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Part 1c: The Bible: Hell... and Heaven

I grew up steeped in heaven and hell. Getting into Heaven was easy, you just had to choose God before you died. Hell, on the other hand, was a scary place, a place of eternal torture. However, I was so confident that I was going to heaven that it only came up in my concern for my friends. Since I had few friends and fewer non-christian friends, I rarely had to think about this except for when it came up in chapel.

 What worried me the most about hell, was that people went to such a place because their friends didn’t love them enough to tell them about God. Such a concept hurt so much that I thought I should become a missionary when I grew up. Dedicate my life to helping people come to God.

 As I grew, I realized that I hadn’t the temperament and that God had given me too many other passions. I figured he must have a plan for me that involved things artistic. After all, he doesn’t give us abilities to be wasted.

 But I still stood by the concept of hell. When a liberal Christian tried to convince me that hell was an old testament concept, I prepared a detailed list of Biblical examples as to why it was Jesus who brought hell into being, and as it was a new testament concept, we ought to stand by it. After all, the unsettling, wrathful old testament side of God only sent people to Sheol – the grave. Besides, Jesus gave anyone who wanted, an escape from such a horrid place.

 However, with time and my growing belief settled on the idea that not only was god loving, but that he was deeply interested in each human on a personal level. In his Word, he said that it was his will that none of us should perish. He loved the world, and given all that he did for us, then he must give ample proof to people before they died. Though I thought many times, it must be on their deathbed, between their last breath and the grave. I came to believe that the people who demanded proof would be given it, and then they would repent.

 Of course, there were other verses that could contradict this, but the God I believed in would not allow loving caring people who just doubted to suffer an eternity. Even Lewis’ idea that Hell was just God giving people what they wanted was flawed. You can’t really give someone what they want if they don’t really know the options….

 I remember consoling my little sister who was in anguish about her best friend – an atheist – with these thoughts. I don’t think I convinced her, but I didn’t think it was God’s will for her to be in anguish over her friend as well.

 Of course, we prayed for our non-christian friends. After all, prayer was the most powerful thing on the earth, so I made sure that anyone I cared about, received some prayers for God to reveal himself to them, bless their lives and bring them into his loving place for their lives.

On a lower level, I understood that hell was used more as a manipulation tactic. I remember two weeks before an Easter, my church had a play. It was one of the emotional after death courtroom scenes with two friends. I'm sure  you've seen some variation of the skit. It's the one where its not works, but faith that gets you into heaven.

Afterwards, they instructed everyone to get out their phones and text/call and invite their unsaved friends to church next week, since they were going to have a repeat of the play.

I was livid. it was the most blatant form of manipulation I had witnessed. (at least, that I'd realized)
I had my revenge two weeks later, when on Easter, when they had nothing special arranged to try to convince people to choose God, we have more than double the salvations of the prior two weeks. See.. you can't force people to come to God, they'll respond to HIS calling, not your human manipulations....


In my mid-twenties a new concern started cropping up. Heaven. It was supposed to be an eternity of worshiping God.  I remember being on stage, when our praise and worship leader talked about how heaven was just an eternity of this…

 That day I was up there in obedience, not passion. (discussed more so later). The idea of an eternity of a praise and worship session bothered me immensely, as I realized that we humans do not do well with anything static, even ecstatic emotions. I talked to God a lot about this. I told him that I was certain he knew what would be a better heaven than I, but it really needed to have some sort of adventure, or it would be like… like those boring summer vacations in grade school when I didn’t know what to do because it seemed like I had read every book in the library. An eternity of that, even with God, really didn’t seem like.. heaven. I was certain I was missing something, but why would he make us so that we were most content doing something and going through change and variety, and then set us up to the same thing….

 But I figured He must know better than I. After all, He is God. Plus, we really didn’t have enough about heaven to lock into any one belief about it.



 Hell came back in the last battles for my faith. When my beliefs had altered enough that I would be better placed in a liberal church than the one I was part of. I remember a couple weeks where I was in mortal agony because I was afraid of hell. It was only once I went back through all of this, that I realized that the loving God I believed in wouldn’t send me to hell for not believing strictly. Not only that, but he would not send anyone to hell for just doubting. That would be cruel, and my God was not cruel.

After that.. I realized Hell itself was pure manipulation. It is like me taking a loaded gun and putting it to someone's head and saying, "I want you to choose to love me. But if you don't love me, I'm going to blow your brains out." No matter how many pies I make or how well I take care of them, I'm still holding a loaded gun to their head. I've effectively taken away their choice, unless they want to die.  

Thus a good, loving God will not use Hell. And more of the Biblical accuracy flutters away.

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There was a theme in Niven and Pournelle's Inferno (a fictional account of a science fiction author's journey through an updated Hell based on Dante's The Divine Comedy) that always struck me as rather moving. And that is the encounter with the psychologist, who was so desperate to get through to his catatonic patients that he put them in a hot box and slowly raised the temperature until they screamed to be released. The idea that Hell is God's hotbox, a ward for the theological insane if you will, that was rather philosophically intriguing.

Personally I think that Heaven and Hell are purely a matter of the company that you keep, in this life or any other. Something exemplified in fact by the original The Divine Comedy.

A hotbox is still manipulative and torturous. A psychologist who cannot convince their patients without resorting to torture is no psychologist.

The Problem of Hell for me leads directly to the Problem of Evil, which Epicurus so eloquently expressed:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?

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