Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Interpreting Hell

This is from Weblog of a Christian philosophy student by Will G. Any comments?

Hell is described in pretty awful terms in Revelation, but we must remember that it is described in other places as simply not being with God. 2 Thes 1:9 "Whose reward will be eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his strength".

I've noticed on forums that it's easier to criticise Christianity if you accept the 'Revelation' view of hell but it's not as easy if you accept the '2 Thessalonians' view.

Maybe Revelation talks about hell in such a terrifying way because doing so will ultimately get more people into eternal life? Proverbs 14:27: "The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death".

But if hell isn't all that bad then the Bible is being a bit deceitful about how awful it is. And if hell is awful, then why would anyone would choose to go there?

I think a good illustration of how people could choose to go to hell, and yet hell involves an eternity of suffering, was given in a Twilight episode called 'A Nice Place to Visit' (quoted from here):

"A two-bit thug, shot to death by the police, wakes up on the far side. Given his life of crime, he is puzzled to find himself in what he takes to be heaven: a penthouse of Pascalian divertissement has been provided for him in which he can sate his every sensuous appetite. The supply of booze and broads is endless, and he can't lose at the gaming tables. But soon enough our man tires of the 'good life' and heads for the door — which is locked. Turning to his host, the thug complains that he'd rather be in the other place. "This is the other place!" the host demonically laughs."

I think if we were forced to live with the happiness we have now for let's say... a trillion to the power of a trillion years, then eventually we would be weeping and gnashing our teeth in pain. The happiness we have now cannot sustain us for that long.

There is another interesting take on this in a quote from the science fiction novel 'Permutation City'. In it Greg Egan tries to imagine life as an eternal being:

"The workshop abutted a warehouse full of table legs – one hundred and sixty-two thousand, three hundred and twenty-nine, so far. Peer could imagine nothing more satisfying than reaching the two hundred thousand mark – although he knew it was likely that he'd change his mind and abandon the workshop before that happened; new vocations were imposed by his exoself at random intervals, but statistically, the next one was overdue. Immediately before taking up woodwork, he'd passionately devoured all the higher mathematics texts in the central library, run all the tutorial software, and then personally contributed several important new results to group theory – untroubled by the fact that none of the Elysian mathematicians would ever be aware of his work. Before that, he'd written over three hundred comic operas, with librettos in Italian, French and English – and staged most of them, with puppet performers and audience. Before that, he'd patiently studied the structure and biochemistry of the human brain for sixty-seven years; towards the end he had fully grasped, to his own satisfaction, the nature of the process of consciousness. Every one of these pursuits had been utterly engrossing, and satisfying, at the time. He'd even been interested in the Elysians, once. No longer. He preferred to think about table legs."

The eternal existence of 'Peer' in this quote indicates what our existence might be like if it lasted forever.

Is there another kind of happiness and way of being? According to the Bible there is, which everyone can find in God's presence. Talking about eternal life, Romans 14:17 says "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit". So the happiness of heaven actually involves people experiencing God's happiness. This joy will make us complete and fulfilled forever, in a way that we have never known and literally cannot imagine (1 Cor 2:9: "However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'").

The catch in experiencing God's happiness is that it requires someone to want to live under God's standards, because we get it through the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17) - who is Christ's spirit. Since we experience God's contentment through Christ's spirit, we need to be willing to be 'in' Christ. As Galatians 2:20 puts it: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me". This is how close we need to be to God to experience His happiness. In Christ we can express our personalities however we want minus actions that treat others in a way we wouldn't ideally like to be treated.

And yet people can and it seems would choose to go to the 'hells' described above rather than heaven, if heaven requires entering into a state where we love and serve God with all heart, soul, strength and mind, and love and serve our neighbour as we would ideally like to be loved, which is God's standard (through trusting in Jesus' death on the cross for us).-One way of interpreting hell

1 comment:

  1. I liked Will G's post.


    I'm taking all of this from Huston Smith on Hinduism.... but it speaks to humanity universally.


    I don't think I could say it better than Smith himself, so let me know what you think of the above link and how it applies to "interpreting Hell."

    But yeah.... people who conceptualize Hell in a literal, "Dante's Inferno" sense may be missing the real message.


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