I spent eight seconds in hell today.* I was pushing my produce through the very back of a large, chain grocery store, past the yogurt. My boy was babbling from his seat in the cart. My feet were nearly dancing to the canned music as we moved forward.
Instantly the light turned into total darkness. All sound ceased.
I knew there were at least 10 shoppers within 15 feet of me at the time. No one moved. No one made a sound. I looked for light. I knew somewhere there were windows. I touched my boy to reassure him; but he didn’t need it. He’s too young to know about these things.
As I fished for my phone’s flashlight the generator-driven backup power switched on. Things were more subdued. The lights were dimmer. There was no music and no compressors.
I could no longer remember what had wanted to make me dance. I missed the joy.
“That was scary” I heard a woman say. It was. I saw the darkness as a metaphor for hell. In that moment we all felt what it was like to be separated from the light, from the one who powers our world, whether we knew it or not.
Most of us who believe in hell, see it as a lake of fire. And of course, the Bible makes such references. But I heard someone else once describe it as total darkness because without God there is only darkness. I think it’s possible for it to be both. Perhaps the darkness is more terrifying. Add intense heat like that from a fire, and wouldn’t we all scream and cry for relief. But is that only if we find God to be a source of comfort and joy in the first place?
Standing there, in the dark, I could feel it isolate. No one could see what was happening, although we all stared deep into the pitch blackness.
As I drove away, boy and bags tucked safely in the back (the generators do still run the checkout stands) I thought of that description of hell as darkness. Now I can imagine it.
If that store had no windows, if I had no phone, if the darkness had lasted much longer than 8 seconds, panic would have ensued. It was the eventual light that calmed people and enabled them to continue their shopping. We didn’t need the music or generators. We didn’t really even need each other. But we needed the light.
*This was written in May 2019