So it was just a couple days ago I posted on My Black and Secret Heart, and as I noticed in the comments, and as I’ve encountered before, there is a point of view that the idea of Hell is incompatible with the idea of a loving God.
I would disagree. In part because I think we attach too much tradition and perhaps incorrect assumptions about Hell. Really, it isn’t described in detail in the Bible. Its role isn’t fully explained. It doesn’t even seem to be permanent, as it apparently gets tossed in the Lake of Fire eventually. And the Lake of Fire, for that matter, has to be at least somewhat allegorical, because I doubt that God is literally maintaining a huge lake of flames in which to toss everything.
Now, one might argue: If Hell isn’t a punishment for not following God’s rules, then why doesn’t the Bible tell us that explicitly? Well, note that the New Testament talks much about love and a relationship with God, whereas the Old Testament treats the relationship more as a master/servant or lord/subject model. And yet, God didn’t start out in an authoritarian mode with Adam. What we fail to see is that God had to snap us to attention when we broke trust, and He had to call attention to the error of our ways, and He had to bring about a way to heal the damage. It would be nice to think that the New Testament would just say, “Hell isn’t about punishment; it’s about the choice between growing and being part of God’s plans, or separating yourselves from those plans because you don’t like them.”
But you know what? That would have been kind of a hard and huge transition for the Jews of the time, or even the Gentiles. I think we are expected to have grown in our spiritual outlook and divine God’s intent to bring us into a family mode. The New Testament was written in a time of transition from the old convenant to the new convenant.
So, with that notion in mind, I’m not so sure Hell is about suffering or punishment. It may be. But I think we shouldn’t assume that. I do think that at the very least, it is separation from God, for either a very long time or forever. Again, I couldn’t say for sure either way.
But what if Hell isn’t about making us pay for our sins but about protecting creation itself? Bear with me here, as I make a slight aside.
If you haven’t seen the movie Defending Your Life, I highly recommend that you do. It’s a brilliant romantic comedy, in my opinion, and poses some interesting theological questions in the process of tickling the funny bone. The basic premise is that when we die on Earth, we go to Judgment City, where we basically stand trial to prove we have overcome our fears in life. If you prove that, you move on to the next intellectual/spiritual plane and evolve to the next level. If not, you get reincarnated to do it all over again.
Albert Brooks, sitting in the office of his Judgment City defender, is confused about all this. His defender explains that the universe is like a big machine and people are the cogs. The universe doesn’t want faulty parts, so people get sent back until they get it right. Appalled to find out just how many times he’s been sent back already through the ages, Albert Brooks’ character asks, basically, “So if I don’t prove I’m over my fears, I just get sent back over and over and over again?” To which his defender responds, “No. Eventually the universe will just throw you out.”
God doesn’t need or want people who are broken and want to stay broken. He doesn’t need people who are going to be contrary to his purpose for creation.
Let’s remember, for a moment, that we are “created in God’s image.” The angels were not. So what sets us apart from them in Heaven? I suspect it’s the fact that we have the power and potential to access and alter creation in much the same way that God can. We are far from God’s level, but imagine what we each could become, given eternity in which to develop.
Imagine what damage could be wreaked by selfish or hopeless people with even a smattering of such power.
What if the point of Heaven vs. Hell is the decision as to whether you want to move on and evolve or whether you don’t give a damn. If you don’t want to move on, you won’t. And that, I believe, is when you go to Hell.
Do you get a chance to rethink? I don’t know. Maybe in that decision you are basically saying, “Just throw me out, because I don’t want to change or grow.” Maybe you are simply erased at that point; a faulty part that had to be thrown away. Or maybe you are placed somewhere you can’t do any harm, but can continue in that static existence that you won’t shrug off.
God isn’t trying to keep people out of Heaven, but I do think He wants to ensure that those who go there really want to be there, and to be there for the right reasons.
Hell of a thought, eh?
I’ve always wondered about what exactly are the key differences between humans and angels.
At first i thought it was free will, but then I thought about satan. So, I’m still curious.
I think it’s one of those areas that’s going to remain very confusing until we get answers direct from the source.
“Hell of a thought, eh?” – absolutely lol
I think I need to see that movie Defending Your Life but, as always, very interesting post.
Even if I wasn’t an Albert Brooks fan, I think I’d have to love the movie for Rip Torn’s performance as his defender. And Meryl Streep doesn’t do a bad job here either, which has surprised me over the years, since I don’t really associate her with comedic roles.
The way Christian Scientists see it, humans are god’s image and likeness, or reflection; they are like unto Her. Angels are god’s thought, holy ideas that inspire and guide mankind. Seems like as good a concept as any.
I don’t know if you’re referring to me as one of the folks who says hell isn’t real, but that’s not quite what I mean. I don’t think it’s a place, true, and I don’t think god condemns us there. I think we condemn ourselves there ourselves, by our concepts and actions and guilt. I don’t think we condemn ourselves there for a long time. We do it for eternity, or Now, which is the same thing. We only have the Now to live our lives. There is, literally, no experience of future or past – all our experience is Now. When we live in the future or past, we miss the life we might lead (and maybe that’s a little bit of hell). Hell is when we are afraid, or hate, or whatever, Now. And I’m not making light of it. Now is all you’ve got. It’s all you’ll ever have. If you ain’t living Now, you ain’t living.
Seda,I like what you said. Even the Catholic church has clarified its position on Hell, insisting that it’s not so much a place as a state of mind.
Seda, I wasn’t targetting your comment solely, or even directly, but it did touch on some issues that are shared with people who have complained to me (and to others) in the past that Hell and a loving God are incompatible, and so one cannot exist alongside the other. I know your comment was a good bit deeper and less absolute than that, but it did put me in mind of the fact I should probably post about the nature of Hell and possible misconceptions we have of it.
Cool. I’m always happy to inspire an interesting discussion! And wasn’t sure how you took it in, so thanks for the clarity.
Y’know, I wish there were more Christians like you. Seems like way too many believe that their own personal interpretations of Bible passages are the be-all/end-all, infallible, only-true-interpretation. In fact, there are almost always multiple levels of interpretation for each one – and more than one of them may be true, while also more than one of them may be false. To believe that your personal interpretation is the only one seems to me to be the height of hubris. It also inteferes with a person’s autonomy and conscience. I hope my own opinions, while strongly held and expressed, will always be seen as just that – my opinions – and you or anyone else is free to agree, partially agree, or disagree completely, with no condemnation or offense from me.
While I don’t go so far as, say, the Unitarian-Universalist route, which seem (at least to me) to say that EVERY faith has it right, I do think that the spiritual world is sufficiently complex that an awful lot of faiths are pointed in generally the right direction. Some clash more than others with each other…and some are so far into cult territory that they do no one any good…but there is a lot of good out there in a lot of faith circles.
I don’t think I’ll ever back off my notion that Jesus Christ is the best and surest path, but if I don’t keep an open mind that God has bigger notions than I can imagine…and that the Bible is deeper and more complex than literal interpretation 100% of the time…then I don’t think I’m using the tools God gave me to use.
And your opinions, and just about anyone else’s, are always welcome here. I generally only get pissed off or take offense when someone routinely insults my intelligence or gets particularly obnoxious, and that is a rare thing so far. Very rare.