So there I was . . .
I found myself drifting in and out of sleep with a very Scoutish nightmare this morning. In my dream, I had brought my crew to Philmont. We had flown to Colorado Springs and taken a shuttle the three hours to Cimarron. Everything was going fine, until we got to check-in, and I found that I was missing my tour permit (Tour Plan, these days). And all the crew physicals.
Frantic, I went looking for a phone. Because I was going to have to get a plane ticket and fly all the way back home and return. That day. And find someone to drive me to the airport, etc. And the phone wouldn't work. As I kept trying to make things happen, to no avail, I was praying: Please. Please.
But nothing was working. I couldn't make anything happen.
As soon as I was fully awake, I realized two things. First, it was only a dream. Whew! Glad that didn't really happen!
And then, with the clarity of wakefulness, I realized that I could have just pulled the Tour Plan off the internet, all filled out. And physicals can be replaced in other ways; surely nobody is going to turn us away and make me get on a plane and go back. If nothing else, they could be faxed.
Of course, in a dream, none of this is evident. All I knew in my dream was the situation I was struggling with, which I was helpless to change. And then I thought, That moment -- when I was pleading and banging the phone and trying to fix things but nothing worked -- that moment, that feeling, fixed eternally so the frustration and panic never diminishes and there is no other thought or experience to succeed it, no ability to step back and reconsider what to do:
that is Hell.
For we live our lives in time. Moment succeeds moment. No experience lasts in intensity beyond a little while. The worst and best we have ever known can only depress us or exalt us, frighten us or excite us, for a while. And the goodness or badness of a particular moment or experience fades a bit. Remembering is not the same as experiencing, which is why we are such obsessive creatures: the closest we can get to eternity is to do it again.
Newlyweds trying to set the record for sex and children eating candy the day after Hallowe'en and people exiting the roller coaster only to go back to the end of the line to wait for an hour to get back on it aren't just seeking another rendition of the joy they first knew -- they're trying to get back to, hold onto, re-live the same joy. For to re-experience it is to re-connect with all its previous renditions and to live in that moment as if it could last forever.
But what it if could? What if it does? For when we step outside of time, when we are in eternity, there will be no experience of one moment after another. So the intensity of experiences won't fade.
There is only this moment's experience, for ever. To see God -- the Beatific Vision -- is the goal of the Christian's life. The cynic says, "And then what? What is there to do
in Heaven?" Well, there may be plenty to do, but the point is that living in eternity, the quality of first meeting the King of the Universe is not merely overwhelming, but an overwhelming Joy.
And that joy will not fade. We won't have to try to get it back. And it won't grow stale. It will be who we are.
But then, the same is true for the soul -- whatever soul it might be -- that finds itself in Hell. In my dream, I had made it to Philmont (Yay!), but I wasn't going to get past the check-in. Everything was wrong, no matter how I struggled to correct it. Well, Hell is just the obverse of Heaven; the alternative of the Beatific Vision is the Miserific Vision. Except the Face we would see in Hell wouldn't be that of the Devil, but of God. Here C.S. Lewis is wrong, when he says that just as there is a Face Above which is eternal joy to see, there is a Face Below that is eternal terror, because there is only one Face that determines our destiny. Uhtred of Boldon (c. 1315-1396) taught that every soul that dies goes on to judgment. The judgment consists of a clara visio,
a "clear vision" of God, the reaction to which determines one's eternal fate. C.S. Lewis, in a moment of "clearer vision," borrowed the idea for his own judgment scene in The Last Battle.
All those who die in the wreck of Narnia go through a door. Some are delighted by what they find, others appalled. The Talking Animals who go through the door whose expression betrays their dismay lose their rationality and become just animals; what happens to the humans we are not told.
To have all moments become this moment does not mean everlasting boredom. It means the quality of this moment never fades. The joy or the terror of meeting the living God is not something that one gets past and then goes out to have coffee afterwards to discuss the interview. And in that experience, of one's reaction to God, is the entirety of one's fate. God only has one gift to give, and he gives the same gift to every person. It's just that some people will react with joy and some with dismay. For ever.