Progressive Christian Channel
To Hell with Hell: Bye-Bye Board Game Metaphysics, Hello Fearless Christianity
Could I really imagine that a Creator had gone to such trouble to create a universe so complex and vast, only to damn eternally those whom he had granted his image?
The answer that kept coming back was: No.
Of course, a traditional belief in hell wasn't about to go by the wayside without some colossal mental arm wrestling. There were, after all, The Screwtape Letters standing in my way. And, of course, that most famous of youth group apothegms: "Satan's greatest lie is getting you to believe he doesn't exist." And all those bloodcurdling tracts discussed above.
One by one I shed them. And here I stand, with this to say:
To hell with hell. Infinite suffering, be damned.
Pause for possible incoming lightning bolt strike.
Let us continue.
Earlier this summer, former Archbishop Desmond Tutu drew quite a bit of attention when he said that he "would not worship a God who is homophobic". That's a pretty bold stand to take against an immortal, omnipotent being. If we lived in ancient Greece, religious media likely would have speculated that his Former Grace's rash words were enough to put him in line for being transformed into a shrubbery.
In reality, however, I believe Tutu was taking an axe of righteous indignation to a god created in the image of human hatred. A believer can engage in endless biblical criticism and survey, but at the end of the day, the mind itself, engaged in rational thought, is an incredibly powerful hermeneutical tool. Tutu, in my opinion, took a false god to the woodshed.
I find myself in a similar place. I am blazingly sick and tired of the manmade Masochistic Maker with his Lump-of-Coal Netherworld who has it out for the likes of Brutus and Cassius, Judas Iscariot, Adolf Hitler, and the billions of others who failed "to accept Christ" during their tenure on our Little Blue Planet.
Yes, evil is a problem. A big "problem," in the sense of a theological phenomenon. Yet theologians, like Nature herself, abhor an explanation vacuum. Just as the Old Testament Yahweh gave those grumbling, monarch-envious Israelites their King Saul, thus religious leaders and theologians through the ages have responded to the human desire to see that "people much worse than everyone else" get their just deserts.
Voila! Hell and the concept of ceaseless Sisyphean suffering in a sulfur sauna. (And enter Purgatory, as well, for theologians who believe that every soul deserves a second chance.)
But both sides of the afterlife coin, by their very definition, are unknowable.
Life is not a board game with cutesy tokens circumnavigating a cardboard plane, only a double-purple card removed from Candy Castle or Molasses Swamp. Divine Judgment, if there is such a thing, is in no way predicated on my belief about whether Heaven has Chrysoprasus orchards and Hell its Turkish tabasco baths. I trust God to judge my life's journey, and my soul's next step, with grace and mercy. And however the Creator of the Universe applies that same omnipotent understanding to others is none of my damned beeswax.
After all, what other choice do I have? All else is metaphysical masturbation.
Arik Bjorn is a writer who lives in Columbia, South Carolina. His educational background includes archaeology, ancient languages, and biblical studies. He has run the gamut of Christian experience, from Evangelical to Orthodox catechumen to live-in Episcopalian sexton to Roman Catholic. Follow Arik on Twitter @arikbjorn and on Facebook.