Friday, April 25, 2014

Two Descriptions Of Hell

When Christians preach about hell they talk about it as a place of eternal suffering. They want you to become a Christian and so they want to make you terrified of going to hell. There is lots of scripture and tradition around this idea. The picture is from Michelangelo's Last Judgement which still decorates the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. There are many more examples of hell as a place of suffering in Catholic art.

Then we get to apologetics. When atheists asks how you can believe in a God who would send someone to hell for not believing then the response describes hell quite differently. Hell is simply not being in heaven. Heaven requires completely perfect love from everyone who is there. In order to make us capable of such love God needs to change our hearts and minds in a profound way. So profound that it would be a grave violation of our dignity as human persons for Him to do that without us being totally willing and cooperative.

The trouble is that if hell is just for those not going to heaven people don't understand why it should be painful. Is God going to torture the occupants of hell for eternity just to give us extra incentive to choose heaven today? Is that what a totally loving God will do? Not at all.

The fact is we are wired for God. Augustine said, "You have made us for Yourself O God! Our hearts are restless until they rest in you!" That is true about people in this life. It does not stop being true about people in the next life. On one level you love your sin and on another level you hate it. You know you were designed for something better.

Think of an addiction. An addict wants to change and be able to live a normal life. That is a life where he enjoys relationships and tries to accomplish great things and admires beauty instead of being focused getting high all the time. Yet he can't do it. The addiction is too strong. How can you torture such an addict? You love him. That love inflames all the desires he has to be what he can't be. Nothing could be more painful.

In this life we can give him hope. The grace of God is stronger than any addiction and he can change. In hell that is precisely what is no longer there. God stops bugging people by constantly calling them to heaven. Yet God can not stop loving them. God is love. That love is torture for those in hell.

Now how should a Christian evangelist warn a person about such a thing? Do you tell him that the reality of hell might be superficially appealing? God gives us what we want so if people refuse heaven to pursue wine, women and song God might well let them have that in abundance in hell. The trouble is if you describe it that way you might get people thinking they would prefer hell. In his place of sinfulness he is not going to see the joy in loving God completely and worshiping Him forever. So what do you tell him? You tell him there will be pain. It will be intense. It will last forever. It is only fair warning.

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