Longish but worth the read if you have any theological bent -- what could be better than a discourse on Hell before a weekend which promises that there is a hope to see zero tomorrow, but the near certainty of a sub-zero high on Sunday! In the north, it is hard not to feel that God proved his mercy when he made Hell hot rather than cold!
It is a serious topic -- and a serious article. Considering that these doctrines are thousands of years old, and the idea of a "place of suffering" for the damned, crosses multiple religions and even non-religions, it is worthy of being aware of what such doctrines are, even (or maybe especially) for those who reject them. If you assume "it's all made up" ... as it MUST be if you are atheist -- somebody has been thinking these thoughts as "right" for a lot longer than whatever the latest thoughts are.
Consider Emerson on this topic ...
"All writers must submit their performance to the wise ear of Time, who sits and weighs, and ten years hence out of a million pages prints one. Again, it is judged, it is winnowed by all the winds of opinion, and what terrific selection has not past on it before it can be reprinted after 20 years, and reprinted after a century!"The "progressive mind" tells you that old is bad, new is good. Is Eternity old or new?
Is clearly understanding "the worst that can happen" if you go without insurance of most import to those that are insured, or those that are uninsured? That is not a bad joke about "fire insurance", it is a serious question.
Having been raised a Baptist, I was especially struck by this:
There has also been a healthy reaction against the type of preaching that revels in depicting the sufferings of the damned in the most lurid possible light. An example would be the fictional sermon on hell that James Joyce recounts in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This kind of preaching fosters an image of God as an unloving and cruel tyrant, and in some cases leads to a complete denial of hell or even to atheism.It is absolutely certain that each of us will die -- the specifics of "how" can vary a lot. Each of us has likely been exposed to, conjured ourselves, or otherwise arrived at "the worst that could happen" -- usually a LONG, PAINFUL, and LONELY exit. For some reason on my long motorcycle trip I imagined running off a curve in the middle of nowhere, falling next to a stream with massively painful and immobilizing wounds, yet being able to get water so thus survive in great pain until infection from my wounds or starvation finally took me. Naturally, as a very svelte Moose, I would probably starve in less than a couple days, so I'm not sure why the water was even a consideration.
In any case, that might have slowed me down on some of the curves a bit, so maybe that WAS warranted ... if it had made me pull off the road and call for the psych medics, it would have to be judged too graphic.
The point (such as it is) is that a firm idea of "the bad" has an obvious place in molding human behavior, as well as the idea that no matter how bad somebody else has been, the thought of "ultimate justice" of a nasty sort can help us decide that we don't need to exact immediate punishment on them. Hell has it's purpose -- like death and all else in creation. Don't focus on Hell, but don't forget it is there.
I had never been exposed to the argument put forward by Hans Balthasar ... although I'm pretty darned certain the name has showed up in fiction ... "Balthazar" ?
The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell has been proposed by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?” He rejects the ideas that hell will be emptied at the end of time and that the damned souls and demons will be reconciled with God. He also avoids asserting as a fact that everyone will be saved. But he does say that we have a right and even a duty to hope for the salvation of all, because it is not impossible that even the worst sinners may be moved by God’s grace to repent before they die. He concedes, however, that the opposite is also possible. Since we are able to resist the grace of God, none of us is safe. We must therefore leave the question speculatively open, thinking primarily of the danger in which we ourselves stand."Dare We Hope" sounds interesting -- my reading list is a little long right now.
A summary -- if you are Christian, then Hell is real. God fervently desires that all be saved to the extent that he allowed himself in the form of Christ Jesus to be crucified, die, and descend to Hell to pay for our sins. He is a God of Love that allows or acceptance or rejection of this divine sacrifice.
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