On Hell

Forever.  I can’t even conceptualize it.  I’ve lived less than half a century.  The universe itself is only ~14 billion years old.  Forever.  I believe that the word of God and the souls of men will last forever.  Early into our journey through Romans and in an honest assessment of following Christ we must address forever. Romans, perhaps the whole Bible, is about judgment and mercy – – forever.

My distress over heaven came as a child.  I thought that I would be floating on a cloud playing a harp.  I thought I would be in church all the time singing hymns.  It did not sound appealing – – it sounded like boredom without the release of death.  As I matured, I realized that our minds, emotions, and personalities would be retained and refined and that 10,000 lifetimes of adventure would consume the first second.  I realized that I would finally worship in spirit and in truth and that my curiosity and passion for life would perhaps be slaked.  Heaven.  I don’t fear it anymore.

Emblem_-_Oculos_Non_Vidit

My distress over hell came as a teen.  As the father of three adolescents I see evidence of the hormone-bathed mind maturing in an understanding of the abstract and in a thirst for justice.  I have also seen my grocery bill treble.

How could spiritual separation and physical pain last forever?

What of those who never heard of Jesus – – God’s person of reconciliation.  Romans 2:12-16 brought me comfort.  God writes his law into the universe, into our hearts, and holds us accountable for what we know.

Yet the more I learned of my own nature, the nature of others and the science and philosophy of our fallenness – – this remained:  there were billions to account for.  Would they suffer according to the parable that Jesus told in Luke 16:19-31 or the vision that John records in Revelation 20:11-15?  Forever.

Hell.  I still fear it.  Not for myself, but for what it might say about God.  I need him to be good.  I need him to be fair.  I need him to be trustworthy.  Yes Dr. Freud, I need the wish fulfilled to have an anchor for my soul.

Yes dear skeptical friend, you are right to insist that I answer this.  How can I reconcile my belief in a God of justice with eternal punishment?  Even the monsters of history could be justly punished in a mere trillion years.  Forever?  Dear God — that breaks my heart.

I stopped.  I prayed.  I ran.  This meditation has taken hundreds of miles over more than twenty years.  I heard him whisper – – I gave you that heart.  I gave you a heart to break for what breaks mine.  Trust me.

I could stop there.  Perhaps I should.  Ultimately I do stop there because I do trust him, more and more with every passing marker on this trail.  But the God who gave me that heart also gave me this mind.  He insisted that I worship him with both heart and mind – – faith and science.  I have reason to believe and reason is not the enemy.

I’ll keep thinking and keep reading.  The parable that Jesus spoke in Luke 16 and the vision that John records in Revelation 20 both say that hell is forever.  Neither says that the inhabitants can’t leave.  Jesus’ rich man didn’t want to worship God.  He wanted cold water.  C.S. Lewis, an oft quoted Christian apologist had interesting views on hell and several other things.

Lewis believed that it was possible that those who in hell might journey toward grace after death.

For Lewis, salvation is not dependent on God’s will, but the will of the damned. In The Problem of Pain, he wrote, “I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given.”
He frequently stated that hell is locked from the inside and insisted that hell is self-chosen. Consequently, for Lewis, there is a possibility that one day some of the damned may choose to be restored.

–Frank Viola, reference linked above

Is this conjecture?  Yes.  Is it conjecture that God delights in the pain of billions?  Yes.  Do I have a vested interest in believing the former conjecture and not the latter – – a strong desire to confirm my bias that God is worthy of all praise?  Guilty as charged.

The “big T” truth?  I don’t know.  My heart that loves justice was created by a just God.  I trust him.  What do I know from Romans so far?  I am completely unqualified to judge the soul of another.  If I refuse to do so, then my heart resonates with my Lord’s.

Pascal

–1:16

image public domain

 

9 comments

  1. Luke 16:26 really sounds to me as if the inhabitants can’t leave. Abraham said “None may cross from there to us,” not “None may cross from there to us if all he wants is a drink of water.”

    I try not to get too caught up in details, because I don’t want to exhaust or annoy you. But it says what it says, and although it’s tempting, I can’t let myself stretch my interpretation to fit what you are suggesting. When I consider the whole of scripture and the fact that your reasoning is strongly influenced by desire, I know that to believe that kind of conjecture (what is suggested by Lewis’s beliefs as reported by Viola) is an intellectual sacrifice that I am not willing to make. I can’t even give God the benefit of a doubt—you do that for people who have made themselves known to you, those whose character you have full confidence in. He hasn’t. I don’t.

    Why do we have scripture at all if we have to imagine its true intent? Why would a God make me so expressive in words but give me no clarity about his own nature?

    If he exists, I don’t really think he delights in the pain of billions. But if can’t end it, he is not God. And if he won’t end it, he is not good.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You neither exhaust nor annoy me. Details matter. Who told the story in Luke 16? Was it not the very one through whom the chasm would be bridged? Was the main point of the story about the duration of hell, or about the dangers of being aloof to the weak in this only life we yet know?

      If scripture was written in the same expository hand that you and I write as apologist and skeptic (yes – – I believe we sometimes reverse roles) then neither one of us would find it compelling.

      To suppose that conjecture of any sort is an intellectual sacrifice is a valid point. Perhaps I should choose a better word. With less than 50 years to live, I must make a conclusion. If I see through everything, when does opacity begin?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe it doesn’t. Look around you—your eyes may rest on a solid wall, but there is always something beyond it. Opacity is deceptive. Finding transparency in everything is the curse—and the gift—of seeing deeply.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. It would be easier, IF we could know. I’m an atheist, and I think your assumption is likely correct—but I can’t prove that there isn’t something beyond this life any more than Pascal can prove that there is.

      Like

    2. Easier, yes. Simpler, perhaps. Since we can’t know without faith in either direction, how do we substitute the motivation that eternity has always provided in both positive and negative rewards? I have skeptical friends who earnestly seek those motivations and find a meaningful life of service. I respect many others that I don’t yet know for similar reasons.

      I suppose one reason I desire eternity so deeply is a pathetic sense of optimism. I love life too dearly to see it end in the blink of eight decades. I want to live forever.

      Liked by 1 person

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