In Defense of Hell (Part III)

I. Some Practical Concerns
II.Some Logical and Moral Considerations

III.  Charting a Better Way Forward

Once the practical, logical, and moral implications of the conventional teaching about hell are grasp– firmly and in both hands, so to speak –those who would like to chart a better way forward should consider the following resources:

        • The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis.   Lewis does not deny eternal conscious torment, but seems to leave the door open to a more nuanced view.  In any event, this is a must read for every Christian and for every critic of the conventional teaching, Christian and non-Christian alike.
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        • Relevant selections from Letters VIII and IV of Meditations on the Tarot, by Valentin Tomberg.  Tomberg’s treatment of the subject is, without exception, the best that I have come across.  Readers are strongly advised to ignore any aspects of this book that they may find off-putting, focusing rather on the many jewels which they are guaranteed to find therein.
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        • A brilliant essay by Ananda Coomaraswami:  Who is Satan and Where is Hell This essay is written from a very universal point of view–both metaphysically and psychologically.  It is probably not for everyone, but is well worth the effort if for those who are willing and able to digest it.
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        • A recent and very relevant lecture by David Bentley Hart:  Is Everyone Saved? Universalism and the Nature of Persons… Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina, November 16th, 2018.  See also his talk, Is Hell Forever? Universalism and Creation…

Keeping in mind each of these approaches, together with the factors outlined above (and in the essay, Is the Doctrine of Hell Defensible?), it is my considered opinion that we, as Christians, probably should continue to utilize the traditional imagery of hellfire– in a very general way –while emphasizing whenever possible its symbolic rather than its literal truth and making it clear, in any event, that 1) God doesn’t send anyone to hell (they choose to go there) and that, 2) God does not reject anyone who truly repents (whosoever  will may come and drink of the water of life freely — the prodigal son is always free to return home).

At the same time– admitting how little we really know or understand about these matters –let us also acknowledge Conditional Immortality and Universal Reconciliation, respectively, as legitimate alternatives which should at least be considered alongside the doctrine of Eternal Conscious TormentThis will leave room for us to disagree in good conscience, while at the same time preserving the possible benefits of growing up with some exposure to the imagery of hell–which, at the very least, offers a vivid reminder of the tragic suffering and ultimate despair that tends to permeate the lives and relationships of those who neglect the grace of God and persist in self-absorbed, self-destructive patterns of thought and behavior.

Above all, let us take care that Children, especially, do not become terrified of God– so consumed by fear that they fail to appreciate the message of his love –and that, as teenagers (growing into young adults), they do not feel coerced to deny their basic intuition as to that which is just and reasonable in deference to dogmatic group-think.

It will be enough if they are exposed to the general idea of God’s justice and judgment– as well as his mercy and love –while, at the same time, being exposed to the range of beliefs about hell held by their friends and neighbors (many of whom may continue to defend the doctrine of eternal conscious torment).  In any event, no one should feel compelled live in denial of their natural repugnance at this doctrine in its most extreme forms (as, for example, in the aforementioned article: A Good Time Was Had by Some; or as presented in the rhetoric of Westboro Baptist Church, et al ).  And no one should be discouraged from trusting that, in the end– however much we may rightly (and necessarily) suffer along the way —all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well…

With the drawing of this Love
and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
~ T.S. Eliot

–> Is the Doctrine of Hell Defensible?

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