Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.
The above passage from Jeremiah calls to mind a favorite of mine, Psalm 37: 34-36
I have seen a ruthless scoundrel,
spreading out like a green cedar.
When I passed by again, he was gone;
though I searched, he could not be found.
Psalm 37 is an alphabetical psalm, arranged by the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It tells no story but repeatedly urges the faithful to "Be still before the LORD; wait for him. Do not be provoked by the prosperous, nor by malicious schemers."
Growing up in a civilized nation, disciplined and trained by restricting institutions like family, church and school, I didn't meet many ruthless scoundrels. I read about them in the Bible, literature and, occasionally, the newspapers. But schoolyard bullies were the closest thing I came to ruthless. I remember one particular fellow who was eventually revealed as a lonely, friendless coward. When he appealed to me as a friend I walked away. Not even his pathos could attract me.
Many people argue there is no hell. They figure there shouldn't be one, and therefore there isn't. But it's pretty hard to delete the doctrine from the scriptures. Today's story of the wealthy man who ignored Lazarus assumes that God's justice will correct in the next world that which could not be corrected in this.
It's become clear to me that Justice does not and will never prevail before the Judgement Day. Most injustices are never righted; most crimes go unpunished. When I read about old people who are robbed of their life savings I hope there is a hell for con men and scammers; when I hear of another ritualized murder-suicide I don't suppose any choirs of angels will greet the killer on the Other Side. I wonder about those civil servants who are "doing their jobs" when they purloin cash from poor travelers or evict naturalized citizens from the United States. Why did they sign up in the first place for these disreputable operations? Will "It's a dirty job but somebody has to do it;" or "just following orders" excuse them before the Judge?
I personally don't need a hell to fill out my theological system; but I do need God to be a just and merciful God. I cannot suppose that a Justice overlooks evil, treating it with the same generosity that rewards heroic virtue. I don't suppose there are excuses for cowardice, for failing to do the right thing. The damned might complain about their misery as the rich man does in Jesus' parable; but they don't deserve -- and won't get -- as much explanation as he got.