I’m slowly making my way through Dante’s Inferno after our time in Tuscany. Right now that means dawdling in the seventh circle of hell with avaricious money lenders—look out, Wall Street—and, not surprisingly, Dante’s hell is hot and very unpleasant.
So hell was therefore already on my mind when I caught someone reading a contemporary memoir all about…yup…hell. I couldn’t resist taking a second look.
23 Minutes in Hell tells the story of one man’s harrowing, out-of-body, speed-demon (pun intended) tour through hell. The man is Bill Wiese, a Christian realtor in southern California. Wiese, as he tells it, woke up in the middle of the night to find himself in a really bad place with all the works— demons, fiery pits, and total darkness pretty much sum it up. In short, he was having a helluva time.
I must confess that when I first saw the book, I was inclined to discard it as yet another display of dubious evangelistic scare tactics built on one man’s hyperbolic storytelling.
Then I began to read the book and felt a bit convicted that I would be so quick to dismiss one contemporary’s personal experience (of hell) as just a cynical tall tale. If postmodernism has left us anything of value, it is that personal, lived experience, however subjectively felt, is an invaluable teacher. Certainly this has proved true in my own life; my best lessons have been those that have felt a bit, like, well, hell; why could the same not be true for this author? Besides, why was Dante’s divinely inspired, more literary construction of hell so believable while Wiese’s seemed a hoax?
The jury is still out about Wiese and his book…but I have moved from knee-jerk dismissal to a willingness to accept that a) Wiese’s account could be true and b) that Wiese’s way of making sense of the experience, including an earnest plea to the reader to get right with God, really may be Wiese’s way of working out his relationship with God and others “with fear and trembling.”
But what do you think? Are discussions of heaven and hell and people’s various experiences of them convincing? More importantly, do they motivate you to “get right with God”?
Check out this wild extended interview with Bill Wiese—(gotta love the spooky special effects and re-enactments)—conducted by Sid Roth of It’s Supernatural! & Messianic Vision. (Disclaimer: I am not familiar with the ministries of either Bill Wiese or Sid Roth; by posting this televised interview, I wish to be clear that I am in no way endorsing or advocating support for these ministries.)