The first is 23 Minutes in Hell, by Bill Wiese. It records the author's twenty-three minute descent into hell with the intent to scare you straight. I do not discount Wiese's experience. He quite legitimately may have been given a tour of hell and allowed to experience some of the torments so that he might return to warn people of their impending doom if they fail to accept Jesus.
Some of the imagery was like it was out of a childhood nightmare and Wiese may have done a much better job if a more experienced writer co-authored the book with him. The scenes he depicts seem more to be grounded in horror movie epics rather than biblical truth. For instance, in grisly detail he describes his demonic accusers and the shrieks of terror of others imprisoned in hell. Though he does describe the isolation and separation he felt while in "hell" it seems biblically incongruous that he could experience the terror of others, as well as be tormented by a demon.
The latter half of the book is Wiese's attempt at developing a biblical doctrine of hell, which a writing theologian alongside of him would have helped, but as a lay writer, Wiese did an admirable job. Obviously Wiese wanted the biblical record to match his experience and that portion of the book, as I described to the church member, is a hermenuetical embarrassment. I do not discount Wiese's experience and that part of the book can stand alone on its own merit. It is up to the reader to decide whether or not Wiese is sincere. His theology leaves much to be desired and a word of caution, if you are looking for a biblical doctrine of hell, you won't find it here.
The second book comes highly recommended. When this lady handed me this book, pleading that I read it because "I would never be the same," I shuddered because of the Oprah's Book Club sticker adhered to the cover. Reluctantly I took the book and agreed to return it the following Sunday.
She was right. After reading Night by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel (and I didn't notice the similarities in the author's names until I posted) the horror of the Nazi concentration camps became a little too real. Devastatingly simple in its detail yet graphic enough to churn your stomach, I finished this book after the second sitting.
It chronicled Wiesel's family's abduction by the Nazis in World War II and their transport to the extermination center of Auschwitz. Separated from his mother and sisters forever, he and his father made it through "selection" and immediately began hard labor. The narrative then becomes Elie's feeble yet desperate efforts not to be separated from his father.
The book is appropriately titled for darkness settles in on the prisoners as they arrive in the camp. A blackness that should be unfathomable in human experience envelops those unfortunate enough to be alive.
What are You, my God? I thought angrily. How do You compare this stricken mass gathered to affirm to You their faith, their anger, their defiance? What does Your grandeur mean, Master of the Universe, in the face of all this cowardice, this decay, and this misery? Why do You go on troubling these poor people's wounded minds, their ailing bodies? [p. 66]Elie loses all hope in humanity and eventually in God as he watches horrid death after horrid death. The story climaxes with a death march to Buchenwald, where he and his father are transferred as the Russians and Americans are marching through Germany. Their lives were reduced to the avoidance of violence and the constant search for food. Never should another human being be treated in such a way. Never should man forget man's capacity for inhumanity.
In the afternoon, they made us line up. Three prisoners brought a table and some medical instruments. We were told to roll up our left sleeves and file past the table. The three "veteran" prisoners, needles in hand, tattooed numbers on our left arms. I became A-7713. From then on, I had no other name. [p. 42]Liberation for Elie was welcome yet horrifying. Having not seen his own face in years,
One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed never left me. [p. 115]The book concludes with Wiesel's acceptance speech for the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize where he takes a bold stand against worldwide injustice and oppression, calling all with the ability to fight against it. May we never forget man's ability to do evil and to harm another human being, including our own.