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?