Oh Hell…

2018 Update: I wrote these messages 11 years ago and numerous features of my beliefs have changed since that time. The core message stands. I refuse to believe that God is worse than me. I refuse to believe that God is a monster.

The context of the following was that people were arguing that the world is becoming worse as people lose their fear of hell.

The emphasized sections in brackets are a summary of my correspondent’s statements.

I’ve kept quiet in this thread up until now. And honestly, I really am hesitant to say anything. But I will say a short word.

Fear of hell doesn’t inspire love for God. Fear of hell inspires a self-oriented desire to protect one’s self. Christ was far more than a fire insurance salesman. Yes, Christ talks about gnashing of teeth. Yes, he says that he shall say, “Depart from me for I never knew you.” I’m not trying to squeeze past an uncomfortable truth. At each point Christ spoke the word of healing that his hearer needed. Often it was a word of forgiveness and compassion. But it was also frequently a challenging word, a word to crush the idols of our minds.

I’ll admit that I do find the concept of a literal, physical fire and brimstone hell to be both vulgar and spiritually naive. Our God is, himself, a consuming fire. His love is the purgatorial fire, his love is the condemnation of those who resist him, and his love is the mysterious flame that beckons us inward and upward into the heart of joy.

A vengeful god that has to sate his ego by eternally tormenting those of his creatures that turned on him isn’t conceivable to me as a god of love or goodness, but rather a monster of the most vindictive type. Hell is only compatible with God if it is, itself, an experience of God’s goodness and love. This Hell is very real, and very tragic. It is the heart of love which burns us. What a horrible thing it is to be loved by someone we hate.

Ask yourself this: in what way have you ever experienced fear for your own skin as a beginning of love for another? It simply makes no sense against the human condition, except insofar as there is a sickness of the mind and soul which can cause the victim to become attached to the perpetrator. Is that the kind of God we worship?

And later…

I’m not going to argue this. I’ll allow myself one response and then silence.

I never said there was no hell. Here’s what I wrote:

Hell is only compatible with God if it is, itself, an experience of God’s goodness and love. This Hell is very real, and very tragic. It is the heart of love which burns us. What a horrible thing it is to be loved by someone we hate.

We damn ourselves, as did the dwarves in Lewis’s The Final Battle. I believe it is much like that. Where can we go that God is not? What limit can be put on him? He is here, not there? Separation is from the perspective of the subject, which is us; it is not actual separation, but rather the desperate desire to get away from God, as we see with Jonah. If we experience hell as searing pain, I believe it is the agony of knowing that what we are, what is our condition and not being able either to hide from the glory of God nor to accept the love from which his impassive, unchangeable nature will never cease.

[One of my correspondents posited that fear is “under-rated”, cites Proverbs as instructing us to preserve our children via punishment, as well as fear of fire so that we don’t burn ourselves. Fear of hell can protect those who might otherwise deny Christ and live a sinful life.]

This fear is the fear of the child. And it is not, or at least should not be a fear that their parents will torture them mercilessly.

[Punished by parents, taught fear and respect of them. Rebellion of the angels and the question of where I’d have God put demons, murderers, rapists, child molesters, evil dictators “and the multitude of other vile sinners” who resist salvation. “Do you want these monsters in heaven?“]

Evil they may be, but they are not monsters. Christ died for all mankind—not just the nice people. Not just the good people. Not just the people that don’t need it, as if there were such a thing. Who is more pathetic than a person that has so corrupted their soul as to be capable of committing monstrosity? Looking at them in this life I can hate them. But I cannot wish damnation upon them eternally. I can only mourn the tragedy of evil.

[Do I believe that the damned will eventually be allowed into heaven. And the statement that a heaven filled with “monsters” is not heaven but hell.]

Where do you get this idea of “us” and “them”? What separates you from them? Are you not also human? Are you not also capable of evil? I’m unwilling to look at such people and say that they are somehow other than me. I am only preserved from the depths to which they have fallen through struggling, grace and mercy.

I do not say that all will “be saved”. The Church has consistently admonished it’s saints that have wandered into universalist back-alleys. But still I can hope it, and I do have faith that God is merciful and knows best how to deal with these wretched ones, not only for the benefit of the mass of others, but for themselves as well.

Can I ever wish for a Hitler in heaven? My answer is simply this: not as he was on earth.

[Statement that God is neither cruel nor unjust, but that man is both. What would I do with “unjust, dangerous humans”? While many things about God are mystery, a literal hell is unavoidable according to scripture.]

I take no issue with the existence of hell. I take issue with hell in the materialistic conception which would have God as the grand tormentor of the fallen. Take Hitler. Tie him to a post. Light him on fire. Deny him the mercy of losing consciousness. Watch his skin blister. Watch the fluids of his body ooze from his blistered skin. Listen to him scream uncontrollably as he is unable to fall into unconscious numbness. Watch his eyes shrivel into raisin-sized pellets, and yet he can see. If you love justice you may find it appropriate—for 5 minutes. If you are vindictively self-righteous, you may take pleasure in it for 10. But could you endure the torment of this person—no matter how evil he is—for longer than this? 2 hours? 4? But no. This isn’t even a beginning. Listen as the blood begins to boil and burst through his flesh with a dull popping. Smell the burning hair, the righteous immolation of the damned. He will not continue to blister and boil into jelly for a year, nor two, nor two hundred. We will praise God’s justice as we roast this monster for two thousand years and rejoice that his torment has just begun. Let us not snuff him out, let us not end his existence, let us not cave to human weakness of heart—he must be capable of feeling his torment eternally and without end, for it is just. Let him smell the burning of his own flesh, for it is righteous. Let him taste the gorge and blood as it rises to his mouth, for it is holy.

What kind of heaven can I have if I know that others suffer such torment? What kind of peace? Oh, but says tradition that I will be made incapable of feeling sorrow for such a one. Yes, of course. Inability to feel pity is infinitely more godlike than such weak-spined, touchy-feely, bleeding-heart sorrow.

It’s all backwards. Don’t even question it. God is just.

Something is wrong here. I cannot recognize Jesus in such an image. It reeks of the gleeful hatred of the evil one.

So. Now I ask myself—do I send this or remain silent? I am afraid these words will offend. Too vivid. Too passionate. Too angry. But we sit around comfortably and lightly chatting about damnation with some kind of settled self-assurance. Guess I’ll be the forum heretic.