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“Hell Hath No Fury…” by David Rhodes



Every journalist knows that when it comes to a news story, you need to put the punchy stuff in the first sentence. To grab people’s attention.


One paper used to have a big poster on the wall of its newsroom that said: Who The Hell Reads The Second Paragraph?


If he hadn’t had other plans, the 14th century poet Dante would have been a good newsman. His epic poem The Commedia starts with a bang. Lost in a dark wood, the hero is suddenly confronted by a lion, a leopard and then by a hungry wolf.


This alarming scene is rapidly followed by a terrifying journey down into the bowels of Hell. Not surprisingly, the book was a bestseller. And still is.


The last part of Dante’s poem is about Heaven. But nobody reads that bit. It’s dull. After the burning fires of Hell and the shrieks of the damned, anything would seem dull.


Ask most Christians to describe Hell and they would be able to come up with some pretty stark imagery. Ask them to describe Heaven, and they would be struggling to get beyond harps and fluffy clouds.


The Church realised early on that the stick of Hell was much more effective than the carrot of Heaven when it came to encouraging people to live good lives. And encouraging them to go to church.


In fact Hell was an excellent way of making people conform to all sorts of things. It was a political tool, as well as a theological image. People in power loved it.


Occasional mentions in the Bible of the ‘wrath’ of God were all that was needed to give Hell the scriptural seal of approval. The Ten Commandments suddenly had an invisible ‘or else’ stuck on the end: in block capitals.


The trouble is that the idea of Hell doesn’t work if you listen to what Jesus seems to have been saying. The father of the prodigal son was expected to be furious with the boy when he came home in disgrace. Yet the Jesus story shows the love and forgiveness of the father as unconditional.


On one occasion, Jesus is asked how many times his followers are to forgive someone who offends against them. Not seven times, but seventy times seven, Jesus says with a smile. Just keep doing it.


What do we do about our enemies, they asked him. And in first century Palestine the poor and oppressed had lots of enemies. Love them, Jesus says. Seek their well-being.


So if we are supposed to love unconditionally and forgive seventy times seven, how is it that we are going to burn in the fires of everlasting Hell for a couple of sins we may have commit here on earth? Where then is God’s forgiveness?


It doesn’t stack up. You can’t have a loving God and Hell. God so loved the world that he sent us his son, we are told. It defies all reason that He was simultaneously stoking up the furnaces of Hell for the moment any of us stepped out of line.


But what about crime? Violent crime? What about punishment for that? And in truth we do have an instinct that says that people should be punished when they do serious wrong.


But how do we square that instinct for punishment (or is it revenge) with a loving God? What, for example, if an extremely wicked man died and found himself at the gates of Heaven. What would happen to him?


The book Finding Mr Goldman presents us with exactly that scenario.


Instead of being cast down into the burning lakes of Hell when he dies, Mr Goldman finds his life of greed and violence is laid bare before him. In the company of an untidy but likeable tramp who bears a striking resemblance to Jesus, Goldman sets out on an impossible quest to save his soul.


Day by day he encounters people whose lives he has destroyed. He has a growing realisation of the terrible things he has done. But, for some strange reason, the tramp does not seem unduly concerned about it.


Eventually Goldman is confronted by the shattering reality of Hell and realises that all is lost. It is only then, when all hope has gone, that he discovers the depth of God’s love.


Can Goldman be redeemed? Perhaps so. But in the last pages of the book, he meets someone else who has committed even greater evil. A holocaust of suffering and death as bad as anything the world has known. Can that man enter heaven?


‘No,’ says the man, ‘I could not bear the pain.’


‘The pain of your punishment?’ asks Goldman.


‘Of my forgiveness,’ says the man.


How the book ends is a mystery. But it ends in laughter. With a cat called Florence, a poet, a reunion, and a very fine horse. With a much noisier and more boisterous image of Heaven than we might imagine. And a very unexpected encounter with our Maker.


Perhaps Dante would have been better off with the Goldman version of events than his own?




© David Rhodes

Finding Mr Goldman (SPCK) is written by David Rhodes, a former newspaper journalist and parish priest. He also developed the innovative inner city Retreats on the Streets in Leeds. His work for social justice alongside homeless and vulnerable people led to a number of successful books including The Advent Adventure, Sparrow Story and Faith in Dark Places (all published by SPCK). David tweets @RhodesWriter and blogs at




This is in the nature of an experiment, the first time I have asked an author to review his or her own book. But, as a writer myself, I know what it is like to see reviewers and publishers blurbs do their best to give a fair account of what the book is meant to be all about, but I have often found myself wishing that I could write my own.
I did not pick this quite out of thin air – I already follow David Rhodes on twitter. And two writers I particularly admire had already given enthusiastic reviews:


‘A vivid parable of false riches and ultimate redemption. This sparklingly well-written fiction entertains unerringly at the front door while the truth slips in at the window.’

Adrian Plass


‘Fresh, witty, fabulously economical and with acute and wise observations. I just wanted to read on and on.’

Janet Morley

I have ordered my copy, and will add to this if I can when I have had a chance to read it. Meanwhile, you may like to read it?

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