Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
The title of this article comes from the “Inferno,” first book of Dante’s tri-part poem, known as the “Divine Comedy”. It is part of the message carved over the arch that marks the entrance into Hell.
Hope is the divinely inspired desire for Heaven. Those who choose to defy the good and its reward, throw hope away, foolishly, to meet the demands of the finite ego, rather than submit to the will of the One who is love and the source of all goodness.
The great English poet, John Milton, in his epic poem called “Paradise Lost” has his monumental character, the fallen Lucifer, now called Satan, rising up from his supine position on the fiery lake, after his infinite fall from grace, gathering the other fallen angels together to proclaim with ultimate pride, “I would rather reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
These are two imaginative depictions of the nature of sin by two of the greatest writers in the Western literary canon. Both go on to explain that nature, arising from the misuse of our natural freedom and its inevitable consequences for the eternal soul. They deal with sin for what it is, an abandonment of God, and, therefore, the loss of hope.
Thomas Merton writes in his “No Man Is An Island,” “It would be a sin to place any limit upon our hope in God. We must love Him without measure. All sin is rooted in the failure to love. All sin is a withdrawal of love from God, in order to love something else. Sin sets boundaries to our hope, and locks our love in a prison. If we place our last end in something limited, we have withdrawn our hearts entirely from the service of the living God. If we continue to love Him as our end, but place our hope in something else together with Him, our love and our hope are not what they should be, for no man can serve two masters.”
Sin, therefore, is foolishness on all levels. It is foolishness, because it is a conscious and freely willed turning away from God, the only source of all that is good. It is foolishness because it loves something finite, for nothing more than its own sake, for vanity’s sake, for the sake of something as fragile and ephemeral as a wisp of smoke. Why love something that is limited in its pleasure, or its rewards? Is this not the definition of foolishness?
If we place our hopes in finite and temporary things, as Milton’s Satan does in his own ego-driven desire for power, we can be nothing less than fools, just as he is. Oh, we may, for a time, command fearful respect, but even that has its limits. Satan is the ultimate fool, for he knew God personally and still chose to abandon that love that was unconditional, freely given, and eternal, for something so mundane as the desire to be “number one.” Is it any wonder that he wants company in his foolishness then? All fools know that they are fools at some deep level of their psyche, and their natural shame can only be assuaged if others join them or follow them into the despair of Hell.
It is, of course, true that “no man can serve two masters.” It is also true that there is only one, true Master worthy of being served, for, and here is the paradox of faith again, in serving God we are made infinitely free. Why would we want to settle for anything less?
If we put our hope in wealth and fame, or power, it is greed and pride that we serve with all of our time, money and effort. And none of that lasts, certainly not beyond the grave.
If we put our hopes in lust, and gluttony, it is only our own loins and our own stomachs that we serve. These are even more momentary and finite than money and power.
If our hopes for happiness are limited to our momentary wants, in defiance of our natural needs, we are serving only imaginary pipe-dreams. What could be more sad than that?
Our natural hope for things eternal is a gift from God. Why would we abandon this gift, unless we foolishly believed that something less than God could satisfy our desires. Our truest hope is rooted in the mature desire to serve only that which is eternal and infinitely satisfying. To serve the only One who can fulfill all that is right and good for us is pure wisdom. If we put our hopes in the living God, serving Him only, we will find the happiness our hearts most naturally desire, both in the now and forever. Only God has unlimited gift to give us. Only God has infinite care and love for us.
To serve anything less than God in this life can, therefore, be nothing less than foolishness.
Dan Doyle is a retired professor of English and Humanities. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology. To read more of Dan’s work, click here.