First, you should know: I believe in a literal hell.
Not so much because the Bible alludes to it as because the world displays its existence in broken children, enslaved humans. Sudanese women getting whipped while men stand by and laugh.
There are pictures of hell within easy reach. To not believe in it is hubris.
And then there is the time I have spent there myself.
In the fall of 1996 I sat across the table from two small faces and watched them munch down the first of thousands of peanut butter sandwiches at our table.
We did this because of some rather poetic injunctions in the Bible about helping “orphans.” None more poetic than Jesus in Matthew 25.
He says “the righteous” will take in strangers and feed them peanut butter sandwiches. He says they will share of their safety, abundance, and nourishment with people who are the riskiest and least able to pay back such snacks and beverages.
He says they will give themselves. The cost is implicit in the risk.
But at the time it was just a couple of sandwiches. The humiliation, rejection, exposure, assault, and duplicity would take years to fully unravel.
The emotional cost remains steep.
And the words of Jesus still echo in my head–the least of these…you did unto me..
And if the least of these punch you in the stomach? Take your trust and abuse it?
The sorrow is a badly drawn tattoo along the sternum. And hell comes in the vertigo of watching those you cherish hurt.
Back to the table…
I must return to the table and find someone else hungry and thirsty and lowly like me.
It is a gift to know I am the least of these.
And your attention to my grief, a cup of clear water.