Hell-bent. Are you? Am I?
I know. A heavy question, but since I used this phrase in my last post, I thought it deserved some further exploration. Merriam Webster defines hell-bent as “stubbornly and often recklessly determined.” The earliest mention of the phrase in our English vernacular dates back to a line in the poem The History of Colonel Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia by Benjamin Coleman (1673-1747):
“Ab-origines in Arms…did then resort,
In Haste to Susquehanna Fort,
Hell bent on Thoughts of Massacree.”
Apparently, there was a price on Colonel Bacon’s head, some “ab-origines” stubbornly determined in their pursuit of justice cloaked in massacre. I wonder if we’re prone to the same sort of behavior. A stubbornness, recklessness that resides within our hearts and that pushes us toward destruction—a massacre of the body, and ultimately the spirit, that lands us smack dab in the middle of hell.
Hell-bent. A phrase that, in my opinion, dates much further back than Coleman’s imagination. A truth that dates back to the beginning.
“Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. … And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’… When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” –Genesis 2:8-9, 16-17, 3:6
Hell-bent. Determined sin, stubbornly and recklessly chosen from the very beginning. Adam and Eve, massacring their flesh, bending their will in the direction of hell.
We cannot escape our genetic and our spiritual DNA. Without the transformational, sacred work of the cross, we remain hell-bent. With the cross, we overcome our stooped stature to bend our knees in another direction. With Jesus, we bend toward heaven—heaven-bent. With Jesus, our knees fall to glory rather than destruction.
So what’s the gain of a life that is heaven-bent? Well, to understand this we must visit its contrast. It’s much easier to digest the wonder and witness of heaven, but to study the wilderness and witness of hell? Few will go there; it’s just too barren a place for those of us who are focused on the goodness of God. But that’s just it… therein lies the core definition of hell. To live in God’s goodness, is to live with the understanding of its contrast.
“He [God] will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power….” –2 Thessalonians 1:8-9
Hell is the absence of God and his goodness… completely. Yes, we talk about “hell on earth”—seasons of life seemingly void of God’s presence and his goodness, but truthfully, “hell on earth” is nothing compared to hell for all eternity. Whether you’re a Christian or not, if you’re upright and moving today, then you’re experiencing the goodness of God. Life belongs to the Creator. The fact that you’re actively participating in this privilege is a testimony to God’s love for you.
Have you enjoyed a cup of coffee today? A walk? Creation—flowers, scents, and sunshine? Have you been blessed by the love of a friend, spouse, child? Been hugged lately? Had a good conversation? A good nap? A good thought? Are you educated? Employed? Free to choose your habits, consumptions, neglects? Have you known the warmth of a blanket, a bath, an intimacy with your husband, your wife? A good book? A good movie? A favorite television show? How about a delicious plate of food… even a stick of gum? Music, money, and merriment of a wide variety?
Anything good in your life today? Then thank God. Whether or not you’re willing to recognize him as the source of all goodness doesn’t mean that all goodness doesn’t begin and end with him. All goodness begins and ends with God… every blessed thing that we experience in our lives.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” –James 1:17
To be hell-bent is to determine in our hearts that we are willing to live without it all in the end. Without God. Without goodness. Complete and utter emptiness except for the very deep realization of just how far that emptiness extends. A massacre of the soul that will not recover… ever.
I don’t tell you this to shame you; heaven knows there was a time in my life when I was hell-bent, bowing low and bowing often in the direction of sin and eternal destruction. I don’t tell you this to judge you; judgment belongs to the Father. No, I write you these words to warn you, just in case there are some of you who’ve never accepted the fact that there is a life beyond this one. Heaven is for real, but so is hell. There isn’t anything you’ve experienced on earth that comes close to matching the actuality of what awaits you if you continue to bend your heart in opposition to God’s truth.
I cannot imagine a life apart from God. I’m glad I don’t have to, but there are those who claim not to see him; not to feel him; not to know him. I would tell those people (maybe even you) to look at the multiple goodnesses in your life. In them, you will find God… a fleeting glance of what you risk losing should you continue in your hell-bent determination to do life your own way. You may think that you’re living apart from God, that there is no God, and that you are free to live without consequence. But you would be wrong.
No one lives apart from God; no one lives without consequence. This is our Father’s world, and God will have the final word on our eternal residency. He, alone, holds the key to forever.
Hell-bent; heaven-bent. In which direction are your knees bending this day? Choose wisely. Choose soberly. Choose today. An earthly tomorrow is not promised to us, but an eternal one is. As for me and my heart, I choose a forever with God and all of his goodness. I pray you choose the same. As always…
Peace for the journey,
PS: For any of you who are struggling with your hell-bent tendencies and would like prayer or to discuss things further, please feel free to contact me by clicking on this link. Shalom.