by Curtis Allen
If you go to hell, the only thing that will be worse than the fact that you are there, is that you'll remember that you didn't have to go. One of the most tormenting parts of hell will be the reality that your memory is in tact. And if the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, that Jesus told in Luke 16, has any true descriptions of hell, one terrifying aspect will be that you will remember the life you had on earth, and how it made a place for you in hell.
The Rich Man and Lazarus Luke 16:19-31
19 "There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' 27 And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house-28 for I have five brothers-so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' 29 But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' 30 And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"
In verse 23, the scripture tell us that the rich man was in hell and was being tormented. He asks Abraham for some relief (v.24), which gives us a picture into his torment which verse 23 doesn't tell us. His agony consists of flames and immeasurable heat, so he asks that a drop of cool water be placed on his tongue. That means it must be really hot in hell if the tip of Abraham's finger would be some sort of relief. Wow!
But Abraham's first words in response are "remember." He tells the Rich man to remember that in his life he had everything and the poor man had nothing. This is an important realization about the place of eternal punishment. And one in which I think is extremely important. This idea of remembering goes even further. In verses 27-28, the rich man remembers his family. He remembers their spiritual condition and begs Abraham to send someone to rescue them from the punishment that he is experiencing. Notice that he doesn't disagree with Abraham. For, implicit in Abraham's statement to him is a rejection of God for the riches he acquired in this life. He knows Abraham is right because he remembers. His cognitive abilities remain fully intact in the after life. And that adds to the torment.
To me, this reality of hell can be easily forgotten. But it's one that should be soberly remembered, especially by those who have grown up in the church. In a day, where a good portion of the people that we'll try to disciple, were at one time disciples (used to be believers), but have walked away from the faith, the reality of memory is a scary one. In other words, people will remember all of the times that God provided them chances to repent but they chose the pleasures of this life instead. And while that may not be the main point of the Rich Man and Lazarus story, it is still a point worth considering.