Springingtiger's Blog

A Chapter on Hell

So about Hell? It’s occurs to me that most people do not have any problem with Hell, the most religions believe in some form of continued existence after this life, it is only Christians and Muslims, and then not all Christians, who believe in eternal punishment. The name Hell drives from the Old English for a grave as a place of covering up or concealment.

Hell as a place of punishment came quite late to Judaism . Originally as in many other religions the dead were believed to go to be with their ancestors. As religions evolved so did beliefs about life after death. Because YHWY  was originally a sky god for Jews death meant separation from him because the dead went beneath the ground to Sheol. However Sheol was not originally a place of punishment , but merely of separation from the god of the living. In time Sheol was seen as a place to which one went temporarily pending resurrection; thus the Psalmist says , ” you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your holy one see decay . You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” and in Job we read,” I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the Earth and after my skin has been destroyed yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I and not another. Also in Isaiah 26 we find the prophet saying, ” but your dead  will live; their bodies will rise.”

Atheists have no fear of hell because they do not believe in it, just as they do not believe in God. Christian Conditionalism teaches that eternal life is predicated upon belief in God, so anyone who does not believe in God will be annihilated at death; therefore the atheist is correct not to fear hell, whether or not God exists, because for him hell will not. Only those who believe in God can go to hell.

In Hinduism and some eastern religions we find, instead of the belief in hell, a belief in reincarnation. Again in these religions there tends to be a place of temporary rest after death . Reincarnation underpinned by the doctrine of Karma; which briefly postulates that a person is responsible for their own actions and every action has a consequence, that rebirth enables them to restore any  imbalance in the universe which their previous actions may have caused. In Hinduism it is believed that each individual has a path which is right for them to follow, each individual has their own duty. If a person follows the correct path they will eventually be free of the cycle of birth and death . In Hinduism the individual is entirely responsible for their own lives and their own salvation.

Things are in some ways more complicated in Christianity. For many centuries Christians have been told that the only way to find salvation is through the church, but one must ask, “which church?”. Christianity is divided into many groups whose teachings differ one from another . What does appear to be common to all these groups is a teaching that salvation is exclusive to them. However it should be noted that Cardinal Murphy O’Connor in Two thousand and five expressed the hope that Protestants and nonbelievers are also destined for heaven, which, at the very least supports my assertion that the doctrines of religion evolve. St. John wrote, ” God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” There is nothing in that which suggests that one must be bound by the teachings of any particular group.

One of the problems of Christianity is the doctrine of Original Sin, which holds that because Adam sinned all humanity is condemned to hell unless God forgives them. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the means by which we are saved. There are several objections to this, quite apart from the one that the creation story is scientifically inaccurate. We need to be responsible for our own lives and our own choices; Original Sin takes from us our freedom , our free will , it replaces love with fear and makes it impossible for people to respond to God to from love. Sin is not an hereditary disease like syphilis that you get from your parents, but a free choice ; indeed sin may be said to be a matter of definition, what one person or one belief system considers sinful may be perfectly acceptable to another. Jesus over Nazareth acknowledge teach the doctrine of original sin , it is not until some five centuries after the death of Jesus event that a church council confirmed the doctrine as orthodox .

Personally I find questionable that a committee of interested parties can determine the will of God ; surely it is blasphemy for a human being to pretend to know what God is thinking or to be able to measure the power of God? If a ballot conducted by humans can determine the will of God it opens up that will to deal making and political interference. The Christian Church did not declare the belief in reincarnation heterodox until the Third Century. The confirmation of the doctrine of Original Sin is, when looked at, moor about factional squabbling than divine inspiration. The establishments of all religions have a vested material interest in controlling the beliefs of the people and this must be considered before accepting any form of religious rule.

The belief in eternal punishment denies that the nature of God is love. Love is given freely and requires an unconditional response, love shown to avoid punishment is not love, but merely a response driven by fear. Thus anyone who obeys the laws of any religion to avoid punishment cannot be said to love God; whoever drafts laws which impose conditions on God’s freedom to relate, to love, are committing the sin of placing barriers between a person and God. As Jesus said, “Wrote to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter will are trying to.” He goes on to heap condemnation upon condemnation on those who come between people and God, but he ends, not with eternal condemnation, rather with a promise, `I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

God is love and throughout history in every religion and every land there have been many who have approached him with the logic of love, the bhaktas of India, the Sufis of Islam and the mystical saints of Europe. It is a logic that knows that, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” It is a logic that says God is not bound by the laws made by men, even the leaders of religions and that love is greater than the law. It is this logic that gives rise to the belief in the eventual restoration of all things to the original state, Saint Gregory of Nyssa expressed it thus, “The annihilation of evil, the restitution of all things, and the final restoration of all things, and the final restoration of evil men and evil spirits to the blessedness of union with God, so that he may be `all in all´ embracing all things endowed with sense and reason.”  This does not mean that laws should be blithely cast aside, but they must be informed by love which is why Jesus summarised all the teaching of The Law and The Prophets, that is to say all of scripture into two rules, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind” the second is “Love your neighbour as yourself”. I know that some will argue that Jesus, in the parable of The Sheep and the Goats did say that those who did not show charity to others in need would go to eternal punishment; however he makes it clear that the rule is simply to love. Rather than fret about Hell it is simpler merely to love others and remember the words of Saint Isaac of Syria, “A handful of sand thrown in the sea, is what sinning is when compared to God’s providence and mercy. Just like an abundant source of water is not impressed by a handful of dust, so is the Creator’s mercy not defeated by the sins of his creations”.


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