Saturday, 12 June 2010

The Existence of Hell as a Sign of God's Mercy

Hell is a strange kind of mercy. Metaphysically, the turn to self, the choice to seek the wherewithal to sustain life within the self (which we call sin) rather than from the One Who in fact sustains our existence, ought naturally to lead to the dissolution of existence because it is impossible for that which is contingent to support its own existence. Hence sin and death are naturally linked.

By rights, therefore, the human race should have ceased to exist in the very moment of the Fall. But God in His mercy links the dissolution to time. So, whereas the turn to self ought to have caused us to instantly cease to exist, God has ordained that it should take time, leading from the corruption of the soul and body to their increased conflict and finally their separation in death.

But God never lets the process reach its natural conclusion- the end of existence. He allows the turn to self to extend itself so far, respecting our freedom thus far and no farther, never allowing its ultimate consequence.

This leads to a further question. What is achieved by the resurrection of the damned as well as the saved at the General Resurrection?


Matthias said...

My minister apparently for all of his evangelical protestant (Baptist) intent,refuses to preach on hell as being the result, as you say GAB of "the turn to self........its ultimate consequence."
,but instead says that Hell for some people can occur right now,and my feeling is that he does not preach as such for fear that he has people in the congregation,from non Christian or extreme fundamentalist backgrounds ,who may be alienated by such preaching. The way you have put Hell here,to me seems to be that at the resurrection of the damned,any who were in contact with him,and denied Jesus,may quite rightly say 'well we are eternally alienated now,why did you not preach about where we are going". I believe that the question around why the resurrection of the damned occurs is valid. why should they be resurrected and condemned again when they are already in eternal alientation from God? Perhaps there may be a judgement according to their works. i have never really thought about it this way. But i do not see God as being sadistic. Seeing as He is the Author of Grace,perhaps as Jesus said that Sodom and Gommorah would rise up in Judgement; that those who St Paul said knew not the Gospel but knew the Law,may there not be a diversity of judgements/eternal punishment/alientation? Perhaps my minister is right not to preach on Hell due to the complexity of the question raised ,however he had better have a good excuse,(just as I will need one),for NOT telling non believers what awaits.
I see the picture of Rembrandt's RAISING OP THE CROSS ,where he has painted himself as one of those raising the Cross and looking straight out at the observer ,saying "my sins put him here" and I find that that painting reminds me ,that my sins placed Jesus there and how can we neglect such a great salvation?

GAB said...

It is, as you say, a complex question. The doctrine itself is straightforward enough, but how to present it isn't. I can well understand why a minister or priest would shy away from preaching on it- the stereotype of the fire and brimstone preacher of yesteryear who ushered folks towards heaven out of fear of Hell, or the modern fundamentalist with a sign saying "God hates gays" leaps to mind, and one understandably wants to distance oneself from such things.

I do not envy those whose job it is to preach when it comes to such topics (and they do need to be preached about at some point- Hell is real). I think it can be done well. I have no confidence that I could do it well, but I think it can be done. (I'm reminded of the way Dante does it in the Divine Comedy, where at first he pities the damned but, gradually he and by extension the reader come to see that the damned have chosen to be there and it is their sin itself, rather than some arbitrary divine judgement, that keeps them there. C. S. Lewis does something similar in The Great Divorce). Probably one of those things not to be attempted by amateurs though.

I am intrigued by the metaphysical relationship between sin and death, which is what makes me wonder about the resurrection. The natural end of sin is for everything that constitutes the human person to be in conflict with everything else. Our passions begin to dominate our intellect, rather than being tamed by it. Our intellect becomes governed by imagination. Our will becomes chained to our emotions. The body rages against the soul and the soul rages back. Death makes sense as the ultimate consequence of that conflict, and hell as its natural end. So why would God reverse one of the consequences of sin (death) while allowing the person to remain in their choices (i.e. in Hell)? I have an idea that it might be some kind of eschatological thing (death must be conquered in all for "Where death is your sting?" to have any validity) but I'm not sure. It's an interesting conundrum.