Where are the Red Tights?
I was a 90’s child and all the depictions of the devil was of a cartoonish, sinister man with red skin, tights and a pitchfork. He would not be depicted as actually scary and threatening, and oftentimes it would be the popular conundrum where the main character had an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.
As I got a little older I began to play the game Diablo, where you battle legions of demons. The depictions of hell in that game matched with what I generally saw in movies or TV: a uncomfortably hot place filled with lava, fire, and chains.
This seemingly non-threatening approach can play to the devil’s advantage, as the evil Screwtape alludes to:
“Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics.
The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”—Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters
I don’t think the devil is a harmless man in red tights, nor that hell is just uncomfortably hot. At MysteryLand, I had visions at both extremes: tastes of pure bliss (heavenly) and also tastes of pure misery (hellish). I’m going to describe the latter in this post…what I can only fathom was an experience of hell, allowed by God to show me the truth.
Be Aware of Hell, But Uninterested
Before I talk about hell, it’s important to draw two boundary lines on the topic that we are urged not to cross:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” —C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters is a series of letters written by a senior demon giving instructions to a junior demon on how to corrupt the life of a young man. C.S. Lewis’ intent was to shine a light inside the devil’s bag of tricks.
It’s incredibly insightful and I recommend reading it. It’s like if two countries were at war, and one intercepted communications of the other’s battle plans, Imitation Game style. The book’s insights equip you with an awareness of evil’s very subtle and sneaky tricks.
Now that we have set the boundaries, I will share the experience I had of a hellish existence.
It wasn’t so much a physical place in which I felt uncomfortable. As I’ll soon share, I had visions, but the most overwhelming part of it was the feeling. Hell felt like a state of being, or rather: not being. I felt miserably alone. While I felt the presence of others around me, (A) I couldn’t trust anyone and (B) everyone was trying to save themselves. We were all selfishly on our own.
In The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape describes hell as a blended wine where different types of sinners with opposing views are forced to exist together, making them even more miserable.
How they hated each other up there where the sun shone! How much more they hate each other now that they are forever conjoined but not reconciled. Their astonishment, their resentment, at the combination, the festering of their eternally impenitent spite, passing into our spiritual digestion, will work like fire. Dark fire.—Screwtape, The ScrewTape Letters
We were all starved of the bad addictions we formed during our life on Earth. All those things we knew weren’t good for us but we went back to anyway. For some, it was a greedy desire for money; others had a lustful desire for sex; some wanted to gorge on food or drink; still others craved excessive glory and recognition.
It quickly became apparent we weren’t going to get any of that. Resources to satiate our selfish needs were in short supply and Satan used our misery and our addictions for his own entertainment.
The Gnashing of Teeth
It wasn’t clear if these other beings were humans or demons. It felt like a swirl of constantly being preyed upon, as if an entire food chain of hungry animals were put into a confined space; it was complete and utter chaos.
It’s as if hell overflows with preying while heaven overflows with praying.
I didn’t physically see these beings, but I felt like I always had to watch my back. There always seemed to be voices just behind my shoulder gossiping about me. They put me down to feel better about themselves. Pride being my greatest sin, that was especially hard for me to stomach.
It made me very paranoid and insecure. The paranoia was akin to when I used to smoke weed to forget about my problems, and if I smoked too much, I would get super anxious and hear voices.
I’ve seen this put-down behavior all the time in this world, where people are insulted or criticized. I’ve done it before, and looking back, I believe that deep down I was very insecure and it was a terrible way to help me temporarily forget about it. Even in times when I haven’t been the one gnashing my teeth at others, I’ve been in circles of friends where the “least cool” of the group became the whipping boy, the butt of all the jokes, and I was too afraid to defend them. Or worse, I would pitch in.
Inaction can also be a sin. Putting down or bullying others is a vicious and destructive cycle that outwardly hurts the victim, but also inwardly corrodes the victimizer.
During my vision, I had a constant, unquenchable thirst. I thought back to a moment in my life when I was so incredibly thirsty for water. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 was total dehydration, I was at maybe a 7. It was double sessions of high school football. In comparison, this hellish vision was seventy times seven. Every second I existed was difficult because I felt myself shutting down.
Coming back briefly to reality at the MysteryLand campground, I begged for water and someone brought me a gallon jug. I pounded down some water, but it did nothing. I helplessly felt the same horrible thirst. What was happening to me?
I began to realize that in hell it was not about physical thirst. It was spiritual thirst. So water wouldn’t help me here.
One Soul Quenching Drop
I desperately craved even just one drop of whatever would quench my soul’s thirst, and I would do most anything for it. This is where Satan and his demons got their entertainment.
They put what I wanted just out of my reach: the only way to get that drop was to come clean and admit my sins but Satan knew I wouldn’t do that because of my excessive pride, the very thing that got me here in hell in the first place! The guilt and embarrassment that would arise from admitting I’ve been wrong…it totally paralyzed me.
The irony of getting that soul-quenching drop is that it was within me: if I was truly sorry for my sins I would cry with shame. Well, guess what shows up when you cry? Teardrops. The tears of shame would quickly become tears of joy and that’s what my soul wanted.
I found myself in this hellish vision and the lesson I was learning is: in hell it’s too late to say sorry because I never came clean with God during my earthly life… so how could I possibly muster the courage now in the chambers of Satan?
The Devil Wants to Crush Souls
I felt like my soul was being crushed. To equate this to a physical feeling, it was like I was being choked; it was incredibly hard to breathe, as if a heavy, evil being was just sitting on my chest from every angle. The feeling was constant and increasing.
This is where, visually, things started to intensify. I found myself in an eternal spiral that became infinitely more narrow. Think of the shape of an ice cream cone (the pointy, sugar cones) and I was inside at the very bottom. All I could see around me were images along the inner walls. The images were all connected and I realized it was like a continuous reel of film…a film of my life. It covered all the walls in a spiral, like water flushing down a toilet. It was a timeline of my entire life and since I had recently been living a very sinful life, it was showing a trail of destruction that I had created, and now all the weight of my sins was crushing me.
I needed somewhere to hide. Unfortunately for me, hell is a terrible place for hide-and-seek.
Update: One year after writing this article, I came across this article called “Is Hell Real?”, which features a painting by Sandro Botticelli called The Abyss of Hell. This is nearly identical to my vision! He painted it as described by Dante’s Inferno. The only visual differences are that I was seeing it from the inside, and that the layers were more of a spiral rather than distinct terraces, or rings.
The Porta Potty
Of this entire hellish episode, this was the most distinct vision, possibly because it was most similar to the music festival environment around me.
In the vision, I found myself naked in a dull, desaturated flatland, rivaled in its dreariness by a bleak, depressing sky. It seemed to go on forever.
Where was the fire? Where was the light and heat from the fire? Nowhere to be found.
Desperate to hide, and still confused about my thirst, I found a Porta Potty, all by itself. It was my only chance at privacy and perhaps something to quench my thirst. I opened the door and ventured inside. It was the pinnacle of filth but at least I could be alone.
Not for long though.
First, I heard a couple voices from outside, perhaps other sinners like myself who wanted to hide in there or simply use it. Then, a few more came by asking what was going on. Word spread that someone was taking forever in this Porta Potty in the middle of this field. This bizarre scene began to attract a crowd and was becoming a kind of attraction. It wasn’t like there was anything else to do for entertainment anyway.
Aside: A Porta Potty might initially seem random but they are very frequent at camping music festivals, which are usually tucked away somewhere remote, around acres upon acres of nature. Visions I’ve received are beyond my full understanding and all I can fathom is that this odd and embarrassing scenario I’m about to explain is perhaps exactly what was needed to give me a divine kick in the butt to change my ways while still allowing my mind to grasp onto my present reality. Namely, at MysteryLand, I was out in a field with lots of people, some Porta Potties, and some of the people in our group were making fun of me during my acid trip. My reality at that point was not unlike the vision itself.
I remember distinctly hearing voices ridiculing me and doubting me outside the Porta Potty. Things like, “He’s gotta come out at some point!” and “How long can he go!?” I got the sense that this was something novel to them. It was like they had never seen someone hide in a Porta Potty, or at least not for this long.
I came in here to find water and privacy and both of these things were totally corrupted. The water was filthy and not potable. The privacy was violated as an unbelievably massive crowd began to surround me outside these thin, plastic walls. Imagine using the only bathroom in the entire world and everyone else needs to use it! The pressure was crushing.
I waited for things to get better. “They’ll move on to something else,” I thought to myself. But, like the spiral I saw earlier, the situation kept spiraling into deeper peril. In this savage place, the crowd grew more impatient and increasingly rowdy.
They pushed the Porta Potty over, onto its side. A rush of dark waste covered me. Ugh. Now I was not only naked but covered in human waste. And this story attracted an even larger crowd.
To exit now would be unimaginable shame, and I still felt paralyzed because of my pride. I decided to wait it out, but the situation didn’t seem to be getting better.
All Eyes on Me
I could hear them betting on when I would emerge, naked and filthy. What a twisted game this all was. They were deriving entertainment amidst my chaos. It must have been a bit like the scene at Golgotha. The execution squad crucified Jesus, stripped his body of clothes, and began betting on who gets it.
So this was the entertainment package that hell offered: putting others in terrible situations and seeing them squirm. And right now it was all eyes on me.
All eyes on me. “Oh no”, I thought. That’s when Satan’s cruelty dawned on me. He knew all about my pride. And isn’t that exactly what I wanted during my earthly life: excessive attention and all eyes on me?
This was Satan giving me that attention but in the worst way possible. Exiting the Porta Potty was the only way to move towards getting that drop of whatever my soul craved but, no, my pride wouldn’t allow me to admit my faults.
Satan was pinning my sins against me. He was giving me the vices I wanted but in the absolute worst way imaginable, and he used other cravings—in this case thirst and privacy—as ways to bait me into putting myself in this terrible situation.
With every passing second, the crowd continued to swell, and my proud soul just couldn’t bear the shame and degradation. All the while, my soul was still miserably thirsty. It was the most unthinkable rock and a hard place I had ever felt.
I believe, this is a piece of what hell feels like. This episode probably lasted less than an hour. My plan is to avoid an eternity of that.
Where Was the Fire?
I don’t believe hell is a place of physical lava and fireballs as we know it on Earth. It’s more likely a cold, dull, miserable existence of no return, devoid of love.
There are instances in the Bible where fire is used to describe hell. In a prior quote from The ScrewTape Letters, it’s described as “dark fire.”
However, fire is also used at times to describe God, since fire can purify, dictate, and destroy. It can also keep us warm and provide light. Think of the comforting warmth of a campfire in an otherwise dark night.
“Fire [is] a symbol of (1) God’s presence and love (Deut 4:24; Acts 2:3), (2) God’s judgment on sinners (Lev 10:2; Mt 22:7), and (3) divine purification (3:16; 1 Pet 1:7) (CCC 696).”—Scott Hahn & Curtis Mitch, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament
Jesus himself said the following:
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”—Luke 12:49 (NABRE)
Looking at “dark fire” in contrast to simply “fire” is a reminder that evil at its root is always a corruption of something good. Satan won’t admit it anytime soon but he needed God’s fire to kindle his own torch of dark fire. He was once a good angel before he became a fallen angel. He owes his very existence to God. I believe Satan’s whole diabolical plan is eventually going to collapse upon itself since evil by its very nature is self destructive.
Hell is Locked from the Inside
Throughout all of these visions I was in control to let myself out. Like an actual Porta Potty, living in a state of sin during our earthly life is a rock we locked ourselves into. We hide from the light and close the door, steeping in shame. We need courage to come back out in the light.
How do we do that? Repentance: sincere remorse for our sins. I needed to confess my sins to God, apologizing for what I’ve done and making amends to move on. Easier said than done, especially for a proud sap like me. In my story, the midnight confession to my mother was the starting point, and the major turning point for my soul.
“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of Hell are locked on the inside.”—C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
I willingly believe that if I don’t live a life now with my compass aimed towards God, that I will be moving towards that hell I experienced. I don’t think this vision was an accident or just a scary, bad trip. I was being called to repent before it’s too late.
After I confessed to my mom, I soon after confessed at church. It took me awhile to heal over from the shame, and for my heart to soften enough to accept mercy. Once that happened, I learned to stop dwelling in shame on my past mistakes and start living in the present to build a new chapter in my life.
Even of his sins the Enemy does not want him to think too much: once they are repented, the sooner the man turns his attention outward, the better the Enemy is pleased.—Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters
If you are a lost sheep and come back home with sincere repentance, I have complete faith that God will welcome you back. If you are reading this, you are alive and it’s not too late to repent.
I like the lost sheep parable because it provides strength that we are always capable of creating incredible joy in heaven by turning back to God, no matter what we have done. Seriously.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.“—Luke 15:1-7, RSVCE (emphasis added)
Even if you spend years and years of your life doing all types of sins, even terrible things that no one has ever done before, but then you genuinely and fully repent, it creates absolute ecstasy in heaven!
I sense something like this happening in heaven on a much grander scale when someone repents. Sorry if you don’t like the New England Patriots but rarely have I seen such an expression of joy. You have fully grown, 6-foot-something men jumping around like little kids. It’s raw, genuine, and it’s totally beautiful:
Unlike some other sports, a football game very rarely is an instant-win type of thing. This time it was. It went into overtime and was the first Super Bowl to do so, so the moment they scored, you can see it was absolute rejoicing.
Why would heaven react more favorably to a sinner coming home than to 99-plus righteous people? One reason is the sinner uniquely created a new avenue for God’s grace to flow into. They helped squash Satan’s domain by saying, “Hey I tried all of your crap and I don’t want it anymore.” It’s a slap to Satan’s face because it continues to prove that no sin is too great for God’s forgiveness and mercy.
For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.—Romans 11:32, RSVCE
We Have a Choice
God made each of us and is giving us a chance to use our talents for righteousness and good. If I don’t try to use what I’ve been given for good, then I’m simply a waste and hell is where I belong.
God gave us free will. Free will to walk towards heaven, or walk towards hell. He really, really, REALLY wants to be with every single one of us, but he won’t force us to be with him.
We have to make that choice.