A Curious Girl

The musings of a girl who is curious in both senses of the word. Life, God, and York. Oh, did I say York? I meant Bradford!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hellish dilemmas

I went to sell my textbooks today. Most of them were out of date but I got lots for "Principles of Molecular Virology" and "Preparing Scientific Illustrations" meaning I'm now a teensy bit less skint.

It's nearly the end of term. I have to get out of the house. Haven't even started packing. I'm sort of tempted to go for the "bonfire" approach of disposing of my notes (But hey, in these times of global warming, a little recycling would be a better bet).

It's pretty much the end of term. I'm skiving off the summer ball, basically due to aforementioned skintness, and of course most of my friends aren't going. Thankfully they're mostly staying in York this summer meaning that I won't have to say too many goodbyes anytime soon. Good stuff. Thanks to, again, skintness, my staying-in-York plan isn't as happy as it might be, but I'll live. I've applied for a couple of jobs. Due to my status as "graduand" (hurrah!) they seem appealing as stop-gap measures and not painfully likely to constitute my long-term career plans.

We had our end-of-term service today. I suddenly realised just how many Christian pies I seem to have a finger in. Revelation were singing and I ended up joining in. The homily was given by the Catholic chaplain, who I know through Night prayer, the intercession by Christis (I'm a member and occasional writer) and the readings by Christian Focus (again, member). Honestly, I'm such a nerd ;)

I had an interesting discussion with someone at a Christian Union evangelistic meeting about Hell and my feelings on its implausibility. I figured I wouldn't persuade him (to prevent oneself getting depressed, at the beginning of a debate it's best not to even entertain the notion of "winning"), but the evangelistic meetings are the only meetings run by the CU when I feel free to express my doubts on certain doctrinal issues, because in all other contexts such questions are glossed over (or there is a certain shock that you might even possess that opinion!). One of the many nice things about CF is that you can come straight out and confess your particular opinion/doubt/foible/heresy and though people will probably happily debate it for a while, they generally accept that that's what you think, and you won't be met with shock and horror.

The speaker at the meeting was talking about how if we really want happiness we have to look for it in God and not elsewhere, and how Christians will find true joy in heaven. Hell was mentioned. I started out from an "old classic" - ie. the kind of question you learn how to answer in evangelistic training meetings - "How can we be happy in Heaven knowing that our non-Christian friends and family etc. are in Hell?"
His main points were:
- They chose to go to Hell
- Hell is just
- We will delight in everything God does, including, in his justice, allowing people to endure eternal torment
The first one is not really arguable with many Christians because God and Jesus seem so patently obvious to them (or they can't ever imagine questioning, anyway) that they can't see why anyone wouldn't be a Christian. I admit I envy them their faith right now (will have to read through the Sermon on the Mount, that usually helps ;) ) but it often seems to me that there are a lot of reasons why someone wouldn't be a Christian, especially other Christians! :) I would argue that while a lot of people choose to reject God and reject goodness, no one chooses to be punished eternally... There's also the whole "other religions" and "what happens to babies who die" argument... The other argument is that people didn't choose to be born, and surely they'd choose death rather than Hell - and hey, if they still have free will in Hell, why is there no chance of repentance?

The second point I've never quite understood. I admit that given the choice I'd probably send Hitler to Hell for about a billion years - enough to suffer all the pain that he inflicted on all his victims and the families and friends of his victims - but even for a wicked dictator it gets a bit excessive to do it for all eternity. There are lots of things in the Bible about being repaid according to ones acts (will find verses on request) and I simply cannot see how a lifetime's finite sin could result in an eternity of punishment, even if it is against an infinite God. Of course God can do as he likes, but though I can fear a God who punishes in this way, the idea of loving such a God is very hard indeed. I also do not understand how given his mercy "endures forever", he would be in any way happy with the arrangement whereby his beloved creations suffer eternally after shunning him. I can have sympathy with annihilationism (that is, the theory that the rejectors of Christ will cease to exist) but not with eternal Hell - it's a horrible idea and I challenge anyone to meditate on their closest friends and family, and even people they've never met, suffering it eternally and still be happy with the idea.

The idea that we'll be happy that people are suffering Hell is an interesting idea. I was handed an argument I found difficult to refute and yet just as difficult to agree with. One of the guys at the meeting contended that in Heaven we'll be so caught up with worshipping God that we'll barely register the person standing next to us, let alone have time to worry about those who aren't there.

It's difficult to refute because I'd seem to be saying that we just won't love God that much, and how can you argue against someone who says that worshipping God will be all that matters? But then basically what he seemed to be saying is that the most important commandment "Love the Lord your God..." will be all-consuming, leaving even the second most important commandment "Love your neighbour as yourself" obselete. Really, in Heaven will we stop loving each other to make room for loving God more? It seems to me that right now loving God more causes us to love each other more ("A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35). So why should this change in Heaven? Why will we stop loving those we love now - why will God stop loving them?
Why is this so "Heavenly"?

Jonathan Edwards put it like this:

It is now our duty to love all men, though they are wicked; but it will not be a duty to love wicked men hereafter. Christ, by many precepts in his word, has made it our duty to love all men. We are commanded to love wicked men, and our enemies and persecutors. But this command does not extend to the saints in glory, with respect to the damned in hell...

But this is not the case in the next world. The saints in glory will know, concerning the damned in hell, that God never loved them, but that he hates them, and will be forever hated by God. This hatred of God will be fully declared to them; they will see it, and will see the fruits of it in their misery. Therefore, when God has thus declared his hatred of the damned, and the saints see it, it will be no way becoming in the saints to love them, nor to mourn over them. It becomes the saints fully and perfectly to consent to what God does, without any reluctance or opposition of spirit; yes, it becomes them to rejoice in every thing that God sees fit to be done.

But really, I can't see it at all. Why should we love people God doesn't love? It sounds as if God is asking us to love more people than he does!

Any thoughts?

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  • At 10:57 pm , Blogger Dave K said...

    A rushed comment:

    I have to agree with the 3 summary points made. If we choose to reject God's rule we simultaneously reject God's blessing. We cannot separate the two. If the New Creation is going to be as described in Rev 21 ('And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.'), with a all-consuming consciousness of God's presence, it is a bit much to expect those who do hate God to want to be there.

    One of the guys at the meeting contended that in Heaven we'll be so caught up with worshipping God that we'll barely register the person standing next to us, let alone have time to worry about those who aren't there.

    That is one of the worst heresies I have ever heard! It makes love of neighbour a mere duty and not part of worshipping God as it is clearly described. How can you forget the 2nd greatest commandment. Jesus hated the Pharisees for doing just that.

    And so we come to hatred.

    Despite being a Calvinist, I think I am compelled to denounce Jonathan Edwards too. If God can both love (because they are his creation, and in his image) and simultaneously hate people (because they also deny their creator and image Satan) why do should think that will change following the final judgment. I think JE is speculating outside his bounds of knowledge. You are spot on saying:

    But really, I can't see it at all. Why should we love people God doesn't love? It sounds as if God is asking us to love more people than he does!

    But we must also not forget that much of the reason God hates sin, and sinners, is because so much sin is against other human beings. So just as you long to see Hitler brought to justice for his injustice against others (and so/also God) we must recognise that so does God. When Habakkuk saw injustice he longed for justice - which meant bringing low the high and not just lifting the low - and God agrees. In this we must not forget we are sinners to, against both God and humanity. We must both cry for justice and forgiveness (just as God does). And these meet in Jesus on the cross - Praise God for his mercy.

    I suppose I have not answered your points - just gone of on one. I never gave a proper comment to your post a while ago either, despite my promise. Ah well I can't spend my whole life in front of a computer.

  • At 3:43 am , Blogger xianchick said...

    there are some really tough things that come with digesting heaven/hell.

    when my faith gets shaken on this one, i try to remember that the torah begins with the letter bet, symbolizing that what came before God, what is above, and what is below are closed to our knowledge.

    great post.


  • At 10:15 am , Anonymous Mum said...

    OK, you know I'm not particularly devout. But love is infinite - it has to be. It doesn't take up space. For example I love you and your dad. Do I love you any less because I love your dad? No, of course not. If you have kids, you know I'll love them too, so will that reduce my love for you or your dad? What a silly question. If I can do all that with one human heart, imagine what God can do.

  • At 1:05 am , Blogger SocietyVs said...

    The argument of a loving God sending people to an eternal torment, weird huh?
    I can't say I get either but then again I have love in my heart for Him and for others after having picked up this faith. Prior to having this faith my thoughts, emotions, and temperments were all out of whack. So out of whack I cannot really remember what used to be my paradigm before faith (what did I really believe?).
    What I do notice is that we love because He loved us first. God made us this way and I cannot really figure out why I get His love and others do not understand it, maybe I just never explained it well enough? I don't know.
    I think some of that falls on us, we have to share our faith with others in whatever way we can.
    I know that God is love and the eternal punishment thing I don't get either, however, it is in the gospels. Maybe we should remove the gospels? Maybe they are not reliable? That being said, that's where I learned God was love in the first place.

  • At 5:17 pm , Blogger McK said...

    It's a bit like rent, though, isn't it? What I mean is, you have to pay the rent... or the landlord has to throw you out. Nothing personal. But it's just the way things are.

    That's not a good comparison, but the way I see it is this: God's love *demands* there be a Hell. Sounds ridiculous? Well, picture this...

    If you're married to a beautiful woman (or a handsome man) and then somebody comes along, murders that person in a very bloody way, I'm sure that no rational person would say that said murderer can get away with the crime. There has to be a consequence. Why? Because of the *love* for that person. If you loved them, you'd have treasured their memory and the love demands that some kind of retribution, justice, has to be made up for it. Actually, it is *love* that motivates punishment.

    Now I know what you're saying... oh, but God, knowing how we're made could let us off the hook... well... yes, He sort of has. That's what the cross is about! The cross is a blank cheque for us to fill out to pay off the rent, as it were. It was Jesus - willingly going to the cross - to make up for the fact that *God is just* and together, God the Father and Jesus concocted a divine plan to save people, *all* people. However, some people don't want it because they're happy trying to either pay the rent/debt off their way or reject it for other reasons.

    God never forces salvation on anybody. That's just not love, anyway. And He has made plain to the general populace what Hell is. Nobody has an excuse that they didn't 'know' (and, to be fair, if there really is an exception -- which, of course, there always is -- I just believe God, who is Love Personified, can make up the short-change somehow).

    God had a relationship with mankind. *We* chose to boot it up the butt, so *we* ratted out on Him and His perfect plan *first*. So then HE *first* comes to us, Jesus *dies* on the Cross and we then harp on about how it's not fair Hell exists? And how it can't do because of a God of love? But don't you see? God actually craves relationship with us above all things but that originated in sin... and we willingly divulge in sin. We have a way out.

    Let's not let mushyness and sincere personal want obscure what is actually clear in the Word. Annihilationism or 'eternal Hell' isn't, perhaps, that clear, but the fact that there *is* a Hell of some sorts is very blatantly clear and I'd absolutely love to engage somebody who can interpret the Bible in any different way. Saying *that*, if you regard that the Bible is fallible or what not... *shrugs* Have it your own way, because you can do what you like. You only know what you know about God because of His word and if His word is fallible, then why believe in God at all?

    God Bless,
    -Matt K.

  • At 3:08 pm , Anonymous julie may said...

    I have to disagree with a statement made above my comment.

    Love does not demand justice, it demands forgiveness.
    Love is patient, kind...
    hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things.
    I have heard countless stories of victims families forgiving and befriending the offenders that hurt a loved one. Most of them say they did it rhough the grace of god.
    The arguement also doenst adress those who are damned to hell for simply living a decent life without choosing a religion to follow.

  • At 4:00 pm , Anonymous Mortiana27 said...

    In response to the post, I agree with the three points given. Where we spend eternity is our choice, always has been from the instant we were created. As to doubting God and speculating that He doesn't really know what he's doing ... I can't say that I understand why any one human being would question his love or his justice. Sure, there are things that I don't understand but that's where faith comes in. Faith carries me over the patches that I don't understand, the patches that my human intellect and emotional viewpoint can't get around.

    As to your challenge, I have meditated on this, and I am satisfied with the idea of eternal Hell. Why? Because I believe God is Love and I believe God is just. And because I believe these two things 100% at all times, there is no reason for me to even consider that such a fate is unjust or wrong in any way. I am married to a man who does not believe in God - the thought that he and I are not going to spend eternity together crosses my mind a lot and usually brings me to tears, but I can accept the reality. If anything, it should fuel us to see more of our friends and families come to God.

    In response to Julie May.
    On the topic of love, I Corinthians 13:6 says "It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail."

    So, Matt's statement that love would want to see justice isn't entirely out of order is it?

    Also, a person who "leads a decent life" is still a person living in sin, and such a person cannot stand before God - no matter how nice and decent they were in life.

  • At 6:07 pm , Blogger Contemplative Activist said...

    I am a bit late posting here - but the best I can say is I will not accept from God, what I would find cruel and heartless in a fellow human being.

    I've had many discussions with people about hell, and I have seen people change their minds on this one. My partner told me that something I once said aroused a lot of questionning in him.

    I wasn't trying to have a clever debate at the time, I was really struggling to come to terms with not believing what I was meant to believe and not being a nice Christian girl. My friend (now my partner) was earnestly trying to help me back to the narrow way and I sighed and said, "You know my friend "Muslim girl", you know how close I am to her, how much we share with each other and that I love her as one of my closest, kindest and loveliest friends You know how she was there for me when I left CU and needed someone to talk to because my Christian so-called friends were being utter tits. Well, if she doesn't get into heaven, I don't want to be there either."

    It is not academic debate - it is love that leads people away from a belief in hell.


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