I spent some time this summer interviewing prostitutes, almost all of whom had been victims of human trafficking at some point, usually sold into the sex trade in their early teens. In the process, I sat in a room with a mother who sold her own daughters when they were eleven. Unfortunately, this tragedy is common around the globe. This, is hell.
In the Church, ‘hell’ is usually talked about as a place or a state of being in the afterlife, created together by God and the Devil to punish the wicked.
Vengeance of God, O how much oughtest thou
By each one to be dreaded, who doth read
That which was manifest unto mine eyes!
Of naked souls beheld I many herds,
Who all were weeping very miserably,
And over them seemed set a law diverse.
The Divine Comedy, Canto XIV Dante Alighieri
Less often, ‘hell’ is used to described a state of our hearts after sinning that urges us to seek redemption through a repentance process. In a church setting, rare–if ever–is ‘hell’ used to describe the realities of people’s lives. Yet hell is often the only honest word to describe some realities. Surely the lives of many who have endured war, genocide, rape, natural disaster, slavery, and inescapable poverty are captives in an indescribable hell. I do not believe any hell exists post life, whose depths exceed the depths of the living hells people experience today.
In April 2013, Elder Todd Christofferson conference talk, Redemption, focuses on the spiritual and physical redemption of God’s children though Jesus Christ. “As disciples of Jesus Christ, we ought to do all we can do redeem other from s suffering and burdens. Even so, our greatest redemptive service will be to lead them to Christ. Without His Redemption from death and from sin, we have only a gospel of social justice. That may provide some help and reconciliation in the present, but it has no power to draw down from heaven perfect justice and infinite mercy.” I appreciate Christofferson’s partial focus on relieving the burdens of others, and ask myself, “ What does it mean to do all we can to redeem others from suffering and burdens?”
Frankly, telling an eleven-year-old sex slave or a Congolese child soldier about Jesus will do nothing for them in their current situation, their current situation being far more critical than a post-life salvation, which surely they are guaranteed in their current circumstances anyhow. Further, in societies without any semblance of social justice, Jesus means nothing—except for the hope of peace in a post-apocalyptic world, and I truly hope Mormonism offers more tangible, practicle outcomes than this. Jesus, in many ways, is social justice manifest, alleviating the needs of the poor and down trodden and elevating the outcasts of society.
Lastly, the reality is, duty or no, we are not capable of taking the gospel of Jesus to the far corners of the earth. However we are capable of doing more to help those that live in hell. As long as Satan rages in the hearts of men, it is only the hearts and minds of men that can fix it.
I’m not sure what it means for each of us as individuals, I’m sure it’s different for everyone, and I’m increasingly confidant in what it means for me personally. I believe that we can, and should, do more–probably more than a casserole.