Hell

The thing to remember about eternal damnation is that it is the choice of the damned themselves. God is just letting the damned have what they want: alienation from him (this being the basic form of all pain (of everything that is defective)). God can’t make alienation from him other than what it is; so, he can’t make hell all nicey-nice. Alienation from God just is painful, in the same way that triangularity just is trigonality. The relation between alienation from God and suffering pain is one of logical entailment.

God would rather that the damned all chose salvation. But the choice is entirely up to them, and they choose poorly (defectively). He’s not going to take the choice away from them – for that would be to unmake them altogether (to be human just is to be free, in exactly the same way that triangularity just is trigonality; so that to take away the human being’s freedom is to take away his being qua human).

Going to hell, then, is rather like deciding to jump off a high cliff. It’s your decision. God doesn’t do it to you, you do it to yourself. And, as with jumping off a cliff, once you have made the decision irrevocably, why then you are everlastingly committed to your decision, and that’s all there is to it. From then on, all you can do is fall.

God is the rock of the cliff. I urge you – I urge myself – don’t jump.

About these ads

27 thoughts on “Hell

  1. God can’t make alienation from him other than what it is; so, he can’t make hell all nicey-nice. Alienation from God just is painful, in the same way that triangularity just is trigonality. The relation between alienation from God and suffering pain is one of logical entailment.

    Right, and this is a fact that eludes most atheists (who have a different, because deficient, understanding of God than we do). Just as God couldn’t create an uncreated being, neither can He make separation from Him other than what it is, which is Hell.

    Is it wrong for a man to feel grief knowing he has spurned his one chance at love? Why, then, should he not feel eternal grief, knowing eternally that he has spurned Him who is Eternal Love?

  2. “Alienation from God just is painful, in the same way that triangularity just is trigonality.”

    This is where Western Christian and Eastern Orthodox notions of hell meet well. Non-Christians often have such a hard time grasping the fact that Heaven or Hell is a choice, but with ontological and existential consequences as a fact of reality, not simply some angry deity.

  3. I think part of the reason why both Christians and non-Christians have trouble grasping this is because of the language used when referring to the afterlife. When we say that God judges us after we die, it implies that God is deciding where we go and thus assigning us eternal happiness or eternal damnation, when really, it is us who has already decided where we go.

    Nice post, I like it.

  4. And, as with jumping off a cliff, once you have made the decision irrevocably, why then you are everlastingly committed to your decision, and that’s all there is to it.

    But that’s not really all there is to it; to me it seems that a certain question follows logically from this and forces itself into consideration: namely, why does God insist on making this choice final?

    If forcing men not to go to hell when they want to go would be an unjust assault on their free will, isn’t forcing them to stay in hell even if they’ve changed their mind the exact same sort of an assault on man’s free will? If not, why not?

    Why does God allow only a finite period of time to make an eternally binding decision?

    Furthermore, does God force men to stay in heaven eternally once they’ve been accepted, even if they change their minds later? Why or why not? If he doesn’t allow them to leave heaven — why is this also not an assault on man’s free will? If he does, why does he also not allow them to leave hell — what’s the difference?

    • It’s not that God forces the finality of the choice. God doesn’t force the damned to stay in hell. The gates of hell are locked on the inside.

      Why would a soul choose to continue damned? It seems that beyond a certain point of depravation a soul’s schedule of preferences is so perverted that it does not at all *want* to be saved, or to be good. It’s like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger; pretty soon you’ve got an unstoppable avalanche. We see a faint image of this on Earth in the suicide.

      No one is forced to stay in heaven, either. Lucifer didn’t.

      • To be saved, one must commit a very unpleasant and unwelcome act-of-the-will — one must humble oneself, and admit that one not only was wrong, but that one was in the wrong.

  5. Exactly.

    God “sends people to Hell” precisely because he loves/values us so much.

    It is for love that God creates the world, and us in it; it is for love that God made us free to reject his love for us; it is for love that God allows us to tortue and murder him, that he takes into the grave the sin of all who have finally tired of sin; and, lastly, it for love that he allows those who still insist upon clinging to their sin to do so, and to go into the grave alone with their sin.

  6. “It seems that beyond a certain point of depravation a soul’s schedule of preferences is so perverted that it does not at all *want* to be saved, or to be good.”

    But this clashes completely with:

    “And, as with jumping off a cliff, once you have made the decision irrevocably, why then you are everlastingly committed to your decision, and that’s all there is to it.”

    A person may very well jump off a cliff and in midair regret the decision and want to retroactively change their decision, i.e. be saved. And if the fall from the cliff is eternal, it seems very likely that someone might eventually want to change their mind.

    Consider also Prophs:
    “Is it wrong for a man to feel grief knowing he has spurned his one chance at love? Why, then, should he not feel eternal grief, knowing eternally that he has spurned Him who is Eternal Love?”

    If a soul does not *want* to be saved, than it cannot feel eternal grief at the prospect of not being saved. If a soul does want to be saved but is in hell, then the gates are locked from the outside.

    “The gates of hell are locked on the inside,” is totally contradictory to the comparison of hell to jumping off a cliff. Furthermore, it’s totally contradictory to many orthodox Christian beliefs such as hell for all unbaptized, hell for all unbelievers, etc.

  7. And also, one must consider that for the vast majority of Christian history, the conception of hell has been closer to “God’s torture chamber,” than some sort of “voluntarily chosen alienation.” I myself was taught that hell was basically a very hot place, in which the damned person’s flesh is roasted for eternity. The vast majority of non-Christians in the West are former Christians who believe this is the Christian version of hell precisely because that’s what they were taught.

    So, it seems rather silly to accuse non-Christians of “misunderstanding” or having a “deficient understanding,” because they believe hell is what most Christians in most times have said it is.

    For example, Ignatius Loyola on hell:

    “Let us fancy that we see Hell, and imagine what ever is horrible to behold. A cavern, full of black flames, sulphur, devils, dragons, fire, swords, arrows, and innumerable damned, who roar in despair.”

    • TE:And also, one must consider that for the vast majority of Christian history, the conception of hell has been closer to “God’s torture chamber,” than some sort of “voluntarily chosen alienation.

      So, it seems rather silly to accuse non-Christians of “misunderstanding” or having a “deficient understanding,” because they believe hell is what most Christians in most times have said it is.

      Let’s see —
      I’m 55 — I mention this merely to establish that I have a bit more direct personal experience with/of “vast majority of Christian history” than most people do.

      I am one of those “fundies” that everyone likes to imagine are ignorant and/or stupid. I was raised in the sort of churches of which even the Baptists like to imagine that everyone is ignorant and/or stupid.

      And I have *always* known and understood that Hell just is separation/alienation from God. I have *always* known and understood that God doesn’t “send people to Hell”, but rather that people choose to flee/hide from God.

      So, if a stupid, ignorant “fundie” like me knew this, why do all you smart, knowledable people keep getting it wrong?

    • TE does raise a good point, though:

      A person may very well jump off a cliff and in midair regret the decision and want to retroactively change their decision, i.e. be saved. And if the fall from the cliff is eternal, it seems very likely that someone might eventually want to change their mind.

      Perhaps I may answer adequately by recalling our present moral situation, in which we are afflicted by our addiction to sin. I regret my sin, I want to do better; but, apparently, this desire in me toward the Good does not suffice to overcome my urge toward sin, because I keep on sinning. The desire for the Good is overwhelmed in me by the desire to sin. So, it is not really accurate to say that “I” desire repentance. It is not true to say that I love God with my whole being, as he commands me to do. Rather, only part of me desires repentance.

      Likewise, a drunk might wish he could be sober; but he knows that he cannot be sober any longer. Sobriety is forever closed to him. Interestingly, AA succeeds in part because of its insistence that alcoholics admit to this fact. The alcoholic can stay sober only by way of a prior, permanent admission that he is, forever, an alcoholic.

      I can easily see how, if I continue in my sinful course, the part of me that desires repentance might eventually be completely overwhelmed, with no chance of winning the war within me even for a moment. At that moment, I will have leapt off the cliff, irrevocably.

      But it will be my leap, not God’s push, that causes me to pass that threshold, past which there is no turning back.

      As for those unbaptized by belief – baptism being the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of belief – they are indeed in hell. Unbelief entails alienation from God. But then likewise reconciliation with God entails belief, and is the grace of which baptism – and the catechumen’s avowal of the Credo at his baptism – are the outward signs. It is not the sign that effects salvation, but the thing signified.

      • @Kristor

        Another approach to this is this is to consider the difference between angels/ demons and men.

        Angels/ demons were usually considered to be incapable of repentance because they made the decision to sin/ turn away from God in full knowledge of its consequences and with full control over their will.

        Mortal humans are, in this model, are much more prone to sin from weak will or ignorance, but are given a ‘window’ during which they can (repeatedly) repent sin – but this window for repentance (as it were) closes at death and with transition to the next step.

        Why should humans be like this? – prone to sin, able to repent, but for a finite time…

        Presumably because that is the kind of creature we are.

      • TE does raise a good point, though:

        Yet, but is that objection not merely the demand that God must create the world to be irrational — that there never be any *real* logical consequences to one’s acts and actions — else God is an ogre?

    • TE makes an important point. In all our zeal to let God off the hook, we modern Christians often lose sight of something previous Christians definitely did emphasize: hell is a punishment for wickedness.

      • Is Hell a punishment for our wickedness, like an action from God in response to our wickedness; or is a consequence of our wickedness in which God respects our free will? I tend to believe the latter. Effectively, God says that you are free to be apart from him, and that entails eternal suffering. Thus, being wicked, which separates you from God, brings eternal suffering and exposure to others that also hate God and everything that he created, which includes you. That is Hell.

        Now, in terms of why would anyone want to be separated from God knowingly in the face of Hell? The answer, in my view, is that wickedness and pride won’t allow it. Wickedness is a distortion of reality, as separation from creation and God, which are good. The soul believes that it is more than what it is: it does not “understand” its proper place, and thus reacts against reality and creation. Ingratitude, covetousness and hate follows.

        If I am more than what I am, if I am like the all-mighty, then I don’t need to be grateful. If I don’t need to be grateful, and see things that I could enjoy, I covet them or hate them and want to destroy it, as it is inconsistent with the image I have of myself. Thus, I hate everything that does not feed this distorted view: I hate creation.

        I believe that is the same reasoning of demons: they hate us because we were created by God, and thus good (even if fallen). Hell is that place where you have isolated yourself from heaven (order), and exposed to those spiritually distorted beings, including yourself. Eternal torment follows: a collection of wicked spirits trying to eternally destroy each other. That easily fits the description of punishment for the wicked and eternal willing separation from God.

  8. BruceCarleton:Another approach to this is this is to consider the difference between angels/ demons and men.

    What if men *are* angels/demons? What if this present life is either the test by which angels are distinguished from demons, or the mercy by which (some) demons regain their former state? Or, what if it’s both at the same time?

    Well, for one thing, such an hypothesis, if fact and known to be fact, wouldn’t change a thing about our lives and how we must live them, nor would it change how we may be reconcilled to God.

  9. Sorry, is this ‘what if’ something you have just dreamed-up?

    I am arguing from a traditional and orthodox Christian perspective which argues from Natural Law and revelation as understood by those of advanced holiness. That is ‘the Truth’.

    Although the precise nature of the Truth is subject to dispute, that does not mean that anything-goes. There are an unbounded number of ‘what ifs’ which lie outside the Truth, and obviously it would be senseless to try specifically to refute each and every one of an unbounded number of errors.

    Modern men do need to acknowledge angels, again – I agree with Peter Kreeft in this regard:

    http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/angels.htm

  10. @Ilion,

    First of all, there’s no reason to assume I’m the type of person who writes of all orthodox Christians as ignorant fundies — I’m not.

    Yet, but is that objection not merely the demand that God must create the world to be irrational — that there never be any *real* logical consequences to one’s acts and actions — else God is an ogre?

    What I’m doing is trying to understand the rationality behind Kristor’s explanation of hell being a completely voluntary yet, eternally binding choice and extremely painful choice, endured by the damned soul under the supervision of an all-loving God. Such things do not seem rationally compatible to me.

    Note that I have not asserted the irrationality of all painful logical consequences to one’s actions under divine supervision– just the particular versions (there have been multiple mutually incompatible notions in the original post and the comments) of the nature of hell in this thread.

    As the implication that I “should” know better than to claim the majority of traditional Christian beliefs in hell are not the same as yours– I cited Loyola already, I could go ahead and cite Tertulian, Martin Luther, and countless other well respected authorities from all major branches (including Eastern Orthodox) which describe hell as a physical place with physical torture as a punishment for sins.

    You may also note that I shared what I was taught as a child by my pastor. I’m not sure what you mean by implying that I *should* have known hell is exactly like what you say it is… should I as a child have figured it all out on my own and gone against what my elders taught me?

    @Bonald,

    That’s part of my point, the vast majority of Christians have believed in hell as a punishment for wickedness, not a “voluntary choice,” (at least not in the sense Kristor et al mean it) and the gates of hell have traditional not been thought of as “locked from the inside.” Hell as a punishment for wickedness is does not contain any internal logical inconsistencies (though there may be other reasons to question it), but hell as *not a punishment* is rife with internal contradictions. I suspect that medieval theologians didn’t adopt Kristor’s POV precisely because they were quite adept at avoiding internal logical contradictions.

    @Kristor,

    In this explanation, a soul effectively loses its capacity to choose the good over the evil. If that’s the case, hell is not a voluntary choice, nor are the gates “locked from the inside.”

    If a man suffered a head injury as a child and thus lost the capacity to learn to read, due to brain damage, we wouldn’t say that when he never learns to read it is a “voluntary choice,” nor would we say that “the gates of illiteracy are locked from the inside.” We would recognize that he is incapable of learning to read.

    So with hell, if one is incapable of choosing to leave, then it is inappropriate to describe his stay as “voluntary,” or the gates as “locked from the inside.”

    I do recognize during the events leading up to his stay in hell, he had a voluntary choice, but if he has truly lost his capacity to choose, then he has lost his capacity for voluntary choice.

  11. TE, thanks for your engagement with this topic, and for your questions to me, which are indeed searching. This is a tricky subject, and painful.

    I have been thinking about your question about the contradiction apparently inherent in the voluntary involuntarity – so to speak – of the damned soul’s everlasting commitment to hell. Your analogy with a man who had suffered a brain injury helped, because in thinking about it I have concluded that it is not quite right. A better, I think, would be to a man who had paid for extensive tattoos all over his face, because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and then in later years come to regret them bitterly, to hate them and wish them gone. The tattoos afflict him irrevocably, permanently, as a result of an act of his own will. He is in a state of voluntary involuntarity.

    Part of the confusion, I think, arises from the notion that the gates of hell are locked from the inside. We think, “Well, for Heaven’s sake — literally, for the sake of Heaven — why don’t the damned just reach out and unlock them, and come home?” The answer, which we may perhaps better understand in light of the tattoo analogy, is that while the gates are locked on the inside, so that it is the damned themselves who have locked them, the locks are permanent. Once locked, they become wall.

    Damnation is indeed a punishment for sin, in the sense that it is the penalty of sin, that must somehow or other be paid if the sin is to be redeemed, so that the sinner is thenceforth free of its causal debt. The penalty of marring your soul is that your soul will be forever marred. It’s the only way one can have a coherent causal order: the facts of acts, and the consequences thereof — their costs and benefits, to the agent and to the whole system — cannot be unmade. They have to be reckoned, and all the successors of acts must deal with them, must compensate for them, as ineluctable facts.

    On account of the blood of the Lamb, which has amply compensated for all creaturely sin and error, all sins may be forgiven, but one: the sin against the Holy Spirit, which consists at root in the creaturely rejection of the Divine redemption. The damned, then, are in Hell because they have refused salvation; and their punishment consists in their everlasting passion of the logical sequelae of their sins – this being why there are circles in Hell, with punishments appropriate to the crime. Having rejected Christ’s full and perfect propitiation, they remain forever immured in their sin, and in its outworkings.

    • Kristor:… The damned, then, are in Hell because they have refused salvation; and their punishment consists in their everlasting passion of the logical sequelae of their sins – this being why there are circles in Hell, with punishments appropriate to the crime. Having rejected Christ’s full and perfect propitiation, they remain forever immured in their sin, and in its outworkings.

      I think that “the damned” are annihilated, ultimately; though I certainly don’t insist that it is so … merely that that is the only thing that seems to make sense on our present knowledge. Also, and this is the interesting thing, there is no conflict or contradiction between annihilationism and more common idea of unending suffering.

      First, I believe that “the damned” are annihilated because: sin-and-death is alienation from God … and the condition of “being in Hell” is that of utter alienation from God.

      All that is is because God “upholds its existence”; that is, all that exists exists because God knows it exists and participates in its existence. God isn’t “out there”, watching our lives as though we were a performance of Masterpiece Theatre; God is “right here”, living our lives with us, experiencing our lives with us – everything we do, everything done to us, God is intimately involved with (*).

      This is true not only of the most saintly person we can imagine, but also of the most wicked-and-unrepentant sinner we can imagine, and of everyone in between.

      But, what of “the Damned”, what of those who are “in Hell”? Well, they too exist, if they exist at all, because God is intimately involved with their lives/existence. But, Hell is capital-d Death, Hell is utter separation from God.

      It’s a matter of simple logic: if an entity is utterly cut off from “the ground of all being”, that that entity is not; for, how can an entity be simultaneously grounded in existence/being and not grounded in existence/being?

      Secondly, there is no contradiction between annihilationism and more common idea of unending suffering because: the state or condition we call ‘Heaven’ (and ‘Hell’) is some sort of union between the timeless eternity we sometimes catch glimpses of and the time-bound existence we presently live.

      How else are we – who know only the present time-bound existence – to speak and think of a state or condition that is eternal/timeless, except as “unending”?

      And, at the same time, can God unknow what he knows? Can God unexperience what he experiences? “The Damned” lived/live their lives of unrepentant sin because God knows they did/do, because God experienced/experiences those lives of unrepentant sin aimed at eternal damnation (**).

      There is a third thing: it doesn’t matter — your salvation, or your damnation, is not dependant upon anything about me, nor upon your understanding of, and being able to “explain” the eternal fates of either “the Damned” or “the Blessed”; it depends only upon your loving surrender to God, only upon your act-of-the-will to stop fighting him.

      (*) Our sin is so wicked, is such an offence against God, precisely because in sinning we force the Sinless One to experience sin; we force the Integrated One to experience dis-integration; we force He Who Is Truth Itself to experience Self-Contradiction (I have capitalized that last for a reason).

      (**) It’s for the reason expressed in that paragraph that I don’t insist that annihilation is the fate of “the Damned”.

      • @Ilion

        I agree with you that annihilation is a necessary consequence of true separation from God. This is because ultimately God is One and all that exists. Thus if Hell is truly a state of separation then such a thing could only be accomplished by annihilation. Any other idea of separation would be metaphorical and illusory.

        However, for the sake of argument, I will give the following analogy: if God, on some level, is like an unending ocean, suppose we in this life are like individual droplets separated from the ocean. Many droplets are content to merge with the whole, unifying with perfection. However some obsess over the separation, deluded and prideful, they fear that to merge with the whole means loss of individuality and destruction. These droplets would even prefer to coalesce together in a bucket rather than merge with the unending ocean. Could not hell be like that bucket of water compared to the ocean. Would we not say that the droplets in the bucket are separated from the ocean?

        I should mention, however, that this argument depends on maintaining another level of illusion and deception. Why should God be like anything I could imagine? indeed if I could imagine such a situation it must be another level of illusory existence.

        Also are not the drops of water that merge with the ocean annihilated in the sense that they lose their identity as a drop? Could the same exact drop be extracted and restored from the ocean and would it even be meaningful to do so? Those that “choose the bucket” have this exact fear of annihilation. They see their “identity” as the drop and this consider merging with the unending ocean tantamount to destruction.

      • This is an interesting metaphor, Zeno, but ultimately untenable, for it treats the Creator and His creations as one, when in fact they are two.

        I’m afraid this is another example of the pernicious influence of Hindu monism: all is one. The truth is dualism: God and His creation are separate.

        Our souls pass to another level of existence after the death of our bodies, and although some of us will enjoy communion with God, none of us will join him in union.

  12. Thanks for the reply Kristor,

    “A better, I think, would be to a man who had paid for extensive tattoos all over his face, because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and then in later years come to regret them bitterly, to hate them and wish them gone. The tattoos afflict him irrevocably, permanently, as a result of an act of his own will. He is in a state of voluntary involuntarity.”

    To me this still doesn’t seem to compute when done under the supervision of an all-loving god. You see, first you said that a soul does not even want to be saved and that is why it is in hell forever. If the soul does, however, regret its decision than it seems it can want to be saved. Voluntary involuntarity just doesn’t make sense.

    However, today is Aleksandr Pushkin’s birthday, so I’ll close with a short Pushkin poem:

    An Angel

    At the gates of Eden a tender angel,
    Glimmered with his bowed head.
    But a demon, gloomy and rebellious,
    Flew over hell’s abyss.

    The spirit of rejection, the spirit of doubt
    Gazed upon a pure spirit;
    And then a spasm of involuntary tenderness…
    He knew for the first time.

    “Forgive me,” he croaked…
    “But I saw you…
    And it’s not for nothing you’ve shined on me,
    For I’ve not hated all that’s found in heaven,
    Nor despised all things that lie on earth.”

    • TE, I don’t know how I can help you with this. The man with a tattoo all over his face wishes it were gone, but it is too late for that. Likewise, if you were to move to Paris at age 99 and then, six months later, regret your decision, and wish to return to the US, it might then very well be impossible for you to do so. You might by the time you wished to return to the US be on your deathbed in Paris.

      I have made all sorts of decisions that I wish I could get out of. I wish I could have the sort of life I would now have, if I had decided otherwise. But I just can’t. I chose the set of futures to which I am no irrevocably committed.

      The soul that decides for everlasting damnation gets what it wants. Then, despite the fact that it might later want something different, it cannot anywise undo the effects of its prior decision. This is just the way decision works.

  13. Just remember: you cannot reason with the man who will not reason; you cannot supply enough analogies and metaphors to the man who does not wish to understand.

  14. @Zeno – “I agree with you that annihilation is a necessary consequence of true separation from God.”

    I think it more orthodox that the Individual is annihilated, but the maimed and incomplete Soul (merely a fragment of the Individual, since the Individual is Body and Soul in union) survives perhaps eternally.

    Eternal life of the human Individual therefore requires Resurrection – bringing together the residual soul AND a restored body (both purified and perfected).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s