Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One way of interpreting hell

Hell is described in pretty awful terms in Revelation, but we must remember that it is described in other places as simply not being with God. 2 Thes 1:9 "Whose reward will be eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his strength".

I've noticed on forums that it's easier to criticise Christianity if you accept the 'Revelation' view of hell but it's not as easy if you accept the '2 Thessalonians' view.

Maybe Revelation talks about hell in such a terrifying way because doing so will ultimately get more people into eternal life? Proverbs 14:27: "The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death".

But if hell isn't all that bad then the Bible is being a bit deceitful about how awful it is. And if hell is awful, then why would anyone would choose to go there?

I think a good illustration of how people could choose to go to hell, and yet hell involves an eternity of suffering, was given in a Twilight episode called 'A Nice Place to Visit' (quoted from here):

"A two-bit thug, shot to death by the police, wakes up on the far side. Given his life of crime, he is puzzled to find himself in what he takes to be heaven: a penthouse of Pascalian divertissement has been provided for him in which he can sate his every sensuous appetite. The supply of booze and broads is endless, and he can't lose at the gaming tables. But soon enough our man tires of the 'good life' and heads for the door — which is locked. Turning to his host, the thug complains that he'd rather be in the other place. "This is the other place!" the host demonically laughs."

I think if we were forced to live with the happiness we have now for let's say... a trillion to the power of a trillion years, then eventually we would be weeping and gnashing our teeth in pain. The happiness we have now cannot sustain us for that long.

There is another interesting take on this in a quote from the science fiction novel 'Permutation City'. In it Greg Egan tries to imagine life as an eternal being:

"The workshop abutted a warehouse full of table legs – one hundred and sixty-two thousand, three hundred and twenty-nine, so far.  Peer could imagine nothing more satisfying than reaching the two hundred thousand mark – although he knew it was likely that he'd change his mind and abandon the workshop before that happened; new vocations were imposed by his exoself at random intervals, but statistically, the next one was overdue.  Immediately before taking up woodwork, he'd passionately devoured all the higher mathematics texts in the central library, run all the tutorial software, and then personally contributed several important new results to group theory – untroubled by the fact that none of the Elysian mathematicians would ever be aware of his work.  Before that, he'd written over three hundred comic operas, with librettos in Italian, French and English – and staged most of them, with puppet performers and audience.  Before that, he'd patiently studied the structure and biochemistry of the human brain for sixty-seven years; towards the end he had fully grasped, to his own satisfaction, the nature of the process of consciousness.  Every one of these pursuits had been utterly engrossing, and satisfying, at the time.  He'd even been interested in the Elysians, once. No longer.  He preferred to think about table legs."

The eternal existence of 'Peer' in this quote indicates what our existence might be like if it lasted forever.

Is there another kind of happiness and way of being? According to the Bible there is, which everyone can find in God's presence. Talking about eternal life, Romans 14:17 says "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit". So the happiness of heaven actually involves people experiencing God's happiness. This joy will make us complete and fulfilled forever, in a way that we have never known and literally cannot imagine (1 Cor 2:9: "However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'").

The catch in experiencing God's happiness is that it requires someone to want to live under God's standards, because we get it through the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17) - who is Christ's spirit. Since we experience God's contentment through Christ's spirit, we need to be willing to be 'in' Christ. As Galatians 2:20 puts it: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me". This is how close we need to be to God to experience His happiness. In Christ we can express our personalities however we want minus actions that treat others in a way we wouldn't ideally like to be treated.

And yet people can and it seems would choose to go to the 'hells' described above rather than heaven, if heaven requires entering into a state where we love and serve God with all heart, soul, strength and mind, and love and serve our neighbour as we would ideally like to be loved, which is God's standard (through trusting in Jesus' death on the cross for us).

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

heaven and hell are creations of our own mind. we wish to think that our unfulfilled desires are fulfilled in heaven. The idea of heaven is different for different people. For eg: people from hot countries believe that in heaven its very cold and snow will be there and in hell, there will be fire. the people from cold countries think the opposite.

Blogger Will G said...

In a lot of ways yes, but I would say that if the Christian heaven is worth going to (as opposed to being snuffed out of existence forever), then it must be something completely outside our ability to imagine. That is, the Christian heaven must be like e.g. imagining what it's like to be so smart you can think an infinite number of thoughts every second. So something totally outside our ability to even conceptualise or visualise at all. Otherwise, I believe the Christian heaven will be boring and not really worth going to.

I believe this also has support from the Bible as well as philosophical reflection:

1 Cor 2:9: However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"--

Anonymous Glenn said...

Nice blog you have here!

Interesting that you start out saying that Revelation describes hell. I think a lot of people think this within the evangelical Christian community (one that I identify with), but it's certainly not obviously true. Revelation describes something, but is it hell? I'm inclined to think not. Death (and hell!) are thrown into the lake of fire. This just means that God will defeat them. The beast (which represents an entire kingdom) is thrown into the lake of fire. This means that it will be gone, and God's kingdom will be all in all. The lake of fire seems more like a symbol for defeat.

I advocate what you call the 2 Thessalonians view of hell as the overall biblical one. In a three-part <a href="http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/2008/episode-005-its-one-hell-of-an-episode/" target="blank>podcast series on the doctrine of hell</a> I try to explain why I do so. It may be right up your alley. :)

Blogger Will G said...

Thanks Glenn!

Anonymous Stephanie James said...

This is a great blog. The opinion you present is very similar to that of C.S. Lewis...

The question of what hell is, in one respect, is irrelivent because it is assumed to be utterly miserable either way. The question I think is harder to answer is, how is God good while creating hell? How did he "know all things" and therefore know ahead of time (predestine) people to hell? How does God remain good while creating living thinking creatures to spend eternity in torment?

I'm not expecting you to be all knowing in that answer but it's a question a lot of people are posing and I wondered if you had any thoughts on it...

Blogger Will G said...

Hey Stephanie, thanks,

The question I think is harder to answer is, how is God good while creating hell? How did he "know all things" and therefore know ahead of time (predestine) people to hell? How does God remain good while creating living thinking creatures to spend eternity in torment?

This is a very important question. I attempted to answer it here:


So basically I would say that you can't make someone on the basis of how they will choose, even though you can predict their choice, for some reason. Because God says he wants "all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4) I think this makes the most sense.

Another attempt at answering it is here:



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