us a first-hand account. Quite frankly, being a journalist, I would love to get the scoop on that story. An interview with the Big Three - God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - would be awesome. If I don't wind up there, though, interviewing the devil would be kind of neat, too. He probably would have some great quotes and anecdotes.
Reality being what it is, I don't expect that bucket-list item will come to pass. We are pretty much left to try to figure it out on our own, but instead of clarity we are faced with ambiguity from the passages of the Bible, Koran and other holy books.
The Christian doctrine says: Live a good life, and you'll enjoy the fruits of Paradise. But if you don't, you're a candidate for eternal damnation in Hell.
We probably have our version of what this perfect state would be like. Suppose I love the idea of spending eternity with my wife, but she wants no part of it. "Being with him on earth was plenty long, thank you," she might say. What happens in a case like that: Does God toss a coin? Poof, there goes somebody's Paradise.
Then there is the whole issue of space. Where has God put all of the good people who have died and gone to Heaven over all of these years? Presumably there must be millions and millions of them. Since the weather is perfect, do they all live outside instead of in a home as most of them do on earth? In the 23rd psalm, however, we see: "…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." That must be some house! The gospel of John even refers to the Lord's "many mansions." Did you ever wonder if they have electricity, and, if so, how did the utility company string those lines up there?
On the other hand, if we somehow wind up in the other place, it seems as if everlasting hellfire will be our fate. Matthew refers to a "furnace of fire that will cause us weeping and gnashing of teeth." The book of Revelation says evildoers will be "tormented by fire and brimstone…day and night."
I wonder whether Satan might have a personalized Hell for each of us? For example, let's say you can't stand the sound of someone raking his fingers down a blackboard, will that be your hell - hearing it over and over and over again, each time as if it were the first time?
Suppose you are claustrophobic: Would your hell involve being confined to a small space, such as being buried alive (even though you're dead)?
Of course, many believe that all of this is a fantasy, that there is no hereafter. When you die, that's it. Done. Finished.
But isn't that thinking heresy? After all, if there is no "penalty" for doing bad stuff during our lifetime, what's to keep us on the straight and narrow? Remember Maude's (Bea Arthur) warning to her husband, Walter: "God'll get you for that." Then there was Flip Wilson, who, after doing something mischievous, would sheepishly admit that "the devil made me do it.''
True believers are preparing for the great beyond now by their actions on earth. They are looking for that super payoff - life eternal with the Supreme Being. I wonder how much time each of us will get to spend with God, especially since so many will be expecting his company and undivided attention.
Wouldn't it be a lot easier if the Big Guy called a news conference and made it official: "Hey, it's no hoax; there really is life after death, so get your act together, or you'll be checking in at you-know-where, and you won't be checking out."
That would really get people in line in a hurry.
The way it is now, we're left to interpret translations of words that were presumably uttered or written more than two centuries ago. Did you ever hear of something "getting lost in translation?" As a kid in a classroom full of students, we would whisper a phrase from one to another? By the time it passed through the 25 class members, the phrase was nothing like the original.
We're left with the contradiction of a kind and loving God exacting absolute and unspeakable vengeance on his people for their sins. That punishment isn't for a day, a month or a year but for all of time - billions of years, even longer, much longer. Forget life in prison; this is eternity with cruel and unusual punishment, without pardon or parole and no appeals process.
Ouch! How fair is that?