No Exit is a French play by the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. A mysterious valet escorts three damned souls to a room in Hell and locks them inside. Instead of implements of eternal torment, they find an unadorned furnished room. Their conversations evade the reasons for their damnation, prompting one to demand that they confess to their moral crimes.
The crimes are variations on, well, sinfully amorous themes. (They are French, after all.) They finally realize that the pains of Hell would come with sharing the same room for eternity. The play portrays Sartre's famous dictum: "Hell is other people.”
There is at least a kernel of truth to that. Despite all the COEXIST bumper stickers, it’s hard to live with people who annoy us or hate us, or even those who ignore us. But Sartre’s play begs the question. What is the existential reality of the life to come? Try as we might, we’ll find no exit from reality.
The Parable of the Talents reveals that God gives us various measures of grace according to our abilities to use or abuse. God’s graces are his gifts: for our enrichment and to help us serve God and others. Jesus reveals that even Pontius Pilate’s authority came from God: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above….” (Jn. 19:11) But God also gives us freedom, so, as the Parable reveals, we can squander his gifts.
Use or abuse God’s gifts, we cannot escape reality. But the realities of life raise questions of God’s justice. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do “no good deeds go unpunished”? Whenever I volunteer for something good, I always pay the price! I’m a chump. My works of charity satisfy; but what annoys me is the lack of appreciation for my work.
Here’s the reality we all face, with no exit: There will be a Day of Judgment. “Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. ... "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (Mt. 6:2)
What about the poor and dispossessed, like the poor man Lazarus, who never had a chance in life? Here’s the reality they will face with no exit: There will be a Day of Judgment. “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 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.’” (Lk. 16:25-26)
Why do some people get away with murder? There were a handful of Nazi war criminals executed after the Nuremberg trials, but estimates of the actual number of those who committed war crimes run as high as 60,000. Their escape from justice isn’t fair. Ditto the Communist mass murderers.
Here’s the reality they will face with no exit: There will be a Day of Judgment. “The kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (Mt. 13:47-50)
What about all those politicians who harvest votes from the mutilated bodies of unborn babies? Here’s the reality they will face with no exit: There will be a Day of Judgment. “…he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt. 3:7)
What about all those “nice” people, intentionally blind to the evil that surrounds them, who refuse to raise their voices in opposition to an increasingly morally absurd culture? Here’s the reality they will face with no exit: There will be a Day of Judgment. “‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment….” (Mt. 25:44-46)
What about me? I’ve committed sins that haunt me. Am I sufficiently repentant? Do I fear the pains of hell? Did I confess my sins, do penance, and resolve to sin no more? What will happen to me? Here’s the reality you and I will face with no exit: There will be a Day of Judgment.
And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”… One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Mt. 23:33,39-43)
In summary, here’s the reality we all will face with no exit:
Death, than which nothing is more certain.
Judgment, than which nothing is more strict.
Heaven, than which nothing is more delightful.
Hell, than which nothing is more terrible.
(The Last Things—as memorized in youth by the future Pope John XXIII)
There’s no exit. But there is one way to Heaven: Jesus Christ.
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