Some sins are easy to start doing, but hard to quit. Gluttony is like this. The more I eat, the less satisfied I am, but the harder it is to eat properly. The first three weeks of a diet are so difficult that quitting “cheating” is easier than continuing.
Even when the weight is lost, my immoderation toward food may not have changed. My self-denial might seem real given my weight, but still food is my master. I have not made real progress if I do not eat, but think always about eating. Food must return to its proper place.
This is much harder than not eating, but if I don’t change this way I will soon give up and go back to my old habits. Worse would be to never give up, but spend a life miserably longing for my false god of food while restraining myself by not eating. I would sell my birthright for cheesecake, but then not eat the treat.
This simple observation came to mind when reading Dante’s Inferno. This profound book has many deep lessons for me, but on this reading I came to a simple one. People cannot always let go of desires, even when those desires no longer make them happy.
At the bottom of Hell, there are those who feel rage against those who have harmed them. The rage is understandable, but the quest for vengeance continues long past any good. Torturing the torturer does not help the victim, but binds him.
Justice to the one who tortures others is good, but allowing bitterness and hatred to consume a man is not good. Why? Bringing justice to sinners does a man good, but trying to find vengeance will harm. It is an indulgence that begins to enslave.
Non-Christian friends often worry about the duration of Hell. Shouldn’t God let people go if they are sorry? Let’s assume this is true for moment. Nothing about human experience makes me hopeful that giving up on vice is easy in this life, let alone in the life to come. Habituation in vice eventually makes a sin part of the essence of a man.
If I will not use the grace of God to find freedom now, how will I do it in timeless eternity? If I clung to my gluttony through the moment of death, what greater shock exists that would shake me apart from this folly? I see no reason to think that the mere passage of time is likely to make a fool wiser.
Dante says the occupants of Hell have “lost the good of the intellect.” They can think, but they no longer can act on their thoughts, the very definition of repentance. Most of us have known folk who reach this point in this world, so why would we doubt that for some the problem would continue in the world to come?
This sins a needful warning chill through me. My “little vices” and the sins I so easily condone in my life are not so little if they become petty lords that keep me from proclaiming Jesus as my true Lord.
There will be no slaves in Paradise, because Paradise is a place fit only for freemen and freewomen.
An even greater cause for repentance is in the knowledge that at times all of us aid others to continue in their vice, if it is vice that our community does not find offensive. We tolerate slavery in our neighbor, if the master is one that does not offend us. We are only selective abolitionists railing against masters whose rudeness disturbs our comforts.
If it is true that most men will choose foul masters, woe to me if I introduce any man to such rulers. Another reason to seek true liberty is that this example will help others and will prevent my being Pander to the prey of demons.
Our very sins become confused with good things and make us long what we should not want.
In Dante, the lover Francesca has what she wants: her beloved, though it does her no good. If Hell was opened and she could leave, she would not go, because to go would be to “lose” her lover. She would have to be sorry for her adultery and sorry is the one thing she will not be.
Romance is good, but the goodness mixed with sin can glue us to the sin. When men will destroy careers for folly in this life why think they will not continue in their folly when only endurance is needed to continue as fools? The very pain that we cause through our sins often binds us more tightly to it.
After having suffered so much, and caused so much suffering, how can we admit that we were wrong, dreadful and wicked? The pains of Hell are more intense and the loss much greater, but if we habituate ourselves to the “joys” of the false martyr, they will only increase our desire for sin.
Eternal hell is necessary if only one soul would choose this way. It is easier to imagine billions choosing to cling to pride for all eternity, than that no man would do so. In our day, we even have an admiration for those who fight the unbeatable foe God. It may be utterly stupid, we think, but it is a hell of a thing.
It goes even deeper than letting go of things sinful in themselves. I must also let go of things good in themselves, lest I corrupt them by improper use. There was a time for me to be a honeymoon husband, but that time is past. I must let go of the first year of marriage, if I am to enjoy the twenty-fifth. The old goods can be a check to the enjoyment of the new goods.
Many of us may find ourselves in Hell for refusing to let go of the goods of this life. We demand Christmas in summer and long for summer fun in the winter.
God help me let go of all that stands between me and real Beauty, Truth, and the Good. God help me to desire happiness enough to let go of mere pleasure.