The temperature today (almost 100 degrees) takes me back almost forty years to a time and a place where I thought I was invincible. As a teenager you have the mindset that you will live forever—that you are above the laws of nature—that the law of reaping and sowing simply does not apply to you. That’s one major reason adolescents take such insanely dangerous chances. They have not yet garnered that fearful wisdom that you could actually die from making foolish decisions. It’s amazing how deep this truth becomes ingrained as you grow older. This is not to suggest that teenagers are stupid—they most certainly are not. It is to suggest that as young people we simply don’t know everything we need to know to live a long life, and unlike cats we don’t possess nine lives—only one, so we must make the most of it.
My first job as a teenager was as a hoe-hand for Cato Farms. A hoe-hand is a person who uses a hoe to extract every last blade of grass or the pesky weeds that contend for dominance in a vegetable garden. I’m talking a big garden with rows almost ¼ mile long in multiple acre fields. It was farming at its best or at least I thought so. The pay was one dollar per hour with all the water you could drink at the end of a trip out the row and back. Every morning we started at 6 am with a sharp hoe and plenty of energy, but by lunch we were spent. The heat of the sun has a way of sucking your life right our of your body one drop of sweat at a time.
Most of the hoe-hands (that’s what we were called rather than what you might think is obvious when you add an “er” to the implement we were using) were young guys like myself—full of life, vigor, and a whole lot of testosterone. What we were lacking in mentally, we made up for with attitude and bravado. There were always a couple of older ladies who worked alongside us to keep us moving and to drop an occasional word of wisdom—a keeper nugget—a life treasure for anyone listening. Most of them I never heard—but one stuck.
It was one hot day—in fact by 10 am we were dragging in the hot humid air of early June. The forecast for the day had a triple digit destination. We were cutting up, playing out ahead of the main group, putting handfuls of dry dusty dirt on each others sweat laced backs and lamenting with colorful comments on how hot it was.
Just as one of the older women caught up with us, a comment was made like this: “It’s hot as hell out here.” We all giggled, not realizing she was right behind us. That’s when I heard her simple reply—“This is not half as hot as hell will be.” It got real quiet. In fact, you could hear yourself sweat in the silence of that moment. She didn’t stop hoeing or start preaching, she just kept moving—allowing her words to sink into our dirt soaked brains.
The responses were what you might imagine. A couple laughed, one mocked, but I was struck by the simplicity and the gravity of what she said. It was almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit out in that bean field. A few more degrees and we would have all melted and disappeared into that dry soil or self-combusted into a bevy of human Roman candles, and hell is hotter than this? Hmmmm…note to self, I definitely do not want to go there.
Today, as I contemplate the broiling temperature and the smothering humidity of Central Alabama, I am reminded of how hot hell will be. With age has come a little wisdom and I realize I will not live forever and neither will you. That comment I heard out in that bean field was a loving warning not a smart aleck remark. The truth is—all of us will spend eternity somewhere. The only question is where—heaven or hell? Godly wisdom says to avoid hell one must have a relationship with Jesus. Worldly wisdom says don’t worry about it and grab for all the gusto you can. The temperature here in Alabama changes on a regular basis, but the thermometer in hell always reads the same, so be careful what you grab for. You’re right it is hot here right now, but not half as hot as hell will be.