Revising a Revaluation

After being bombarded in the wake of my earlier post on Hell, I decided that it was necessary to take a moment to explain myself.  So, I shall list off the valid critiques I have received and try in earnest to respond to them, and thus clarify what was said in my earlier post.

Back to the depths!

1.  Hell as separation from God.

I think it’s fair to begin by saying that all of us understand that this is not to be understood as a physical or ontological (of the being) separation from God, as this is simply not possible.  And so, we are reminded that there are many different types of separation.  Allowing for this to be true, we accept that Hell might be an experiential separation from God.  This is true, to be unable to love is to feel separated from God, however it still doesn’t hold that this experiential separation is Hell.  St. John of the Cross felt this experiential separation from God, and it is indeed Hellish, but it isn’t Hell itself, thus I believe there is something else to Hell, the inability to love.  God is love, thus to be separated from God would make one unable to love.

2.  The Western tradition.

I am not ignorant of or hostile to the Western tradition.  The view of Hell I described in my post stems from the Church Fathers and is far from foreign to the Scholastics.  This being said, it is a more dominant view in the East than in the West, since the West has a lot of Protestant theologians (The West referring to ALL of western Christianity, not just the Roman Catholic Church) and has a strong cultural attachment to the literary version of Hell.  My intention with the post was to bring to light an Eastern view on Hell, that I think everyone can benefit from, not to discredit the West.

3.  The Descent into Hell

While there is much debate on the subject, the tendency of the Church is towards a belief in Abraham’s Bosom.  This being said, I still believe as Dostoevsky points out in “Crime and Punishment’ that the love shown by God is the source of suffering.  God is in Hell, because everything that exists does so because God allows it to do so and holds it in existence.  Thus, God is, in a very specific way, present to those in Hell.  Since God is present and He is love, He is loving them, and this is what Dostoevsky shows, through the example of Raskolnikov, to be the suffering of Hell.

I hope this has made things a little clearer.

About Ryan Adams
  • Mitchell

    Okay I’ve got another one for you,

    Why is the soul immortal?

  • Kim Kierkegardashian

    Just last Thursday I was discussing this topic while eating some Panera bread. I never say no to Pandara. I couldn’t help but notice that your argument could be compacted in a lovely way. If one were to consider the presence of God a musical note, those who could not love would feel a very real pain. Either the note is a wonderful “toot” or it is a painful “boot.” It is our choice whether or not the presence of God “toots” us or “boots” us. What do you think?

    • bill bannon

      Kim,
      If you have not received an award for that pseudonym, you should. Some reader will one day name their cat after it….but end up using Kierk as a nickname when no visitors are present.

  • Randy

    could it be possible that the actual experience of hell could be entirely different from person to person? custom made for each person perhaps?

  • Brian D

    Two comments (directed at both posts):

    (1) Lacking the capability to love–what are the limitations of the parable of Raskolnikov? “But this seems like an earthly sort of hell,” you write. True enough, and this demarcates the radical differences between Rasky and the hell-dweller. Admittedly, Rasky exhibits the wish to return love. Can we say the same for those in hell? Is there hatred in them? All this, of course, raises the question of how meaningfully anyone can speak about an “experience” of hell.

    (2) The Scriptures seem to imply a theory of retributive justice that we find very, very uncomfortable nowadays–in fact, taken in isolation, we consider our modern selves far advanced beyond it. Elephant in the room? Scripture says that God casts wicked, unrepentant people into hell; we say God doesn’t do that, but people cast themselves in. A contemporary re-imaginings of hell? Is the characterization of those in hell as experiencing the love of God, but not being able to return it, of the same sort? Perhaps what I’m suggesting and what you’ve taken great pains to explain, Ryan, are not incompatible. (I would maintain, at any rate, that the kind of justice I’m indicating could not be understood on “an eye for an eye” model, as if God is “getting back” at the wicked people.) But God casting people into hell? Talk about uncomfortable. Can we reconcile that with a God who is “love and mercy itself”?

  • Becca

    I thought your previous blog post about Hell was great. I know a little bit about the East so I wasn’t surprised at it. It has always made sense to me. It’s like saying the fire of hell is the fire of God’s love and that fire is painful to those who do not want God’s love. I think it is much more useful than telling people they’re going to get pitchforked for all eternity by little black imps and demons in a lake of fire.

  • Nana

    I would like to remark, that Dostoyevsky’s quote “What is hell?” I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” is from “The Brothers Karamazov”. One can find it in the “Notes of the Life of the deceased Priest and Monk, the Elder Zossima, taken from his own words by Alexey Fyodorovitch Karamazov”, in the short chapter „Of Hell and Hell Fire, a Mystic Reflection”.

    Zossima says that hell can be the pain of not being able to love or to accept love (and he explains this), but he adds that it can also be a chosen, a voluntary state for those, who “have cursed themselves, cursing God and life[…]” and “[…] burn in the fire of their own wrath […]”.


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