Survey of Hell

We have heard it before and we will probably hear it again. You
know, those fiery sermons desperately trying to depict what Hell may be
like with its weeping and gnashing of teeth. Not to mention the eternal
burning sensation and utter darkness.  However, most descriptions of
Hell are so horrific that our human souls can not relate and the
concept of Hell remains for us a fairy tale.

In response to
this, I pondered what analogy would convey the depth of sorrow and the
reality of hell. The first and only thing that came to mind was death. 
Humans can connect with the concept of death.  We mourn over our loved
ones, feeling like the time we had with them was not enough, that in
their death we were some how cheated out of time that was rightfully
ours.  But why do we mourn?  The answer lies in the finality of the
situation. That life is over. There is no more communication, no more
warm embraces. It is in reality a separation; humans understand that
concept.

If this is true then, I cannot help  but compare this
concept of finality to the reality of Hell, which is an eternal
separation from God.  The true pain lies in knowing that no matter how
much we cry out, we are utterly alone and separated from all the
securities our false life encompassed.   The flames, weeping and
gnashing of teeth are but pebble in the overwhelming presence of
eternal loneliness and separation from God.

Having read this, we
respond in three ways. The first response is  from believers who
apathetically disregard the hurt and wounded lost, suggesting that it
is their own fault they will spend eternity in misery. The second
response comes from those whose heart is filled with compassion and
weep for the lost. The third is the lost who chose to deny Hell exists
by the dismal disregard for the spiritual world and Jesus Christ, their
only means of salvation.

So, what’s your concept of hell like? How do you respond?

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8 thoughts on “Survey of Hell

  1. I first heard it from Dr. Meeks and encountered it in Orthodoxy (and I mean “eternal punishment” here not simply “hell”, since there is a distinction), but I’m inclined to think that God is Hell. As Dr. Meeks put it, “We don’t believe in a deist heaven or deist universe, so why should we believe in a deist hell?” Just like there are people that drive us (something that, when it happens, we should work on) so nuts that it’s torment to our spirit just to experience it, so could Hell be the experience of God for those who have rejected Him, constructed an idol for Him, or some such.Indeed, the “Lake of fire and brimstone” may be translated “the Lake of fire and divinity” also. Perhaps the fire of torment isn’t something outside of us, but something within us that we made for ourselves (after the realm “made” for the Devil and his angels, no doubt by themselves).That’s my take, but the Church never spoke, Scripture is not clear, and the Fathers are conflicted. St. Justin Martyer taught that people would be tormented for a time then destroyed. Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa both taught a form of universalism called abokatastasis, there’s the Dante-type that you cited earlier, and numerous others. The Apocalypse of Peter (the one that made it into the canon, not the Gnostic one) taught that almost nobody makes it and gives Dante-like descriptions of Hell. This is a confused issue.

  2. I agree with Canicus; I can’t imagine an omnipresent God being literally separate from any place in existence. I always took Paul’s statement in Colossians that Christ holds the universe together, well, quite literally. If God’s not there to hold a tormented person together, the person will cease to exist, at least as a human.I have heard and read stories, biblical and in visions (one of which I personally received from God). from the image I received, I saw an friend from since middle school, and I knew she was unsaved. In the dream I saw her shape in darkness, but I was aware of pieces of shattered glass, that pierced through her, through every possible angle, and through every iota of her, so that it was almost like a solid block of glass that surrounded and shot through her entire being. There was nothing in her that did not scream the most horrible pain, and so it was the voice of countless points of her body, screaming and all of those points together made a very magnified expression of the constant pain. Needless to say, I cried at the mental sight, and after that point continued my prayers for her salvation with greater urgency.Now this and all other apocalyptic dreams I’ve heard and read, could be, and most I say likely are, figurative illustrations rather than the literal image of the future Gehenna — I realize the possibility. Regardless, from these I get the image of pain to a level that is very difficult to describe. I do not get the sense that it is necessarily separation from God, but it is certainly separation from parts of God that are pleasant. I’d say also, though without any (clear) Scriptural basis, that it is not separation, but very intense interaction with a terrible, wrathful God.

  3. To be completely honest, I cannot conceive of it. In the same way that heaven is completely beyond our perceptions of bliss, satisfaction, and joy; so, hell is beyond our most vivid imaginings of torment, pain, and anguish.
    I think this inability to properly conceive of it (because our minds are too small to comprehend it) — weighs into the enormity of the concept.

  4. My problem is trying to conceive of hell as a triumph of God–I mean, I get that God is just, so sin has to be punished, or He isn’t holy, and love isn’t love. It just troubles me to think that any beloved creation of God’s should be ruined forever–it almost seems like, in a way, sin still wins at least a little victory. He saved some from sin’s clutches, but still watches some beloved souls die. So far the only think I get that helps balance that is the fact that, really, yeah, they pretty much choose to be there. That’s the tragedy, that people are so foolish as to actually choose the suffering of being their own god over surrendering to the All-Sufficient One, the only source of joy, of belonging, of delight.

  5. BaptistDancer: I can see where you are coming from. However, sin doesn’t get the final say – God’s justice does. God’s justice says you have a chance to be forgiven and you chose not to.

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