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What The Hell?

For the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about hell.  I don’t mean that I’m worried or scared about going there- that’s not really the case at all.  But I have been thinking about the existence of hell, and if it does exist, what is it like.

It seems like many Christians hold on to the vision of hell that is complete with lakes of fire, horrible torture rooms, and demons with pitchforks that poke you for ever and ever.  I even saw a book at Border’s the other day written by some guy that has supposedly had this vision of how horrible hell is and how it’s a real place and how you’d better believe that the demons poke you like you’ve never been poked before.  Like Heironymous Bosch mixed with a Rob Zombie movie. Or like the hell that is depicted in the most absolutely heavy-handed Chick tracts.

Anyway, I’m not convinced that this vision of hell is a sensible one, for several interconnected reasons.

First, that kind of hell is part of a system where our motivation for turning to Jesus Christ is out of fear, fear that if we don’t do what God says, we’ll get poked with demon pitchforks.  It’s obedience, and worse yet, entering into a relationship, motivated by fear of punishment.  That’s honestly really immature.  It’s actually the lowest sub-stage of the Pre-conventional stage of Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, and I simply do not believe that God’s relationship with us operates on the lowest possible moral level.  That’s just not the God I believe in.  Quite the contrary, I’m much more inclined to believe in a God that wants to help elevate us, to lift us up to a higher moral place where we encounter him.  At the very least, I believe that God deals with each of us individually on the highest moral level that we can potentially reach.

Second, that kind of hell is logically untenable to me.  Usually, it is justified by appealing to the justice and righteous wrath of God.  In other words, horrible pitchfork hell has to exist because God is pissed at us for sinning and he fully intends on taking our mistakes out of our hide.  We earned it and we get what we deserve.  Leaving the “pissed-off God” image aside, there’s a logical flaw in this justification.  There’s no way that eternal never-ending punishment is the just reward for what is ultimately a finite (though in my case fairly large) quantity of sin.  If God meted out our just desserts, hell would look more like a temporary purgatory.

I also have trouble with the idea that God made hell to punish sinners, and then he made us all be sinners.  Why would He do that?  There’s no reason He had to?  What would motivate God to build a horrible eternal torture chamber and then make a bunch of people who were inherently headed there?  It just seems like a crappy thing to do.

The hell I can easily imagine is an outer darkness, eternal loneliness, eternal separation from God.  I’m talking about a hell where God says “you spent your whole life trying your hardest to get away from Me, and now there’s nothing I can do but let you go.  I wish you could stay here with Me, but you spent your whole life pushing me away.”  Eternity alone, in the darkest void.  No company, no warmth, no light.  Just loneliness and darkness, and the same pain we experience here, but magnified over eons.  That’s a kind of hell I can easily imagine.

I realize that none of this is based on scripture.  I’m not so sure I care that much, though.

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