Countries wait with bated breath. Children strain at the leash. Parents look forward to it. Here in Ireland after 7 weeks of greatly restricted movement, the prospect of some levels of freedom are highly anticipated. Yet even then, the 18th of May will not spell the end of lockdown, but only the beginning of the end—perhaps. Many things could change and extend the process over even more weeks.
But at least phases have been set out, and a potential timetable established. It gives encouragement—an endpoint is foreseen—like when we were children and watched the distance on road signs dropping as we neared our holiday destination. “Are we nearly there yet?”
And even amidst the lockdown there have been many things to buoy our spirits—not least of all the glorious weather. Blue skies, sun in your face, warmth on your skin, birds singing, the scent of flowers in the air—have all made it much more bearable.
Also too the sense that we are in this together, the sense of community spirit in many places. People taking time to speak to each other, to ring, to applaud, to pick up groceries and prescriptions. Kindness displayed in different ways.
All these have eased the burden as we wait for better days ahead.
But imagine if none of the silver linings were there. Imagine what it would be like instead if people were at each other’s throats—continuously, inside the house and out. No community spirit, just undiluted selfishness.
Imagine there were no blue skies, no sun, no warmth, no birds singing. Nothing to lift or buoy the spirits.
Imagine there being no easing of restrictions, no end in sight, no prospect of better days ahead. Just an interminable plodding on in isolation and antagonism.
That would be hell. Actually, that will be Hell.
Hell, Jesus tells us, is an awful unending reality; a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). The language may be figurative, but it is a straining to capture a reality more terrible than words can convey. There will be no easing of measures; no better days to come; just an infinity of hopeless misery.
What keeps us going here is the prospect that, “This too shall pass”—in Hell it will not. Ever.
There will be nothing to relieve its unrelenting awfulness. No beauty to enjoy. No tastes to savour. No friendships to relish. For these are all gifts from God to an undeserving creation, and signposts to direct us to Him. In rejecting the Giver, we forfeit his gifts; and it will be too late for signposts.
I wish I could convey the intensity of its awfulness to you for just a second, so that you might run to the One who offers to exchange places with you. Astonishingly that’s what God does—in Jesus Christ He offers to take your Hell so that you can have his Heaven. In his infiniteness, he experienced on the Cross all that would take you an eternity to endure, and now he offers to you a future that you will have forever to enjoy.
Don’t be relying on anything other than Jesus alone. Your best efforts aren’t enough. Your sufferings here aren’t enough.
In lockdown we say, “I can’t wait for this to be over”, in Hell we will sob because it will never be over. On earth, we regret that good times must end; in Heaven they never will.
Let the easing of lockdown be a signpost for you.