Let’s begin with some good news: The synchroblog is on again!
And because life shouldn’t be too simple the first subject is ‘hell’, one of the most difficult subjects I know to write about, and a subject that has traumatized a lot of people and driven them away from religion. And yet it’s an important subject that we cannot escape if we’re thinking about our faith. Since the usual discussions about the subject are generally unproductive and often just degenerate in theoretical tail-chasing and exercises in giving God a very bad name I’m going to approach it from a completely different angle…
And I’ll start with a question:
Are we ready to face God?
Are we ready to face God for all of eternity, with no part of us hidden?
Are we ready to stand in the full light? If ‘heaven’ or ‘the new heaven and Earth’ is a place where the full Divine Presence is everywhere and no-one can escape it even if they try, will we feel at home there? Will we enjoy this?
Are we ready to lose all of our sins, and be transformed to the person we were meant to be in God? The person who can stand in the full Presence of God?
If not, there is a problem. A serious problem even. No shadow can survive the full Light. No junk that burns up can survive the Eternal fire, only precious metals. No person who wants hate and evil can enjoy a place where there’s only Love.
Are we ready to feel at home in a place where all hate and sin and selfishness are not just absent but also impossible? Could we live in such a place? Could we enjoy such a place?
Only Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Only Love, Light and perfect Justice. Are we ready to surrender to God and give up all other things?
Heaven (whatever form it takes) will be no fun if we’re not completely aligned with Love. That’s exactly why Jesus sums up the whole law into the double commandment of loving God with all of our person and loving our fellow human as we love ourselves. That is not just a law to test us if we’re able to follow commandments. It’s a severe training to enable us to live with God in eternity. Our life here is not just a test to see if we can follow certain rules, as a Muslim once told me. We have to become a creature that lives with God in Love for eternity, following Christ and plugging our Lives in into the Divine Presence. Being redeemed and reformed and recreated into the Image of the perfect Lover.
Which is a process as long as we’re here, but an extremely important one. And a very important factor here is our will. We might be failing people who fall into sin again and again, but if we do not at least have the will to Love, and to be able to completely discard all sin, evil, illusions and so on we will have no place in heaven.
Think of the wife of Lot…
It’s even more serious: the full presence of God might just be hell for those who hate God. We don’t just need forgiveness of our sins and removal of the penalty as some Christians seem to teach. That’s only a first step, but such a view is way too soft on sin and not seeing how dangerous sin is as a Reality. We do need the total eradication of all sin out of our lives if we want to be able to live. And here those who think they’re serious about sin often completely miss the mark here. We need transformation. We need to become a new person. Mere forgiveness is only a start. We need to start a new life in Christ. And that is not just a metaphor. It has to be a Reality, or we will be nothing at al. A good Friday only gospel is not enough. Christ reconciled us with God, and brought us on the Way. The first Christians were called followers of the Way. The way of the cross and the resurrection. The way of overcoming death with life, and living in Love in this world of hate, to not give up Love even if it means to have to pray ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’ while you are being executed to death.’
Certainly, whatever hell is, Jesus came to save us from it, to solve that and other problems, and not make it more complicated. And Jesus came to show us how the core of life revolves around Love.
Without love you’re nothing, even if you have the perfect religion, right doctrine, faith that moves mountains, and so on (1 Cor 1: 1-3). Without love we gain nothing, and all is lost.
So what with those who are unable or unwilling to be transformed into a being aligned with Love? There are 2 possibilities, which are both terrifying if you think of the consequences..
First there is C.S. Lewis’ idea of hell as absence of God. Somewhere in his books he says that there are two kinds of people. Some will say ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done’ in the end, even with reluctance, and they will be the ones that will be with God for eternity. But others will refuse God, refuse Love, refuse Truth, and in the end God will say ‘your will be done, your kingdom come’, and leave them to their own will. The dwarves ‘who won’t the taken in’ in the last Narnia book are a good example of that. They create an illusion and shut out the Reality of the Land of Aslan. This is a hell, and one that’s locked from the inside.
There is another related but opposite idea, coming from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, that I’ve already alluded to in this post, the idea of hell as Presence of God for those who hate God. The ‘lake of fire’ in revelation, which is seen as hell by a lot of Christians, is interpreted as Divine Presence. (See Alexandre Kalomiros, the river of fire). Sadhu Sundar Singh has described a very similar thing. Funny enough the picture at the end of C.S. Lewis’ ‘the great divorce’ which provided my metaphor of the shadow in full Light also points at this idea.
So hell as a reality for those who are unable to be reconciled with God could work in both ways of completely being cut off from God who respects our free will, or experiencing the all-pervading Holy Presence .
Both are terrifying. To me they both sound like they could end up in annihilation. IF God is the Creator and Sustainer, getting completely cut off from God will just result in non-existence.
The same is true with the shadow in the full light.
On the other hand, maybe God is able to reach people even in that state. Maybe the fire purifies. Maybe the love of God is able to reach everyone in the end. I pray that this could be possible, but knowing how humans are I fear for it. So I don’t know. But I trust Gods love. I trust that God blesses the good and the bad alike as Christ says in the sermon on the Mount. I trust that if God asks us to love our enemies that God will be able to do much more than that, and will do much more than that, since God is love.
This post is part of the May Synchroblog, in which numerous bloggers around the world write about the same topic on the same day. Links to the other contributors are below. If you enjoyed my article, you will also enjoy reading what they have to say about the topic of hell.
- An Investigation into the Biblical Concept of Hell – Justin Steckbauer
- To Hell and Back – Soulcare Ministries
- The HELL You Say! – Nathan Jennings
- Forbidden Fruit = Hell’s Flames – Michael Wilson
- How long does hell last? – K.W. Leslie
- The problem of those unable to Love, or the question of hell as a reality – Bram Cools
- Hell No! – Mike Edwards
- Five Misconceptions about Annihilationism – Wesley Rostoll
- Knowing Who You Trust – Tim Nichols
- Heretic (Belated) Fridays – Bradley Jersak – Her Gates Will Never Be Shut – Scott Sloan
- Hell – A Place of Passionate Desire – Alan Stevens
- Christians Should Go to Hell – Jeremy Myers
- Oh, Hell, NO! | Serendipitydodah
More posts here on my blog about similar subjects:
Holy Saturday meditation 2018: the harrowing of hell
Keep me ignorant so I’ll stay out of hell?
6 + 2 questions for the hell debate
The worst of all sins, the Jesus creed and an orthodox hell…
do we need a hell in order to forgive our enemies????
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
The scary consequences of baby universalism…
would universal reconciliation make the gospel worthless?