Don’t the folks who doubt hell long for justice? Have they no empathy for the victim? Don’t they get upset and angry about the bad guys who get away with it? Don’t they feel righteous anger at the fat cat banker who has been ripping people off legally his whole life and dies peacefully in his bed surrounded by his family and friends? Don’t they get annoyed by the dictators and genocidal maniacs who slip away and retire to their beach hideaway? Don’t they get mad at Catholic priests who’ve abused little boys who get away with their crimes because a corrupt official covered up for them? It sure makes me mad, and I think it makes God mad too. If we can feel righteous anger that should be a glimpse of what God feels too–only more so.
Too often, however, the picture is given that God is some sort of petty tyrant–a spoil sport of the worst kind. But is God such a nice middle class polite intellectual that he would not be angry enough to send anyone to hell? What if God were more like a passionate and hot-tempered Mediterranean papa? That is not to say that God is petulant and petty. He isn’t angry with wickedness the same way our fifteen-year old is angry, so he refuses to tidy his room. God does not slam the door and stamp his foot. Neither is God angry the way we are when we don’t get our way. He does not sulk, dish the ice and then pretend nothing is wrong. If God is angry with the wicked it is not because he is an arbitrary and babyish tyrant who loses his temper when is disobeyed.
What if, instead, God’s anger is the sort we feel when we hear of a young boy being abducted, raped, killed and chucked into a ditch? What if God’s anger is the sort of anger and revulsion you feel when you see a young African woman whose hands have been cut off by rampaging soldiers, and who cannot cuddle the child those same soldiers gave her when they raped her? What if God’s anger is the disgust you feel when you hear of a dowager who leaves her vast estate to her poodles, in a world of starving children? When you hear such news don’t you respond with an element of rage as well as disbelief, horror and grief? Aren’t you righteous to do so? Perhaps God is angry at the wicked in the same way. He sees the everlasting beauty of goodness, the vibrant potential of each human being and the stunning radiance of his creation and when it is soiled, trampled, raped and chucked into a ditch by humanity’s folly, greed, stupidity and violence he is full of fury, frustration, sorrow and compassion.
Does that mean God would cast someone down into hell to be tortured forever? Perhaps this too, can be seen the other way around. Is God too good to send someone to hell? It could be that God is so good that he actually gives everyone exactly what he or she wants. If we have spent our whole lives pursuing love, goodness, beauty and truth, then after death we may get exactly what we always wanted and find ourselves in a land where love, goodness, beauty and truth are as natural and abundant as light. On the other hand, if our whole lives are spent in an insane flight from all that is good, beautiful and true, then perhaps God in his goodness will also give us exactly what we always wanted; and that would be existence in a madhouse with no exit where love, beauty, goodness and truth were unknown: an existence in the outer darkness with gibbering maniacs like ourselves.