Today at church, the pastor gave a sermon on Luke 16:19-31, the passage on Lazarus and the rich man. I was having some thoughts about the passage while the pastor was giving his sermon. First, I was thinking whether there was some sort of “Schadenfreude” justice mentality that is inherent in the narrative. “Schadenfreude” is a german word describing the psychology where people feel a strange joy in seeing or wanting to see other people in high position being humbled or brought low. Supposedly, medical findings has it that there are certain chemicals in the brain that are secreted that makes a person feel good when he see someone in great fortune being brought low. So in this passage which is about how the rich man went to hell whilst the poor Lazarus went to heaven, I was wondering whether the rich man deserved the treatment of being tormented in hell and not given reprief, because prima facie, it seemed to me that he doesn’t, and the fact that the narrative depict that he does indeed deserve to be tormented is an appeal to the Schedenfreude mentality of a reader. Why would anyone think this way? Well, I guess deep down, there is an inherent desire for people to see equality in things, that it is only fair that people have their share of fortune and hardship, and since there are some people who either have an unequal portion of one or the other while they are living, they must reap the other in the afterlife.
I am not sure whether I am missing the point of the narrative which is being told by Jesus in the passage, but I honestly find it quite unimpressive for the Abraham depicted in the narrative to tell the rich man who is begging him to allow Lazarus to alleviate his pain in hell to respond by saying that there is a chasm that is preventing him from allowing Lazarus to go down to help the rich man. I mean, whoever says that there is a chasm? God? And who created the chasm? God! Now, I know that it is important to make a distinction between parable narratives designed to instruct on a certain point, and narrative that are intended to give information on the fact of things. One should not bear too much emphasis regarding the facts of the former as they could simply be anecdotal. But I find that based on the facts represented in the parable narrative of Lazarus and the rich man, the concept of a chasm as an excuse for why Lazarus cannot go down is unimpressive to me.
I guess the issues I am talking about here drives at bottom to a perennial theological issue that bothers many people, including some Christians. That is, who deserves hell? The concept of hell just doesn’t square with common sense ideas of what justice is, that punishment should be proportionate to the offense. I know that some Christians find satisfaction with the answer that everyone deserves hell, except that God saves the elect from it. Some other Christians seem to find an easiness with the answer of a whitewashed definition of hell simply being a place where God is absent. Did the rich man deserve hell? I suppose if there is anything that can be inferred from the context of the passage, it is that the rich man was uncompassionate towards Lazarus as even though Lazarus was at this gate, the rich man did not attend to the needs of Lazarus. Perhaps God does hold the rich man to a duty of care to provide for his poor neighbor, the omission of which is punishable with the torment of hell. In my opinion, the sheer indifference of the rich man to the plight of Lazarus even when this was apparent to him is so expressive of his utter lack of compassion for human life, that I wonder whether a ‘temporary hell’, in the form of purgatory, would be sufficient to cure him of his inhumanity.