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The Bible as seen through the eyes of . . .

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Simon Holloway

Did you see my follow-up post? I thought that I was making a moot point, given the fact that the Jewish Encyclopedia source you referenced made it clear, but evidently not. What makes you think that Yochanan ben Zakkai believed in a place of "eternal damnation", rather than in a location of temporary suffering? All evidence, so far as I am concerned, would appear to be to the contrary.

Rob

No disrespect meant at all, but to me, as a non-believer, a lot of these explanations of hell that de-emphasize the fiery aspect and focus on the emotional suffering caused by the separation of the soul from God, and the sinner's own alleged choice to send himself there, give the impression of being ad hoc attempts at making hell more palatable to a worldview infused with liberal ideals. In a society that condemns torture of humans by other humans, it just doesn't "click" that an omnibenevolent deity could send the souls of the dead off to suffer eternal physical torture, despite the fact that several biblical passages state quite explicitly that he does (Mark 9:48; Revelation 20:10; Matthew 25:41). It seems to me as though the theologians you quoted are giving their own interpretations of hell based on what they, personally, feel is just, rather than on the Bible's own words.

JohnFH

No, Simon, I hadn't seen your follow-up post. And thanks very much for it!

I suppose it's possible that Yochanan ben Zakkai thought of hell as of limited duration. But I still think that the text I cite is most easily read in the sense I suggest. There are plenty of reasons why it was not unusual, in Judaism in the Greco-Roman period, for Gehenna, Gehinnom, Hades, etc., to be thought of as unlimited duration. It goes back to the diction of the texts in the Tanakh from which later Judaism(s) extrapolated.

Have you ever looked at the post-mortem expecations in Qumran sectarian literature? The Qumran sectarians, of course, cherished the Torah and in fact had a very strict interpretation of it. At the same time, their eschatological views were highly developed. This, I think, was the norm in Greco-Roman Judaism.

Simon Holloway

I am prepared to concede your point, as regards Greco-Roman Judaism - which is the same Judaism (if ever more than one Judaism was "the same") that produced the literature of the New Testament. That the Talmud might be influenced by these Judaisms is certain, but I suspect that much of their influence is negatively defined. The greatest influence in the case of the Babylonian corpus would be from later, Eastern traditions. What is more, corpora as large as the BT end up developing something of a culture of their own and need to also be understood in reference to themselves.

JohnFH

Rob,

You're not the only one I know of who says, if there is a hell, let it be literal. Ivan Karamazov, the famous atheist of Dostoevsky, would have agreed. In other words, what justice is that, should someone on earth rape and murder, if the only sentence he gets is separation from his judge and accusers? That is not justice at all.

How do you understand justice? We have become a society of "time-outs." Our default solution to violent behavior, even to murder and rape and torture, our way of justice, is a time-out, except in our fantasies which, to judge from comics, TV, and the movies, could hardly be more violent.

Then, after 9/11, we rain hell from the sky on those who are our mortal enemies. Their wives and children included. We do it day after day in Pakistan even now, and as Obama escalates, his approval ratings on his war on terrorism increase.

There is something about your words that hint at the conclusion that God must be malevolent if he sentences assassins to something like the circle of fire Dante assigns them to. Then what about ourselves? Are we just as vicious and hateful as the god we project into heaven?

This might be thought to follow from Feuerbach's famous hypothesis. Perhaps we are just as evil as Feuerbach's thesis makes us out to be. Or perhaps it is much more painful than that, if you get my drift.

Simon Holloway

By the way, the Chick Tract that you have linked to is so utterly hilarious in every respect, that had I not seen his other work, I would suspect him of being brilliant. I don't find him as dangerous as you seem to imply that he might be: his message is so trite that the only people likely to embrace it are those who are also incapable of reading it. He is a church of one.

JohnFH

LOL, Simon. Chick is a church of one, but still, there are people out there who are ordering his tracts in lots of 10,000.

I confess however to find his tracts hilarious as well, unless they hit on some sore point for me (which is not that unusual). Chick has also generated a rich comic literature (that *is* the genre, after all, comic illustration; maybe that is, in some deep way, the genre of tours of heaven and hell, too, right from the start [I don't say that to diminish the sense in which truth-content was intended] that is imitative, a high compliment of course. Take this for example:

http://www.rubbersuitstudios.com/ptcct.htm

But it can't hold a candle to the real McCoy. I do think this line is priceless: "You're right, George, it's hopeless. But there is one thing we can hope for. TO BE EATEN FIRST." I don't even know why that does a number on my funny bone, but it does.

My own guess is that Babylonian Talmud and the coeval Christian tradition developed similar emphases on purgatory or something like that in quick succession. Is this another case of a "spontaneous" diffusion of ideas? I have no idea.

Still, I think it's clear that the Talmud inherited and passed on a tradition in which eternal damnation was not an unusual concept. I explain why on the thread of your latest post.

For readers here, I will draw attention to the following text, which kind of sums up the 21st century debate, not just the presumed Greco-Roman debate in Judaism:

Beit Shammai taught: There are three groups – one is destined for eternal life, another consigned to eternal ignominy and eternal abhorrence (these are the thoroughly wicked) while those whose deeds are balanced will go down to Gehinnom, but when they scream they will ascend fro there and are healed…but Beit Hillel taught: [God is] rich in kindness’ (Ex. 34:6) [He is] inclined toward mercy (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:3)

What a pregnant "but." I need to look at this text more closely.

Rob

John,

Well, yes and no. I personally believe that the New Testament's concept of hell is unjust-- in my mind, there is no finite sin that merits infinite punishment. While on a visceral level I would love to see Hitler suffer, there would come a point, after however many thousands of years, at which point I would find myself saying, "enough already. He gets the point."

However, your point about rapists and murderers is really moot in traditional Christian (particularly Protestant) theology, as one's fate in the afterlife in that tradition is dependent not on whether one was a "good" person, but on whether one accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. By that standard, Hitler will endure the exact same fate as the Jews he killed. I understand that the NT itself places more emphasis on good works than many Faith-Alone Protestants like to think it does, but that still leaves the problem of certain people suffering eternally for finite crimes. That's something I just can't accept. The issue I have with those theologians who preach a "metaphorical" hell is that they can't accept it either, yet, as they are already committed to the faith, they must use unsound exegesis in order to make 2000-year old texts conform to their own post-Enlightenment moral code. They want to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak.

The idea of punishment for one's crimes in the afterlife starts with the assumption that punishment exists for the sake of punishment. I would argue from a more pragmatic position that punishment exists for the sake of deterrence and rehabilitation-- we threaten to put people in jail so that they don't commit crimes, we put murderers in jail for 40 years so that they don't kill again, and if we judge someone to be beyond rehabilitation we execute them (or put them in jail for life or in a mental institution, depending on the crime and jurisdiction). Many of the problems of the American penal system stem from the fact that we as human beings prefer "justice" over what actually works (in this the God of the Bible is a reflection of human nature). I've had many political debates where my opponent defended the government's use of torture against terror suspects with the charge of "they deserve it." Questions of whether or not it gets us the information we need, or even of the suspects' actual guilt, are secondary.

JohnFH

Rob,

This is a fine discussion, and I thank you for it. I have a lot of "yes and no"'s as well.

First of all, I grant that hell-fire preaching, however understandable for precisely the reason you see fit to imprison people and alienate them of their rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not just for 12 months (God's limit according to some of the Sages), but until they die, because you hope it will act as a deterrent on at least some people - is not for that reason in accord with the New Testament.

After all, you will note, Jesus refers to the hell-fire of Hades but also conceives of Hades as a debtors' prison from which you can be released (Matthew 5). On this basis alone, one might build a case that the fires of hell are metaphorical.

After all, you will note, Jesus said that only one sin is unforgivable, the sin against the Holy Spirit (in which the work of God is mis-taken, by someone who knows better, for the work of Satan).

After all, you will note, the various lists of those on the path of perdition in the book of Revelation are works-based, not faith-based.

In light of such, who today might qualify as a hell-fire preacher in the spirit of Jesus, in line with the above, but also with Jesus' saying that the way to hell is broad, and many are those that choose that way? Try Johnny Cash:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJlN9jdQFSc

I discuss that here:

http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2009/04/the-man-in-black-john-the-revelator-and-john-lyons.html

Which relates to another point: Cash grew disillusioned about talking to and singing for people in prison (Cash himself spent time behind bars). He came to the realization (he was a hard-bitten man) that prison (and life) is (generally speaking) about punishment, not rehabilitation. That people (generally speaking) don’t change.

So much of what is punishment in this life is self-chosen. "C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce does a masterful job," notes one of the respondents to CC's question, Jerry Walls, "of depicting with remarkable psychological realism the sort of choices that constitute the choice of hell. Ghosts from hell take a bus ride to heaven, but it is not heaven to them because of the current state of their character. The astonishing thing is that most of the ghosts prefer to return to hell rather than embrace the joy offered in heaven."

That does sound realistic to me. Does it to you? A lot hinges on that.

Finally, I want to point out my greatest stumbling block to accepting the idea of unlimited suffering in hell (I have doubts about it, for reasons I will mostly leave unmentioned here). It's the same one you mention:

"the problem of certain people suffering eternally for finite crimes"

But that must be balanced against Ivan Karamazov's objection against divine forgiveness. Says Ivan: God has no right to forgive the brute who sicks his dogs on the young children of one of his serfs, for the pleasure of watching them be torn to pieces. Only the mother of those children has the right to forgive, or not, the murderer of her children.

This gets back to your observation about how justice revolves around desert, not utilitarian considerations.

But that's the problem: justice really does revolve around desert, not utilitarian considerations. Only someone who has not lost something terribly precious to them would think otherwise.

Rob, I know I am touching on only some aspects of the question, and poorly at that. So please come back at me if you wish.

Brandon

John, could you clarify your response.

The question is: how can people suffer infinite punishment for finite crimes. It appears the punishment does not fit the crime, the two are incommensurate. Its a bit like giving someone a life sentence for stealing a candy bar. Unfair. And if human jurisprudence is grounded in divine justice (which it is) why does this not make much sense?

I suppose we can appeal to: (1) the nature of justice; (2) the party we have sinned against, viz. God; (3) mystery (this is where I am) (4) ?. This is a serious issue for generation. It seems our problem and the radical love of God caused C.S. Lewis, whom you quoted, to flirt with other explanations of the destiny of the wicked (i.e. universalism). Thoughts?

JohnFH

Great questions, Brandon. I was hoping you would clarify them *for me.* :)

The logic of it I think goes like this, or could go like this.

God's love is so radical that he allows people to choose their own reward. That is, some people really prefer to (for example) harm others indefinitely, and, when they are no longer able to, to nonetheless identify themselves precisely with their acts of evil.

Perpetrators usually understood their violence as revenge in some sense or another, which complicates matters, since *all* justice seems to be about revenge in some sense.

However, what of the violence the Coen brothers thematize in No Country for Old Men?

I assume you don't think the brothers just make this violence up. It struck me when I was just a child that I had this violence within me. I was walking along the marsh behind our house as I often did. There were ducks in the water, and my natural instinct was to throw stones at them, which I did for several minutes. It was my great misfortune to bean one of them (a freak accident if you wish) so badly that it died in the water. I was shocked at what I had done. I saw my hands covered with blood.

[Actually, that was a nightmare I had about what might have happened, but didn't. I recounted it as if it actually happened because that is how I lived in my nightmare.]

That there are thoroughly wicked people is hard to deny. Some of the Jewish Sages limited their number (symbolically, not literally) to 4 people. The point is: hardened criminals do exist.

So, to reframe the question: does God's radical love require God to respect the hardened sinner's wishes, or to coerce the sinner somehow into his corner?

What if, to take off on Amy Laura Hall's thoughts (by analogy with another movie, "V" for Vendetta): What if one's own legitimacy and beauty and promise have been won through malevolent machinations?

The famous poem "The Hound of Heaven" might be taken as pointing in the direction of a God whose love is violent enough to storm the gates of hell and take away, as captives in the strict sense, all denizens thereof.

The problem I see with this line of thought is that in practice, it justs allow petit-bourgeois people like you and me to get back to their completely compromised existences, no longer troubled by the prospect of a threatening bye and bye.

Brandon

I've noticed that you write in a very narrative, cyclical, and ancient (or Eastern) style. Not the dry, scientific, to-the-point Enlightenment propositionalism I'm used to. Cheers!

I grant your point about hardened criminals. But to return to Rob's comment above, what about the Jews slaughtered by Hitler? Are they worthy of more torture? And I would dare say the majority of humankind has never heard a proper presentation of the gospel. Thus, they have never even had the opportunity to live a life outside of themselves, "hardened sinners" is the only option available (to varying degrees).

I do believe in some notion of hell (not as a WWII concentration camp though). And your correct about the seriousness of it. But...

JohnFH

The notion that those who have never heard a proper presentation of the gospel and therefore have never rejected it are going to be judged as if they had, is, I would think, an absurd and self-serving fantasy on the part of those who confess to believe. I would be wary of subscribing to such opinions.

Assumptions of that kind, furthermore, are out of line with the last chapters of the book of Revelation. Note Rev 21:22 - 22:2. On the other hand, that book, quite apart from the question of whether one heard or didn't hear, knows of many categories to undergo the second death.

I don't want people to take my own eschatological predictions seriously though. That's not the point. I want to do justice to these ancient texts one by one, texts which for me have constitutional force, though in the end I do not treat them singularly, but as parts of a whole, such that somehow I engage in systematizing what is, in realty, inassimilable to any specific system we might devise.

Finally, I think a number of the parables of Jesus have both an intramundane and an extramundane reference. Take the Parable of the Great Banquet, Luke 14:12-24. Transpose it into an eschatological key. The resultant tune is a combination of blue jazz and pure gospel.

Rob

John,

Interesting that you mentioned the comparison of hell to a debtor's prison in Matthew 5. One of the notorious features of debtors' prisons throughout history is that, as release was contingent upon the debtor's family's paying the debt, it was very difficult to get out. Many people would end up staying in the prison until the day they died, and others would eventually be sold into slavery. Note that the thrust of Matthew's words is on the long duration of the punishment-- "You will NOT get out until you pay the last penny." While one could take the statement literally-- in that you will eventually get out, if only after a long, long time-- it could just as easily be a rhetorical device emphasizing hell's eternity in terms that mortals can understand. Note that in 25:41, Matthew explicitly describes the fire of hell as everlasting. I would think that priority should be given to the explicit statement rather than our interpretation of one that is presented within the text itself as a metaphor.

Even if we grant that Matthew saw hell as non-eternal for some individuals, which is possible (Matthew, as the most "Jewish" of the Gospel-writers, may be expressing the same line of thought that appears among the Talmudic sages you mentioned), we still need to deal with the fact that he is just one of the many voices in the NT, and that his theology is not necessarily representative of the others. When Mark refers to Gehenna as the place where "their worm does not die and their fire will never be quenched" (Mark 9:48), it is clear that his own conception of hellfire is both eternal and physical. When, in Mark 3:22-30, Jesus says that "all sins will be forgiven" except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it would appear that he means that all sins CAN be forgiven if one accepts Jesus, but that the Pharisees who have just blasphemed the Spirit have forfeited that opportunity. If Mark here meant to imply that all except the Spirit-blasphemers will be saved, why would he later in the gospel (chapter 9) include a pericope stressing the threat of eternal damnation that even Christians could fall into?

With regard to Lewis' argument, I simply don't buy it, as, like many justifications of hell, it attempts to remove all agency of the punishment from God, which is not biblical (see Matthew 25:41). While there are indeed a small number of what you call "hardened criminals" who are completely amoral, the vast majority of evil people on earth believe in their heart of hearts that they are doing God's work. Osama bin Laden certainly does, as did Hitler and the medieval crusaders. Even Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, who were atheists, still believed that the murders they committed were ultimately for the greater good. The capacity that humans have for self-deception is immense and should not be underestimated. Evil men don't really sit around rubbing their hands together and laughing maniacally while they plan their deeds; evil is in most cases better understood as a gross misunderstanding of what is right rather than as a deliberate attempt to do wrong.

In this light, Lewis' claim that people deliberately choose hell is just not true. I'll use myself as an example: if I really believed that I was in danger of eternal hellfire if I did not except Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I would accept him as my Lord and Savior-- at list with my lips (I doubt I could ever bring myself to truly love a god who tortures). But since I do not believe in God, I do not truly believe that I am in danger of this. This is not a deliberate choice on my part to go to hell, it is a judgment call based on the available evidence. I am not the type of person who can simply choose to have faith as a "back-up plan" in the manner of Pascal's wager. Either the evidence points towards Christ's divinity or it doesn't, and in my own judgment it doesn't. If I die and turn out to be wrong, in what way can I be said to have chosen hell? All I did was make the best judgment I could with the knowledge that I had.

Lastly, I have to disagree that justice is about deserts rather than utilitarian considerations. If that were true, then American law would allow blood retribution on the part of the wronged relatives of murder victims. The existence of a judicial system and an impartial jury is an explicit acknowledgment that the wronged are not qualified to make decisions on their antagonizers' punishment. Remember, when the serfs did finally rise up to give their tormentors their just deserts, we got the French and Russian Revolutions.

G. Kyle Essary

Rob,
What a great comment! I think I agree with much of what you said. I definitely do not think you have chosen hell. You don't even believe in hell, so how could you choose it?

I do think that you have chosen idolatry from within a Christian perspective. From within a Christian perspective, any view that does not place God's infinite being as ultimate by necessity is idolatrous. So, if I put my finite reason (or even finite communal reason) as ultimate, then it's idolatrous because it attempts to usurp God's infinite reason and place the creature in the place of the Creator. Thus, we must "take every thought captive to obey Christ." So if my pure reason tells me that it's a poor investment to do whatever it takes to make the life of a dying child more comfortable for her final three weeks of life, I must take that thought captive and submit it to God's commands toward the oppressed (Zech. 7:10). Of course, human capability for "pure" reason doesn't exist as it falls prey to our desires without fail.

From our perspective then, it's not merely a "judgment call based on the available evidence" because the initial act of putting yourself as the arbiter or judge of the most ultimate question in and of itself will bias your perspective greatly (as will about fifty other control factors, which makes the whole idea of any of us being unbiased a bit naïve). As strange as it sounds, the more important factor is the desires beneath the reason. What are my desires that lead me to this question? How can they be changed and to what standard should they be changed?

I hope that helps you understand one Christian's perspective on this very complex issue.

As for the debt discussions, have either of you read "Sin: A History" by Gary Anderson (OT prof at Notre Dame)? I've got a copy, but have yet to get into it. I've heard that this whole concept of debt plays a big role in the book.

John,
Were you attempting to modernize Jonathan Edwards' "The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners?" After all, I'd say his thinking on this topic has influenced (more traditional) American concepts of hell than anything else. Robert Jensen and Colin Gunton both were greatly indebted to Edwards in their thinking on these topics.

Theophrastus

What about the belief that of the harrowing of Hell (as reflected in the Apostle's Creed)? I thought many Christians thought Jesus emptied Hell.

Simon is correct, the normative Jewish belief is that even the most wicked are only purified for a maximum of 12 months; but note that we only say Kaddish for 11 months because no one can be so bad as to require the full sentence. In any case, Rambam discourages speculation about the World to Come (which refers both to the afterlife and the Messianic period).

And regarding Paul Griffiths quote (#2) -- what about Dante's Inferno? He seemed to have a pretty good idea of who was where in Hell. Or what about the famous sermon by Father Arnell on Hell in Portrait of the Artist as Young Man? He seemed to have some pretty specific idea about what Hell was like. Or what about the extended discussion about Hell in Summa Theologiae? Or what about books XX and XXI in City of God? I don't know why Griffiths believes that the Roman church doesn't teach about Hell.

JohnFH

Kyle,

No, I haven't read Gary Anderson's volume yet. But I think he is on to something. Sad to say I am not well-grounded in Edwards, nor have I read much of Jensen, and nothing of Gunton. I'm winging it here, sola scriptura as much as possible, and staying away from a foundationalist approach as well. Rather than building up an argument from presuppositions, I'm trying to build up arguments based on evidence, or rather, an interpretation of evidence that two people with very different presuppositions may nonetheless share. Call it a poetic approach.

Theophrastus,

I want you to know that I beat you to the reference to the hell-fire sermon in Joyce's Portrait. It's just that I referred to it on another thread or two, for sure, over at Simon Holloway's place, where the Talmudic discussion has been hot and heavy (and in need of outside input).

As for normative Jewish belief, there is no such thing. You used to make that point yourself.

I don't want to criticize you for wishing that the 12 months represented normative belief - a simplification in any case, since the thorough sinners, even if, within an unspecified frame, one can count them on one hand, are still assigned some form of eternal punishment, but if you find it credible to give Hitler a 12 month sentence, by all means say so.

The most one might argue (expecting someone else to argue the contrary) is that it should represent normative belief.

In fact, et Simon docet, the current norm is denial of discriminating ultramundane destinations of any kind. We all live on Lake Wobegone now, where the girls are strong, the men are good-looking, and everyone is above average (and therefore hardly in need of God's disciplining hand, in our own very wise estimation).

I'm shortchanging the both of you with such incomplete responses, but I owe Rob a reply, which I will now seek to post.

JohnFH

Rob, it's clear that you have thought about these things a lot. I could be wrong, but it sounds to me like you have built yourself an impregnable fortress. Should your assumptions prove wrong, a possibility you are willing to contemplate, it looks like you think you have an ironclad defense you've worked out for the occasion. So you have all your bases covered.

Before I go any further, perhaps a forewarning is in order. I'm going to go at you forcefully. Please take that as a compliment. That's how I mean it.

If I'm not mistaken, your defense is predicated on the notion that the texts we have been discussing posit infinite punishment for a finite crime. No wonder, then, that you pick out a few of the relevant texts, seek to harmonize them such that they are as unrelenting as possible, and ignore all the others. I argue with fellow believers all the time, warning them against such an arbitrary style of exegesis. I find it ironic that you choose the same style of interpretation.

My approach is the opposite. I am interested in giving each singular text its due, and allow it to stand in tension with the others. I may then attempt a synthesis, but it is my synthesis. I do not impute it to the texts.

I'm trying to figure out why I find the good news you preach unappealing. Your fortress is uninviting to me. I can see how everything is in place. You have turrets from which to rain arrows upon those like Jesus, Paul, the Jewish sages, not to mention Buddhist monks and philosophers of Plato's kind, all of whom teach that justice is about "paying one's debts in full" - justice that is both intra- and ultramundane (the words in quotation marks reproduce the diction of Plato, from Rep. 10, 614a, 615b-c; Phaed. 113d-e; etc.).

Plato, of course, is famous for suggesting, a teaching Orphic in origin in his context, that sinners will receive in the afterlife "in requital pains tenfold for each of their wrongs."

You see fit to recoil at this, at least on the rhetorical level. Surely you must know however that this has not been, by any means, the usual reaction. A very high degree of narcissism must set in before that reaction seems normal.

What if I sense that I deserve punishment for my crimes? What if I am almost compelled to think I need punishment? Your whole defense crumbles to the ground.

I am not making this up. This is not only the stuff of countless CSI-Miami episodes, in which the guilty oscillate between denial and an unconfessed desire to self-incriminate. Dostoevsky laid all of this bare with searing intensity in Crime and Punishment.

I have read that novel with countless teenagers. They always conclude, we are all like Raskolnikov. But your attitude resembles that of another character in that novel, not that of the anti-hero R. I'm sorry. It is not a flattering comparison.

I was trying to draw you out before and, since you did not flinch from your stance of innocence, I get the impression that you are not conscious of being guilty of any crimes (though I mentioned the ongoing actions of our country pursuant to 9/11, which make Plato's eschatological expectations look tame by comparison, you brushed it off as if it did not regard you).

Even if you are guilty of some crime, I take it, personal [rare in our day; we delegate evildoing to our governments and the violence of the law] or collective, the punishment you wish to anticipate for yourself has nothing to do with paying a debt to either God, society, or your own conscience, but will be worked out on the basis of utilitarian considerations.

In the center of an empire not averse to raining down hell on the innocent and the guilty alike day after day in faraway places, in the midst of a country that keeps millions of people in prison for "utilitarian" reasons on your interpretation, it's all a bit too convenient.

I don't think you have a credible concept of justice. You dismiss C. S. Lewis's parable way too easily. The parable is not about getting God off the hook. God is *never* off the hook in the Bible. Never. Just read the Psalms or the Prophets or Job. Even when an intercessor knows full well, and says so, that what he is asking to be taken away is just desert for choices in flagrant disregard of prior warning, he still complains to God that God brought the choices about that led to punishment (e.g., Isa 63:17).

This is a legitimate defense on biblical principles. The crime is recognized as such, the punishment inflicted recognized as just, the request that it be remitted, not only acceptable, but *obligatory* to make, out of love for the goodness of God.

But you have devised a system in which there are no punishments that correspond to crimes. The ancients, and I dare say most of our contemporaries, including yourself if possible, are not so convinced.

I say that because your fortress is built on a concept of justice that you do not require the government you elect to follow. As I see it, you require God however to follow your concept of justice, because it accomplishes the one thing needful in your eyes: it gets you off the hook.

That's how I see it, unless I have taken your commitment to a utilitarian notion of justice too literally. Once again, you make it too easy on yourself to paint this in terms of *either* vigilante justice *or* a Benthamite approach.

Throughout the Bible, appeal to God's justice, intramundane and extramundane, serves in fact to ground prohibitions of vigilante justice. How odd, then, that you align yourself against that justice. It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the problem with this justice is that it is not at your disposal.

But I have news for you. It is not at my disposal or your disposal. This is the core meaning of the myth that justice is blind.

I realize of course that you will simply reply that beyond the phenomenal, there is nothing noumenal, classical philosophy, the Bible, the wisdom of most if not all peoples simply being wrong in your estimation.

But really, everything depends on you being right about that. If you are not right about that, or, if you are simply not in a position to rule it out (and you aren't), the search must go on. It's going to keep coming up, and I think you know it.

As for revolutions, I have no disagreement with them in principle, though I often do in practice. Calvin among the theologians developed a theory of revolution. I am in fact a Calvinist (there are many kinds, so don't jump to too many conclusions).

I mentioned earlier that I think you ignore a lot of texts. In particular, you ignore those that paint God, not as unacceptably unforgiving, but as unacceptably forgiving. I could easily draw up a long list, but you know your Bible well. Can you come to my church and show your knowledge off? It would put many to shame. So make your own list if you will be so kind, and then we can compare notes.

The opposite of Luther, who needed a forgiving God in order to be able to accept God (and he was right), you need an unforgiving God in order to be able *not* to accept him.

So you ignore the relevant texts. If you didn't, I suggest, you would be in the position of saying, I believe [in this forgiving God], help thou my unbelief [in the God of justice].

That is exactly the place that Christians find themselves in. It's a vulnerable situation to be in. It is fraught with tension, as Luther put it, with Anfechtungen (untranslatable). It takes in the dark night of the soul.

If it were shown that God's justice were as humane or more humane than human justice, you seem to leave open the possibility that such justice, assuming it will occur, might be acceptable to you. But it's hard to tell. It is also possible that your covert line of defense is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" argument.

Steve Pable

While there is a good deal of Catholic writing and speculation on Hell, Catholic "teaching" on the subject is pretty sparse. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, while it owes much to this heritage, does not necessarily endorse or subscribe to much of the imagery, literary or artistic interpretation. That's not to say that it won't play a role in preaching or other venues. But on the specific topic of Hell, you'll only find a few brief paragraphs in the CCC. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2O.HTM

Similarly, the Catholic Church articulates a certain understanding to the article of faith that Christ "descended into Hell". It specifically rejects the notion that Jesus was offering some sort of general amnesty: "Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him." (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P1R.HTM)

Lastly, to Rob's point about rejecting God, and specifically C.S. Lewis' proposal in The Great Divorce, it is worth checking the citation above on Hell from the CCC. Beyond that, however, I think Rob mischaracterizes or misunderstands Lewis' illustration. The point is that we wind up loving ourselves more than the One Who Is Love. Therefore you have the Tragedian, for example, who can't bring himself to accept the forgiveness offered by the wife whom he had treated selfishly for all those years. The ghost slips away into oblivion, because he would rather cling to his own self-pity. It's not a conscious choice of "hell" so much as it is a rejection of love and an embrace of self instead. I believe Kyle's label of "idolatry" is not misplaced in that sense.

And in this way Rob is right-- we have an extraordinary ability to rationalize horrendous behavior, or to compromise virtues. It is our pride at work, whether it is driving us to sickening cruelty, or simply a life of complacency and comfort. That's why it can be so insidious, and why it is necessary to examine ourselves against a higher standard. In the Christian's case, the standard is that of Christ Jesus, who emptied himself "for us and for our salvation."

Brandon

Another thought. If time (sequentially measured) and space (supposing the latter is connected to the former) are unique and temporary creations for our present world perhaps it affects our understanding of the afterlife. Maybe hell is not endless torture in the sense of moment after moment pain but more of a state of being. I believe it's NT Wright who believes that in hell individuals become less and less human. For me the implication would be that after a while they barely identify with humanity at all and thus become something quite different than image-bearers. This would then lead into some variant of annihilationism it seems. Am I to far afield from the Scriptures?

JohnFH

Brandon,

In fact, that has been an unresolved issue in Christian theology: is hell (and heaven) a state or a place?

Yes, you have departed too far from Scripture, according to current conventional evangelical wisdom.

There is no reason to take that wisdom terribly seriously, however.

[To Theophrastus and Steve also]

Consider the Harrowing of Hell, which Theophrastus and now Steve bring up. The Lutheran Formula of Concord affirms that in beautiful language. Calvin also discussed it and affirmed it.

Aquinas, on the other hand, a bit like his kissing cousin Rambam, rarefies the doctrine into near oblivion.

I'm a remythologizer myself, rather than a demythologizer. Or rather, I think it's absolutely necessary to narrativize theology, however speculative that is.

It is a matter of narrativizing as responsibly as possible, as opposed to nearly denying, for example, the resurrection, something that Rambam did, at least until his own community, rightly, pulled him back from that precipice.

Even if we cannot always know with precision to what kind of realities and verities our narratives correspond, we are, I think, not far off, if we work on the presumption of a sensus plenior of some kind, and simultaneously pull back along the lines of the apophatic tradition.

That is in partial answer to the question, how much did Dante claim to know, in assigning friends and enemies alike to very specific place in the beyond? My guess is: very little at all. In any case, even if he thought otherwise, that is what the Church has always taught, that Dante's opus is speculation that does not exceed the bounds of orthodoxy.

Now we need Esteban to remind us of the riches of the Orthodox tradition. Calling Esteban, are you there?

Theophrastus

Steve, I can't follow the link you give, but I can't resolve your citation with the visions of Adrienne von Speyr and the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Since both John Paul 2 and Benedict 16 praise Balthasar's theology, it is hard to regard Baltasar as beyond the pale.

John, you are correct that a variety of personal beliefs are permitted in normative Judaism, but halacha is absolute. The standard explanation is that if a soul is entirely wicked, it is simply destroyed after the 12 month purification period. There is an exception mentioned in the uncensored Talmud, in the most infamous anti-Christian polemic aggada passage, but it is not normally considered a serious assertion.

In any case, the 11 month Kaddish rule is universal halacha -- see Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah) 376, particularly 376:4.

Rob

John,

In certain respects, you are correct-- I am demanding that God follow my own concept of justice, while simultaneously denying an objective standard of justice. But I in fact DO hold my own government accountable to my own sense of justice, while at the same admitting that my sense of justice is as subjective as anyone else's. This why I'd rather the government use its power to pay for healthcare as opposed to imprisoning people without trial and torturing them.

I do not consider myself to be a particularly "good" person. I recognize that I've never really lifted a finger for anyone unless I felt I would get something out of it (tangible or intangible). People think I'm a nice person, but that's simply because I lack assertiveness. I've indulged in immature behavior in order to express my anger at others. There are things I could be doing to make the world better that I am not doing, mostly out of laziness. These flaws of mine I am aware of, admit, and make no attempt to justify. I stand guilty as charged. The question is, what is the appropriate punishment? In human society, these are all crimes which, while they may be considered moral failings, are not recognized as serious enough to be dealt with by force of law. Does hell exist to punish moral failings that we can't address in the here and now?

I fail to see how it is not fit to recoil at the idea that the punishment should exceed the crime tenfold. Should not the punishment equal the crime, rather than exceed it?

I am quite willing to concede that certain texts within the Bible may support universal salvation or divine leniency (see my comment on Matthew above). But others clearly do not. I would deal with this in terms of differences in thought between different evangelists, or between the evangelist and his sources. The exegetical problems come, as you say, when we try to systematize these disparate texts into a single coherent system of thought.

It should carry some weight, however, that historically, the doctrine of universal salvation was held by a tiny minority, and the horrors of hell were thought of as very physical. I do not see it as unreasonable to assume (for the most part) that the theological views of the earliest church fathers were probably closer to the original sense of the text than those of later ones. As time passes, the cultural milieu in which a religious text is written becomes more and more foreign to its readers, to the point where the text is read devoid of its original cultural context in order to make it more relevant for us. It is not a coincidence that more humane interpretations of divine justice arise precisely at a time in which human beings are acting more humane themselves (and we DO act more humane than we used to, at least in the so-called developed world-- not to minimize the relevance of the still-immense suffering that goes on, but that we can sit safe behind our computer screens and discuss theological differences in a friendly manner is a testament to that fact).

By the way, which Crime and Punishment character are you comparing me to then? I read the book about six months ago but I missed your reference...

G. Kyle Essary

John/Brandon,
Actually I think Brandon might be headed into an Orthodox understanding...or at least is on that trajectory. Esteban definitely must join in to clarify it for us.

John, you ask, "In fact, that has been an unresolved issue in Christian theology: is hell (and heaven) a state or a place?"

Even though I'm a Baptist, I was never taught that heaven is some otherworldly realm, but always that heaven was a place on earth, ala Rev. 21-22. Heaven was the fulfillment of הארץ (the land). BUT, hell was always taught as an otherworldly sphere though. The same passages that they would use to build their theology of heaven being "the land" (Rev. building on Isaiah, etc.) seem to suggest that heaven still remains the other "nations." The imagery of Revelation seems to indicate that the judged are still around...but, as Jesus might say, "outside the camp" in that very, very cold "outer darkness."

JohnFH

First of all, and without any desire to cut the conversation short, I just want to thank everyone on this thread for a delightful merry-go-round.

It is not easy to discuss these matters with the gravitas that befits the subject matter and also, with a sense of humor; the two go together somehow; with mutual respect among opposing positions, and with a commitment to a measure of intellectual humility. Yet I think we are succeeding.

A couple of interim conclusions. If this thread is any guide, it is shortsighted to rip out of the heart of Jewish and Christian belief propositional and narratival attempts at rendering the novissima (the last things). It makes more sense to put the novissima back at the heart of our thinking and to do so on a broad canvas that takes Scripture and tradition seriously and is not out of touch with the broad sweep of literature, art, film, and other media.

If that is so, it becomes imperative to learn all over again how to speak about the last things.

Indifference about the novissima, now no less than in the past, seems to correlate with having an indefensibly high opinion of oneself, a protective sense of self-satisfaction built on psychological denial.

There are, furthermore, many texts that are not given their due by anyone today because they do not easily fit into whatever system he or she is building.

For example, it will be necessary to think all over again about collective guilt and collective punishment, not just individual guilt and punishment. Ezek 18 is a great passage but it does not end the discussion. It reopens it on a new foundation.

According to Jesus, it is entire cities, entire collectivities, that will be brought down to Hades (Luke 10:13-16; cf. 13:1-5).

I can't think of a single example of a recent theologian (it's better among philosophers!) who has dared to buck the patently self-serving and completely bourgeois conceptualization of "falling short" as fraught with consequence on the level of individual destiny alone (in life, in death, and, if you have a robust metaphysic, in life beyond death).

Our culture is as obsessed as the next about crime, punishment, retribution, and justice.

American politics, on the right and the left, is premised on the doctrine of exceptionalism. It is not yet possible to even talk about this without falling into shortcuts and traps, for example, to dismiss the doctrine with howls of derision, or to assume its truth with even admitting to doing so.

In theory and in practice the way we frame questions of personal *and* collective responsibility is an enormous muddle relative to which the Bible is objectively speaking, self-consistent in the extreme.

We are constantly assuming transcendentals with our left brain and denying that we do with our right brain.

Our prisons are full of people whose punishment by no stretch of the imagination fits their crime. Few people even notice. Every single day, every single minute, we deal out tenfold pains to those who have used up their three strikes. If a detainee has no papers, we hold her without trial for periods of time that make the 12 month limit look mild by comparison.

Yet we wring our hands in dismay at texts like Luke 16:19-31 because Dives is tormented in hell and that just can't be, because God then is overstepping the bounds we have set for him, and, truth to be told, if the parable is correct, we all know full well where we belong.

Change the channel, please. Can we just watch some chick flick? Or perhaps we can exorcise our nightmares by seeing, for the nth time, the Night of the Living Dead.

Or maybe it is the case that Jesus' parables remain relevant. For a Christian, the following parables should be foundational to any narrative politics and any narrative theology, any talk about destiny, purpose, and future: Luke 14:15-24 [this is an eschatological parable]; all three of the parables in Matthew 25; and Luke 16:19-31.

Then and only then is it time to take another look at Paul and others, who know God to be precisely the one who shows "mercy to all" (Romans 11:32 - insofar as we belong to politeumata, not as individuals!).

JohnFH

Rob,

There is more than one character in Crime and Punishment who thinks of justice in utilitarian terms. But for Raskolnikov, for Dostoevsky, and I think for both you and I, that doesn't work, as soon as one realizes that one is, in life, in multiple ways, a perpetrator, a victim, an accomplice, and a bystander, of unspeakable crimes.

And therefore we go in search of punishments for ourselves. R is not the exception to the rule. He is the rule, the good rule, that is. The bad rule, and D's novels are full of them: self-important pricks. There might be a third way, Marcus Aurelius or something like that. You will have to decide whether you find that a morally credible "self-justification."

I don't actually think you are a Benthamite. At least you are open to the possibility of becoming a reconstructed Benthamite.

You ask about the tenfold pain. Why for heaven's sake would Plato, the Greeks in general, and we in practice find that an acceptable notion?

I think it has something to do with two things: fair warning, and the idea that small errors have enormous consequences. This latter undeniable fact is extrapolated into the novissima, and becomes psychologically plausible on the basis of fair warning.

Small errors have enormous consequences.

An example. In a former parish, the community was torn apart for the following reason. The parents of a teenager thought it would be nice to go gambling for a weekend, and left their daughter with the run of their large house in the country.

She invited a friend over, who invited a friend, and before you knew it, fifty kids had come together, with those of age bringing the booze. No supervision.

It was a warm beautiful night, the kind that makes you pant with the knowledge of the emptiness of your life. One of the teenage boys, smashed to kingdom come, took a stroll and laid down in the grass, any old place would do.

Later, a teenage girl exited the party, plenty high herself, backed her Pontiac into position in a heartbeat in order to rip out of there, and ran over the boy. She panicked and left the scene. The boy was, and still is, paralyzed from the neck down.

It got worse from there. Our justice system almost always aggravates the problem in these situations. Plenty of people knew the truth, but you can't say. All the blame was placed on the girl who ran the boy over by our system of justice. This is not justice at all, but no one, I repeat, no one, even so much as notices on most days.

I was the girl's pastor, and I watched her descent into hell. Her depersonalization. Her desperate attempt, as the trial dragged on, to give meaning to her life by having a teenage pregnancy, and therefore someone to care for, even though by now she was incapable of having an enduring relationship of any kind. In the meantime, her parents had lost control of their finances, their house under foreclosure, and on and on and on.

This is justice in the United States of America. Just saying. But my point was another. Small errors have enormous consequences. We sow the wind. We reap the whirlwind. The tenfold pain, from a Jewish or Christian point of view, is not about what should be, but about what *is.* Extrapolated onto the novissima, it is an attempt to give fair warning. Tenfold pain preaching is, by original intent, meant as an act of kindness.

It paints a picture of what *is,* not what should be. What *should* be is clearly expressed in the NT. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

shawshank redemption 5

I was curious, so I looked up the definition of hell on dictionary.com. The definitions are as follows: the place of punishment of the wicked after death; the abode of evil and condemned spirits; any place or state of torment or misery; or something that causes torment or misery. I get so mad when I catch myself saying something like, “Work was hell.” No, actually, my job is not even close to hell. Though I teach bratty children who scratch, punch, and kick me how to swim and sit in my own sweat while lifeguarding for what seems like endless boring hours, yelling at kids who don’t seem to get the concept of “STOP RUNNING!” or “Don’t put your mouth on the toys!” (gross), I get paid to be there and get to leave when I’m done. You can’t leave hell, you rot there forever and eternity.
The first key quote talks about how the perception of the choice of hell is simply inconceivable. It’s not a choice in the sense of directly choosing if you want to go there or not, obviously no one would. However, it is a choice is the sense that you decide how to live your life. It seems many forget the option of hell, or at least their actions reflect this.
I was astounded by the first part of the second quote, I had no idea Catholics didn’t have much to say about hell. I wouldn’t know this, seeing as I am not Catholic and don’t agree with many of their views, not to criticize their religion, I just don’t agree. It’s kind of funny that their hell-doctrine is underdeveloped because they are one of the strictest divisions of Christianity. It’s wonderful if they follow their religion simply for the love of the Lord, which is how it should be, but are Catholics even afraid of hell? I would still love and worship God if I didn’t know about hell, but as a child, that’s kind of what helps inspire you not to do bad things, other than for the sake of not being grounded. I really think people do need to know about hell, not just to bring fear upon us, but to fully understand the concepts of crime and punishment and good deeds and rewards. If you do bad things, bad things happen to you, like going to hell.
In relation to the third quote, I have some knowledge of Buddhism, but I didn’t know about their hell or if they even had a concept of one. From what I understand from this quote, Buddhist hells and heavens are constantly reborn to be better or worse. That would be pretty scary if you went to hell, knowing it would get even worse than it already is. I often forget about purgatory. In my opinion, it’s a pretty good idea for someone who’s committed a few sins in their life. Temporary suffering and waiting instead of eternal damnation? Yes please!

Pulp Fiction 4

This passage is very interesting to me, but I just want to touch base on one part of the passage that really stuck out to me. The first part of the second quote in this passage just shocking to me. I am not Catholic and I have nothing against Catholics but I had no idea that Catholics don't talk about hell that much in their religion. I am not saying it is a bad thing but I honestly think that it is good to talk about hell and know about it. When I was growing up I knew of hell as a horrible place and I never wanted to do anything wrong because I learned in religion that if you do bad things you will go to hell. I think knowing about hell makes people stay in check with doing good deeds and being an over good person.

Chariots Of Fire 1

Is hell making comeback? I don't think so. And plus God was the one who created it and made the devil. God is stronger. He can overcome things like no other can.

JohnFH

Hi CF 1,

I see what you mean. On the other hand, what this post asks is whether preaching and teaching about hell is making a comeback. The teaching that you espouse, that God is the one who created hell and made the devil and who is able to circumscribe and, one day, eliminate both, have a strong basis in scripture and Christian tradition.

Ben Smith

You're sounding almost universalist, John...

Praying With Lior 10

I agree with Pulp Fiction 4. It's incredibly important to know what repercussions will occur when people don't obey the rules. In a sense, it's similar to a parent telling a child that if they don't behave they will be forced to go to "time-out." Generally, when people know what will happen if they don't do something the way they are supposed to, they will stay on track.

JohnFH

Hi Ben,

I certainly don't put a lot of stock in what passes for orthodoxy today. My main purpose here is to defend the authors of biblical literature from those who have systematized the truths they sought to express out of existence.

Ben Smith

Good on you. I think a sort of transfer is possible from hell to heaven, post-mortem, for reasons you've outlined before. Not sure if I can go all the way to universalism now - I did subscribe to it a few months ago, but now I'm not so certain. One of Barth's 'impossible possibilities'?

JohnFH

So far as I can see, there is not much biblical support for universalism.

However, the picture is not static, "before" or "after" Judgment Day, to judge from Jesus's conceptualization of post-mortem punishment in terms of a debtor's prison which one gets out of when the debt is paid off; Paul's understanding of judgment as a refining fire; and Rev 21:14-22:2, in which the gates of the new Jerusalem are never shut and the leaves of the tree of life provide healing to the nations.

Mission 2

Hell is a concept that has always puzzled (and disturbed) me. The entire concept of Hell seems off to me. What is its purpose? It seems many people have a different justification for it. Is it for deterrence, separation, rehabilitation or punishment? It seems ill-equipped for any of these justifications.
For deterrence, it has its seemingly best chance of working. Similarly to punishing the minority of trouble makers in school to make the rest of the students behave, Hell may provide this service to society. The downside of this, though, is that it creates anxiety and fear in people and many families undergo a lot of mental anguish over family members (those whom are gay, atheist, "living in sin," and/or having pre-marital sex, etc.) having to endure an eternity of torture. Also, it is worth noting that passages such as Matthew 7:13,14- say "Enter ye in at the straight gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many are there be which go in thereat.: “Because straight is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth into life and few there be that find it” show that the Church wholeheartedly believes that these passages announce that the majority of people will find themselves in Hell rather than Heaven. This nullifies the argument that punishing the minority will deter the majority. We should also keep in mind that God is omniscient, so He knows that the majority of people will be eternally tortured for their sins, yet not only allows this to occur, but created Hell for this purpose.
For separation, Hell seems effective yet unnecessary. It seems many people think that the sinful and "good" should be separated in the afterlife. Even if this was the case, what justifies the torture? If two children were not getting along because one of them was bullying the other one and I was told to separate the two of them, that would certainly not entitle me to inflict physical torture upon the bully. This is a direct analogy of Hell being used to separate sinners from non-sinners. We are told that God doesn’t want to sentence souls to damnation in Hell, but is forced to because of his perfect holiness. Even if we ignore the fact that an omnipotent God is forced to do anything, there seems much more humane ways to separate souls in the afterlife.
The argument of rehabilitation can be immediately invalidated by the fact that Hell is eternal. No one leaves due to good behavior.
As for punishment, I get the most queasy. Let us imagine that for every sin we have each committed in our lifetime, we are sentenced to one year of torture. Does that seem excessive? Okay, how about 100 years, 1 million years, or even 100 million years. Hell is described as eternal. So, even saying we receive 100 million years of torture for each of our individual sins would not accurately gauge our future punishment and the Bible also tells us that the majority of people will undergo this treatment. Perhaps many people will disagree with me, but I don’t feel that anything a person can do in one lifetime justifies an eternity of torture. Yes, I am including rape, murder, genocide, sexual molestation of children. All of it. Please do not misunderstand my words to mean that these acts are okay. They are absolutely abominable and that is precisely why I used them in that example. The acts that I listed are among the worst crimes we can inflict upon other people and the fact that they occur is disgusting to me. Yet, I still do not think that they deserve and infinite amount of torture for them. Punishment? Yes. My frailty as a human acts as a justification to myself as to why I would want punishment for the committers of these crimes, but not an eternity of it. A hundred years of even the most gruesome acts does not justify billions of years of Hell fire.
In short, Hell serves no purpose. To claim that God is forced unwillingly to torture humanity is to deny God’s omnipotence. To claim that God wants to torture humanity is to deny His benevolence.

JohnFH

Hi Mission 2,

That is a long, thoughtful comment. It would take an even longer comment to get to the bottom of the vast number of topics you bring up. I will try my hand at a few.

Re: the idea that the majority of people will rot in hell for eternity. It's true that the church has often taught something like this, but is it taught in the New Testament?

It's not clear to me that it is. Jesus in the gospel of Matthew for example uses a great variety of images to describe the fate that awaits those who do not enter by the narrow gate. On the one hand, it's not controversial that a majority of people then and now do not enter by the gate Jesus offered - that is, very few people act on his offer to take up their cross and follow him. It stands to reason that Jesus' dire warnings are indeed intended to apply to most if not all people. On this understanding, we are destined to be burned up in fire, we will have to pay our debt to the last cent, we will experience darkness and remorse. All of which is awful and clearly designed to deter people from doing anything but take the warnings of Jesus very seriously.

But that is not the same thing as saying that most people will not and cannot be expected to find healing thanks to the tree of life spoken of in the book of Revelation. None of the above can be said to preclude the possibility that a great many will be rescued from hell, as tradition says Jesus rescued others (the Harrowing of Hell between his death and resurrection).

On another note, God's omnipotence is not absolute according to the Bible; more precisely, the full weight of his omnipotence will not be brought to bear until the last days; in the meantime, it is evident for the most part sub contraria specie (under the form of its opposite), in God's suffering on the cross.

Most often if not always, people hurt and harm others because they feel someone has hurt and harmed them. The desire to hurt and be hurt by others in return is very strong in some people, far stronger than a desire to forgive, walk the extra mile, and so on.

What is a God of justice and love to do in the face of such? It's a hard question. I know what we do. We punish them. We take away their freedoms, in whole or in part, sometimes for life. We kill them, on the battlefield, at home in front of family (Osama bin Laden), or with an injection.

Then we turn around and suggest that there would be no purpose to God doing similar things.

Perhaps that's because God is, at least for most people, nothing more than a wish-projection. That was the thesis of Ludwig Feuerbach. He may not have been far off.

Shawshank 2

Looking at the idea of Hell simply from the biblical view that I know, it exists. If we read John 3:16, 36, it talks about salvation and belief in Jesus Christ which leads to life eternally. Mathew 13:41, 50, talks about Hell and The Son of Man sending his angels to gather everything that causes sin and send them to the “fiery furnace”. Taking out the idea of Hell removes the main Christian staple of salvation through Christ. There will always be different views on Hell and its existence, how you get there, and everything else that goes with it but looking at it just from a couple simple Bible quotes, it exists and its purpose is stated.

Breaker Morant 2

It is interesting to talk about if there is a Hell and what it would look like if there is. Yes there is discussion and debate over this issue, and I feel as if there is a paradox about hell. First, we believe that God loves everyone; even people do denounce and refuse to admit that there is a God. I feel as if that message is defeated the minute we talk about where a person who does wrong by God goes after his death. At the same time, I agree with Shawshank 2 in saying that if you take out Hell it removes the significance of the salvation of God and Jesus. Without the concept of Hell, we would not see the two sides of life that can exist. It is not making us chose to believe in God, but at the same time it is influencing our choices that make me think back to the belief that God still loves and accepts us even if we do not believe. At the same time, there must be a place for people to go who had not believed in God or who did not absolve all of their sins. I believe this is where the idea of purgatory comes in, as a place for all who are in between Salvation and Hell (if there is one). Here their fate is judged and their path after life is determined by the actions and reactions in their life on Earth. Again, this is what I believe from all the ideas and concepts we talk about and how God loves us all no matter what.

True Grit 5

I find it amusing how we as humans think and interpret things like hell. So many people have different views on hell, whether it exists or not and what happens. My biggest shock I ever heard was Rob Bell preaching that hell doesn’t exist and everyone who lives has a place in heaven. No I’m not an expert but it just seems that it contradicts the bible. And what I believe is kind of what the parable of the feast is about that not all will have a right into heaven and that some of us will suffer in the darkness where weeping and gnashing of teeth will be present. But like I said I’m not an expert but hell no matter what the consequence is does not sound good, though a bigger question is why do we have so many different views on it?

Pulp Fiction 3

When I was growing up I knew of hell as a horrible place and I never wanted to do anything wrong because I learned in religion that if you do bad things you will go to hell. Many people might disagree with me, but I don’t feel that anything a person can do in one lifetime justifies an eternity of torture. Even if this was the case, what justifies the torture? God does not want to torture us. He is a loving and caring Lord.

Shawshank 4

When I was younger, a family friend would always say that there is no hell because she thought the concept of a place possessing more evil than this very world we live in was absolutely absurd. I always used to think it was the most profound religious statement anyone ever made. If you take a second to just think about it, and what it really means, it makes so much sense. The evil in the world brings us much closer to hell than it brings us to heaven; thinking that there is a place far worse than the misery that is present on Earth is frightening. Nonetheless, I feel, that just like everything else in the bible, hell is entirely open to interpretation.

Dead Man Walking 2

The second quote really struck me as interesting. I am a catholic and now that I really think about it, i have never really discussed what hell is in church. I know its a bad place to go and that we want to go to heaven but other than that I have no idea what is there or anything. I was always told it's fiery and hot and just seems like a terrible place to spend eternity. As described later in the post, it describes it more as a separation from God. You are separated from him with no hope, no love, and just eternal damnation. I like to think of hell more as this. Seems almost worse to me. I would hate to be separated from everything and just be lonely for eternity. Hell is a very weird thing for catholics to talk about i think. I was always just taught its a bad place and that we should strive to go to heaven.

Shawshank Redemption3

I too, like many of my peers know people who do not believe in hell. But I know people that do as well. Hell is a scary place but even young children know that it is a bad place. S people were taught that Hell is where all the evil people in the world go, all the sinners, murders, adulterers and so one. But being raised in a Christian family I was taught that Hell is a place for unbelievers, people who have not accepted Christ, to go after they die. Yes people who do not accept Christ are sinners, because they never accepted Christ as there savior so they were not saved from Hell. It’s sad that all people have to do is accept Jesus and live their lives in a good way to get to heaven. As sad as it is there are good people that go to hell because they too sinned at one point in their life, and never accepted Christ. So Hell is a scary place, but you have a choice to not end up there!

The Mission 5

Hell is a conflicting topic for me. My biggest problem is not really whether it exists, but if it does exist, who is going there. If sinners go to hell then it’s going to be a crowded place because everybody sins. If we determine what degree of sin sends us to hell, like it was mentioned in earlier comments, is eternity in hell that fair? I don’t think it is.

Also, what happens to non-believers? If someone does so much good in their life and for others, but does not believe in God, does that person belong in hell? If that is true then anyone, even child molesters and murders; as long as they believe in God get a ticket to heaven? Lots of inmates in prison turn to God for forgiveness. I know so many atheists and non-practicing Christians that are good, honest, helpful people and if I have to spend eternity anywhere, I would hope it would be with them.

Pulp Fiction 5

Hell and Heaven are both intriguing things to pretty much everyone. The wonder, awe, and unknown of the two “places” are widespread. Stories of those who have come back from the dead and been on their way to the afterlife captivate audiences around the world. I for one am extremely interested in these places but after reading everything I have about the two locations I am certain I wish to end up in Heaven. It really is the ultimate test of who we really are as a person. You can be the nicest person on the surface but if you are a sinner and are not truly sorry for what you have done then you will be punished.

Dead man walking 4

veryone is stating that Hell is such a scary and awful place, but the people that go to the underworld live with us and interact with us everyday. Murders, rapist, thefts, and devil worshipers all live on this planet already with us. This unknown afterlife is supposed to strike fear into our minds, but we already know who is sent there and we all manage to live in this world now. Overall, these people/sinners are that scary and we can control them. I believe we don’t need a whole realm for them to live.

SR3, look at #1 and the quote from “the perception that the choice of hell is simply inconceivable.” To accept God into your life isn’t is an automatic entry point to heaven. Therefore, I agreed with The Mission 5, is a bad Christian more likely to be accepted than a good non-believer? I think everyone puts to much emphasis on believing or not believing, while you should actually be concentrated on your actions.

prayingwithlior1

Hell is most defiantly a real place. Why else does it get left out? Why do people get nervous when it gets brought up? Because they are afraid that it could happen to them. Eternity is a very long time to serve a sentence. If we think of hell as a possible punishment and that we are in the battle by ourselves the thought of hell is terrifying. Lucky for us God sent his only Son to take the burden off of us and believing in Him will earn us heaven.

Truman Show 4

I think the main reason there is a hell is not just for a place to send the wicked and make the righteous scared of being unrighteous, but just as another example of God being a showoff. He wants to compare his heavenly kingdom to the desolate wasteland of hell. Because if I've learned one thing in all my years of reading the Bible, it's that God wants all of his people to know that he is the best and only way to achieve peace and happiness. This aligns with the jealous God of the Old Testament perfectly. I don't know if that is the sole reason God created a hell, but it must have been one of the reasons.

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