I don’t like writing about Hell, for two basic reasons. First, Hell exists as an Absolute existence, a place and condition which is assigned by God Almighty after a Final Judgment; by definition a mortal being like myself cannot comprehend all there is to know about Hell and the resolution of souls, that would lead to such a consignment. Secondly, I have always found that the focus of a person’s attention can influence their thoughts, words, and actions. In that light, too much attention on Hell is not desirable. That said, there is reason to sort out the question of what Hell is and is not, and to prepare ourselves for what is to come.
While it is never completely wise to generalize, there seem to be four basic views of Hell, to my mind none of them quite satisfactory. The first version comes from the mostly Humanist perspective, to the argument that there is no Hell at all, that Hell comes from misunderstanding or the war against one’s self, and such contentions. To me, that position is faulty for a number of reasons. First, as a person who believes the Bible to be true, the many references to Hell and warnings to guard against ending there are hardly only moral stories or metaphors. Hell is real, and is to be avoided. But for those who do not accept the Bible, there is also the double whammy of consequences and of balance. What I mean is, for good to be rewarded, evil must be punished and vice versa. Therefore, there must be a Hell of some sort for evil doers. Also, it follows that if deeds have meaning, as I contend they do, then there is a consequence for them. If morality is true at all, then there is a consequence for evil, and that means that even if someone suffers no ill effects during their life, something is yet waiting for them. I cannot agree to the claim that there is no Hell.
The second contention is the opposite pole; that Hell is an eternal and terrible place, with no hope of end or solace. Granted, we’re talking about Absolutes, and if Heaven is a place of unending joy and peace and happiness, then Hell must fall to the dregs of existence, but again there are conflicts which must be considered. Revelation, not usually considered a happy book for sinners, notes that Hell itself will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, which certainly seems to indicate an end to the torment. Also, we again come to a question of consequence and balance. Many have questioned the justice in eternal punishment for finite acts, and deliberate torment for what is in many cases unintentional offense. What’s more, it is common sense to many people that if a man kills one person but then refrains from killing again, he is better than the man who kills and kills again. If the punishment for both men was identical, it could hardly be said to be just. I cannot, after thinking it through, accept that this second contention holds up to inspection.
So we move to the third and fourth contentions. The third basically accepts that hell is eternal, but grants differing punishments to those condemned. This is the stuff of Dante’s ‘Inferno’, but it is not really to be found in Scripture. Also, it gets really tricky trying on the one hand to be consistent, yet on the other to say that we should give different people different punishment for what appears to be the same sin. Difficult to accept that one, especially since we are left to sort out why a lighter punishment should be considered the product of a Merciful God, or a Just one, if it is eternal and allows no hope of reconciliation.
That brings me to the fourth case, which is like the third, except that there Hell exists only temporarily. The problem there is again Scriptural; while Revelation says Hell will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, it never says the sinners get out from hell first. And Daniel says, as does Matthew, that the shame and torment will be forever. Ow.
Then there’s the biggy for me. I’ve gotten to know lots of people in my life. Lots of mean, selfish people, but only a few really evil ones. And I’ve gotten to know some good folks, and some are amazingly good, clearly in line with the Lord. But I’ve never yet met anyone who I would say was completely Good, or completely Evil. We all have sins in our lives, though some are small and few, and we all have good in our hearts, so some have tried to bury it. I do not believe that God condones evil, or will allow it into Heaven, or that He will ignore or punish Good. So here’s what I think:
God will separate us, Good from Bad. Not saying the mostly-good people get in with the Good, and the mostly-bad in with the Bad, but that our Good and our Bad will be separated. And we choose which part we want to keep.
Not a perfect answer, but that’s what I think.