The Refiner’s Fire: The Place of Hell in Judaism’s Sister Religion

 

The same man who wrote this blissfully mournful setting of “Hear my prayer, O Lord” also wrote an annoying little ditty which begins, “I attempt from love’s sickness to fly in vain, / Since I am myself my own fever and pain.” Despite the musical love present in the former composition and lacking in the latter, the words of the latter are expressive enough: love, whether sacred or profane, is a fever whose cause isn’t incidental, its cause is you – who you are and what you love.

That might be a strange way to begin any theological musing, no matter how speculative. But bear with me. Judaism and Christianity are sister religions, springing from the same source. To put it in the driest of secular terms, Jesus was an apocalyptic Jewish teacher. Not all Jews believe in an afterlife, but among those who do, this description of its punishments that @susanquinn shared with me seems fairly standard. This essay of sweeping scope by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan also contains several illuminating passages. Both writings describe Gehenom, hell, as a cleansing, either of the “dirt” of our sins (like socks getting “punished” in a washing machine) or of the “static and jamming” that reduces our awareness of our sins’ rightful shame. In neither description are sinners “sent to a different place” from the righteous. Rather, all souls go to the same “place”, and what makes it heavenly or hellish is the state of each soul experiencing it – how “dirty” it is, how much it still has to be ashamed of. As Peter Kreeft, a once-Calvinist Catholic theologian, put it, “In reality, the damned are in the same place as the saved—in reality! But they hate it; it is their Hell. The saved love it, and it is their Heaven.” Still, descriptions of hell as cleansing – as purification which educates the soul for God’s presence – ought to remind Christians more of Catholics’ conception of purgatory than the Christian descriptions of hell most of us are familiar with.

Hell is, after all, described in the New Testament as the place where “their worms do not die, and the fire is never quenched.” “Repent or perish,” we are admonished. And this perishing isn’t just physical death or blissful oblivion – no – but agonizing wormy flames of flaming judgment – forever! Because “the fire is never quenched”, those worms remain stubbornly alive. That same passage continues, “For everyone will be salted with fire.” So the wicked – scratch that, make that everyone – will be salted with fire. Fire is meant to season all of us, through which fire some of us, presumably, are in fact redeemed. This fire, moreover, is the fire of love:

A “choice of pyre or pyre”, redemption “from fire by fire” makes it sound as if we’re dealing with two sources of ignition here, one heavenly and one infernal, and that’s often how we imagine it. Nonetheless, it’s common among Christian theologians to doubt that this division is literal. Love burns. Christian mystics seem to agree on that. Love’s the fever you can’t evade because who you are and what you love is its source. The only way to break the fever is to repent of the love. Only, if the God calling us to repentance is the God Who Is Love, we can’t be called to repent of all love, just unworthy love. That leaves saints and sinners alike in an afterlife where we all burn. Quite apocalyptic, as befits the apocalyptic religion Christianity in fact is. Kreeft again:

Though the damned do not love God, God loves them, and this is their torture. The very fires of Hell are made of the love of God!… If God could stop loving the damned, Hell would cease to be pure torture. If the sun could stop shining, lovers of the dark would no longer be tortured by it. But the sun could sooner cease to shine than God cease to be God…The lovelessness of the damned blinds them to the light of glory in which they stand, the glory of God’s fire.

For He is like a refiner’s fire.” It’s not a bad end for the mystics among us, who yearn to burn unendingly with God’s love. It’s a bad end for our dross, though, and for unwillingness to love since unwanted love is a torment.

***

It’s conventional Western Christian wisdom – though I’ve never been sure it had solid scriptural basis – that our willingness to love God is fixed at physical death. To die unwillingly to love God is to remain forever unwilling to love God, hence in eternal torment. Of course, we can ask, “How unwilling is unwilling enough to count?” and so forth, but many Christians simply find it “obvious” that postmortem repentance is impossible.

That has not been obvious to all Christians, though. Not even to all Christians who are venerated as saints in the West. Among the saints venerated in the West as well as the East, we may count Gregory of Nyssa:

Some of us are purged of evil in this life, some are cured of it through fire in the after-life, some have not had the experience of good and evil in life here. God proposes for everyone a participation in the goods in Himself which Scripture says: ‘eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the minds of man’ [1 Corinthians 2:9]… The different degrees of virtue or vice in our life will be revealed in our participating more quickly or more slowly in the blessedness we hope for.

Isaac of Nineveh, venerated as a saint in the East but less well-known in the West, also considered hell (Gehenna) purgatorial rather than eternal. “I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love,” he wrote, and added that “Love’s chastisement is for correction, but it does not aim at retribution… The aim of His design is the correction of men.” “[W]ith Him it is not a matter of retribution, but He is always looking beyond to the advantage that will come from His dealing with humanity. And one such thing is this matter of Gehenna.” Perhaps most intriguingly, Isaac remarked, “Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you” and applied this logic to Gehenna: Gehenna is not an eternal condemnation for failure to repent before earthly death in order to satiate God’s “justice”, but is a means of redeeming souls.

***

Much of the usual Christian case for the eternity of hell hinges on the New Testament’s usage of the Greek word aiónios, the adjective form of aion, meaning “age” in the sense of epoch or era, and received into English as “eon”. Aiónios thus means epochal, age-enduring (Young’s Literal Translation translates it “age-enduring”), equivalent to the Hebrew olam. And yet it’s a longstanding Christian convention to translate aiónios as “eternal” when alluding to eschatological punishment, even if it’s not translated as “eternal” otherwise, and even though the Greek of late antiquity had a word for “eternal”: aidiois. Indeed, the biblical passages most typically cited to prove the eternity of hell rely on translating aiónios as “eternal”.

It’s possible Plato is to blame for all this:

[I]n stark contrast to its usage in the LXX and New Testament, Plato contrasts aion with time (chronos). Time, for Plato, is but a “moveable image of aionos,” and that of which time is an image is the unchanging, timeless realm of ideas, which transcends the ever-changing world we experience and perceive.

Given how much Christian scholars over the ages have valued Plato’s writings, it makes sense that they’d believe Plato’s usage of aiónios as timeless, eternal, unchanging, must be the best usage, even as they had no trouble translating aion and aiónios according to ordinary Greek usage where context clearly demanded it. The problem with eschatological speculation is that context doesn’t clearly demand it – cannot clearly demand much of anything, really. Age-enduring could be a literary way of saying “eternal”, after all; the possibility cannot be ruled out – see, for example, Matthew 25:46 (though what happens if a soul became righteous through the punishment?). And as Kallistos Ware noted, if age-enduring is not meant to mean “eternal”, why couldn’t the New Testament have been clearer on this point? Ware also notes that, along with the “hellfire” verses, we find other verses suggested total reconciliation: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ will all be made alive.” “God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” “That God may be all in all.”

This leaves the nature of Christians’ postmortem relationship to the refiner’s fire ambiguous. If we accept that it is written that some find this fire endless, hopeless torment, then that by itself would call the possibility of postmortem repentance into question: why would rational creatures permit themselves to be tormented for all eternity if they were still capable of mending their ways? Yet merely asking that question cannot foreclose the possibility that the torment may be repentance leading to heaven.

Perhaps it’s wisest not to speculate. Whether eternal or not, “agonizing wormy flames of flaming judgment” don’t sound fun. Especially if they’re “age-enduring” – which may not be eternal, but certainly doesn’t sound short! Bishop Kallistos Ware of the Orthodox Church answers the question “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?” with a cautious “yes”, emphasizing the speculative nature of such questions. Conservative Christians often seem to worry that answering “yes” to such a question discourages proper fear of God’s judgment, though, as if an age of torment during which wayward souls were painstakingly refined simply isn’t enough.

***

At some point, it’s hard not to ask, though, who is the threat of eternal damnation for?

It’s not for doubters since doubters’ doubts give them no reason to believe the threat in the first place. No, it’s only a threat if you already believe eternal damnation is a real possibility. Christians who feel compelled to believe that their religion teaches eternal damnation often admit that they find the belief crushing, that they only make themselves believe out of obedience. Belief in something less for its own sake than to demonstrate a virtue like obedience could uncharitably be called “virtue signaling”.

More charitably – and we should be more charitable – Christians know they’re expected to make sacrifices for their faith, and sacrificing the trust that an all-loving God who came to redeem all will redeem all is an obvious – and poignant – sacrifice to make: it’s a shard of reproach and despair embedded in the heart of the hope Christianity offers, a means of preserving the tragic vision in the face of a hope that “seems too good to be true”.

While I maintain it’s not necessary for a Christian to believe in eternal postmortem punishment in order to preserve a proper sense of the tragic, I do understand the tragic appeal of believing that God’s love is a fire damning some to eternal torment.

***

And yet as much as we may fear the eternal torment of this fire, Christians look forward to being burnt. “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind.” That “try” means “try by fire”, also translated as “melt” or “burn”. Throughout Scripture, we meet God as fire – a consuming fire, as a fire that burns without consuming, as a refiner’s fire… Isaiah is unusually blessed for having been set upon by seraphs, literally “burning ones” (seraph is used most often in the Old Testament to describe venomous snakes – and more fantastically, dragons – presumably because their venom “burns”), who singe him with burning coal, thus taking away his sin. Pascal had his Night of Fire. And so on.

One St Simeon recorded,

Thou who art a Fire, consuming the unworthy, consume me not, O my Creator; but rather pass through all my body parts, into all my joints, my reins [mind], my heart. Burn thou the thorns of all my transgressions, cleanse my soul, and hallow thou my thoughts… chasten me, purify me, and control me; adorn me, teach me, and enlighten me. that from me, thy habitation, through the entrance of thy Communion, every evil deed and every passion may flee as from fire,

as a post-Communion prayer of thanksgiving. In this prayer, fire consumes the unworthy, but specifically the unworthy in each person, concentrating and intensifying what is worthy. Such prayers are commonplace, traditional, not esoteric: it takes no more than basic biblical literacy and a fervent heart to make them.

Christians teach that Jesus came to set the world on fire: the God-Man, whose will is all-redeeming love, wills all to be set ablaze, not just the wicked.

We attempt from Love’s presence to fly in vain, for God wills that we’re our own fever and pain.

for @manny


Image is from John Newton’s hymn, “I asked the Lord that I might Grow”, the writer of “Amazing Grace”. “I asked the Lord that I might Grow” was written during a time of trial in Newton’s life, when his collaborator on the Olney Hymns Collection, William Cowper, went mad.

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  1. Viruscop Member
    Viruscop
    @Viruscop

    I would not call the Jewish view of the afterlife that is presented here the mainstream Jewish view. I’ve heard of it, but I don’t know where it originates. The canonical books of Judaism certainty say nothing about it, so I’m inclined to believe that it’s some strange concept created out of Rabbinical Judaism. While Rabbinical Judaism is by far the dominant sect of Judaism today (if not the only sect around today), I would not say that the concept of Gehenom is accepted by a majority of Jews.

    • #1
  2. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    The Torah does not mention an afterlife at all. We are commanded to make our choices in life, and for the sake of this world. So whether there is (or is not) an afterlife is almost besides the point: it is what we do in life that matters.

    I think focusing on an afterlife becomes a copout that people use to justify inaction and wallowing during their actual lives.

    • #2
  3. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    The refiner’s fire that you speak of is more or less the place I call The Mercy Seat, where God allows us to go through certain situations to refine us. He may be quiet as we struggle, he may send us help in mysterious ways, it may be of short duration, or longer than we feel tolerable, but it is never to be mistaken for hell. Once we die, Hell is final, not a place of refinement.

    Catholics speak of purgatory, but hell is hell.  – “Pray for the souls of sinners – many go to hell because there is no one to pray for them”.  That was on a plaque at a place called Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Holliston, MA.  When I lived in MA, it was a place of sanctuary for me and my friends. I loved to walk it , light candles, so peaceful.  Thank God for mercy and grace.  PS – I consider Jews my older brothers and sisters – the Old Testament is as important as the new.

     

     

    • #3
  4. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    I heard or read a story about a Catholic saint-can’t remember what her name was-who questioned God about hell. She just could not believe that God would send people to hell forever; she begged God to allow her to take someone in hell into heaven. God agreed to let her do this, so she went into hell, grabbed the first person she saw, and dragged him into heaven. He screamed the whole time, and begged to be sent back to hell. “No torture could be worse than being immersed in love when everything within me is hate.” is what he said, basically-can’t remember the exact quote. That story seems somewhat in line with the idea that all souls are immersed in love, and that some feel they are in heaven and others feel they are in hell, but all are really in the same place.

    • #4
  5. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Though the damned do not love God, God loves them, and this is their torture. The very fires of Hell are made of the love of God!… If God could stop loving the damned, Hell would cease to be pure torture. If the sun could stop shining, lovers of the dark would no longer be tortured by it. But the sun could sooner cease to shine than God cease to be God…The lovelessness of the damned blinds them to the light of glory in which they stand, the glory of God’s fire.

    MFR,

    How does the above relate to Pascal’s wager? Also, would a Bayesian view Pascal’s wager differently than those who only acknowledge conventional probability?

    Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas they stand to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).[2]

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #5
  6. Merrijane Inactive
    Merrijane
    @Merrijane

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: That has not been obvious to all Christians, though.

    Yes, Mormons have a different conception of hell. Well, I guess more accurately, we have multiple definitions of the term “hell,” just as we have multiple definitions of the term “salvation.”

    • #6
  7. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    This interpretation is tempting, but not easily squared with verses like Matthew 7:21-23

    21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

    This tells us 1) Hell is eternal for at least some people, and 2) It cannot be said that those who will be in hell willingly prefer it to heaven, as Jesus is stating he will turn people away because of their lack of goodness in life.

    I don’t think this is simply challenging to square, I think it’s fatal to your premise.  I don’t prefer it to be.

    • #7
  8. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Viruscop (View Comment):
    I would not call the Jewish view of the afterlife that is presented here the mainstream Jewish view. I’ve heard of it, but I don’t know where it originates. The canonical books of Judaism certainty say nothing about it, so I’m inclined to believe that it’s some strange concept created out of Rabbinical Judaism.

    Could be. Even in the New Testament, it’s not super clear that what references there are aren’t figures of speech. When Christianity split from Judaism, it took some ideas-not-obviously-in-the-Tanakh along with it.

    iWe (View Comment):
    I think focusing on an afterlife becomes a copout that people use to justify inaction and wallowing during their actual lives.

    Many Christians argue, though, that if there is no eternal reward, what’s the point, and why should people try? Either way, it sounds like someone is worried that not having their belief might lead to a less-motivated life.

    Having had episodes of high motivation in my life, and other episodes where I struggled with motivation, I’m inclined to be skeptical that belief about the existence of the afterlife strongly drives motivation in any particular direction. Either arrangement can admit an achievement-oriented worldview, and even an achievement-oriented worldview can backfire (just one example: guilt over failure to achieve may leave one feeling unworthy of achievement).

    • #8
  9. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Even in the New Testament, it’s not super clear that what references there are aren’t figures of speech. When Christianity split from Judaism, it took some ideas-not-obviously-in-the-Tanakh along with it.

    I think both religions, in various ways, were influenced and even contaminated by ideas that came from Greek, Babylonian and other pagan religions. Connections to the dead, for example,   are especially important in those cultures, and strictly forbidden in the Torah.

    • #9
  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    MFR,

    How does the above relate to Pascal’s wager?

    Pascal’s wager is intended to dress up religion in utilitarianism, offering a spike of positive utility (reward) on the one hand, and a spike of negative utility (punishment) on the other. Given a particular probability p, no matter how small, you can find a finite reward that makes betting p will happen exceed a fair gamble by enough to make taking a chance on p worth it. You could also find a finite punishment that’s so bad that even a small chance of incurring that punishment is worth avoiding, if you can. So even without being infinite, a person could judge hell nasty enough to be worth avoiding at pretty much any cost.

    But utility can be a nebulous thing when we’re not talking blackboard economics, and people differ on what they consider “utile”. If someone is made anxious precisely by their feeling that they just don’t know whether they’re leading a worthy life, the prospect of hell might not seem so terrifying because, at least if God sends you there, you finally know – you’re no longer haunted by a maddening Schrödinger’s Guilt – “Do I deserve terrible things or don’t I?” A person whose sole concern was that God’s justice be satisfied would likewise be satisfied to end up in hell, as long as that person also trusted God’s justice: “God’s justice cannot err. I’m in hell, so God’s justice must be satisfied with this, so everything is as it should be. I’m fine.” Either line of reasoning is one I know real humans are capable of, but they’re highly idiosyncratic. Preferences can be highly idiosyncratic, though.  People in general tend to share overall trends in their preferences, but framing religion just in terms of preferences is an odd fit.

    At the very least, it seems reasonable to wonder whether those who’d explain their belief in terms of postmortem utility also have other reasons for believing.

    • #10
  11. Viruscop Member
    Viruscop
    @Viruscop

    iWe (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Even in the New Testament, it’s not super clear that what references there are aren’t figures of speech. When Christianity split from Judaism, it took some ideas-not-obviously-in-the-Tanakh along with it.

    I think both religions, in various ways, were influenced and even contaminated by ideas that came from Greek, Babylonian and other pagan religions. Connections to the dead, for example, are especially important in those cultures, and strictly forbidden in the Torah.

    Well, hold on a minute. The Jewish canon includes the story of Saul and the ghost of Samuel. Granted, it is not depicted as something that God would approve of, but the idea predates Hellenistic Judaism and the exile in Babylon (I think).

    • #11
  12. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    MFR,

    How does the above relate to Pascal’s wager?

    Pascal’s wager is intended to dress up religion in utilitarianism, offering a spike of positive utility (reward) on the one hand, and a spike of negative utility (punishment) on the other. Given a particular probability p, no matter how small, you can find a finite reward that makes betting p will happen exceed a fair gamble by enough to make taking a chance on p worth it. You could also find a finite punishment that’s so bad that even a small chance of incurring that punishment is worth avoiding, if you can. So even without being infinite, a person could judge hell nasty enough to be worth avoiding at pretty much any cost.

    But utility can be a nebulous thing when we’re not talking blackboard economics, and people differ on what they consider “utile”. If someone is made anxious precisely by their feeling that they just don’t know whether they’re leading a worthy life, the prospect of hell might not seem so terrifying because, at least if God sends you there, you finally know – you’re no longer haunted by a maddening Schrödinger’s Guilt – “Do I deserve terrible things or don’t I?” A person whose sole concern was that God’s justice be satisfied would likewise be satisfied to end up in hell, as long as that person also trusted God’s justice: “God’s justice cannot err. I’m in hell, so God’s justice must be satisfied with this, so everything is as it should be. I’m fine.” Either line of reasoning is one I know real humans are capable of, but they’re highly idiosyncratic. Preferences can be highly idiosyncratic, though. People in general tend to share overall trends in their preferences, but framing religion just in terms of preferences is an odd fit.

    At the very least, it seems reasonable to wonder whether those who’d explain their belief in terms of postmortem utility also have other reasons for believing.

    MFN,

    Just for clarity. So a Bayesian approach won’t change anything it’s still a utilitarian argument.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Fascinating post, Midge. Thanks!

    • #13
  14. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Frank Soto (View Comment):
    This interpretation is tempting, but not easily squared with verses like Matthew 7:21-23

    21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

    This tells us 1) Hell is eternal for at least some people, and 2) It cannot be said that those who will be in hell willingly prefer it to heaven, as Jesus is stating he will turn people away because of their lack of goodness in life.

    It says merely acknowledging Christ as master and boasting of what we’ve done in Christ’s name is not enough, and that Christ rebukes this in the most insulting terms (saying He, who is God, and knows us best, doesn’t know us at all). God desires more than this. On the other hand, Jesus also rewarded those who persisted after insulting rebuke.

    It’s pretty common to sense God has forgotten you, treats you as a stranger, has condemned you, sent you away in shame, or turned his face from you. The same lesson that includes this rebuke also includes, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Are we to keep asking after God rebukes us for being dogs, no children of his, ones he doesn’t even know? …Maybe? 

    Sometimes Jesus said anyone who knocks will find the door opened. Other times that there may come a point when it stays shut. The worry, “What if it’s too late?” seems meant as a salutary one, and it’s not salutary if it excludes the hope that perhaps it may not be too late. (Anyone who’s had such a worry without any hope that it’s not too late knows how pernicious it can be.)

    I’m not sold on the description that “those who will be in hell willingly prefer it to heaven”. It is, however, a common-enough description coming from learned men who do hold fast to the doctrine of hell being inescapable. I can see where it comes from: if the door is open to any who knock, then those for whom the door remains shut forever must never knock. It illustrates the perceptual nature of hell, though – that it’s about the soul’s condition to receive God, rather than a geographical place.

    • #14
  15. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen
    @tommeyer

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:Bishop Kallistos Ware of the Orthodox Church answers the question “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?” with a cautious “yes”, emphasizing the speculative nature of such questions.

    At @midge‘s recommendation several weeks back, I this and commend it to everyone as an uncommonly beautiful essay. I’m not sure I was convinced by it, but I was moved.

    • #15
  16. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    An immortal life spent within the material universe, with all sensation intact, but no ability to communicate with anybody, no gravitational attraction, and no locomotive ability, seems to meet all the normal criteria for Hell, if you ask me.

    Firstly, you’d watch the Earth fly off on its orbit around the Sun, and you’re left floating in your spot in the frigid emptiness of space.  Near absolute zero in a vacuum would really hurt.  You have the sensation of freezing and suffocating and pressure, but you don’t get the sweet release of death.

    Then, over time, the solar system would fly off on its orbit around the Galaxy, leaving you floating in interstellar space.  The feeling of solitude just gets worse.

    Then, over time, the Galaxy itself would fly off on its orbit around the Universe.  Feeling of solitude just gets worse and worse and worse.

    Then, thanks to entropy, even the distant stars start to wink out of existence, until finally you’re stuck alone to endure eternity in the heat death of the Universe.

    Trillions and trillions and trillions and trillions of years with no relief ever.

    What need is there for a separate Hell?

     

    • #16
  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Misthiocracy (View Comment):
    An immortal life spent within the material universe, with all sensation intact, but no ability to communicate with anybody, no gravitational attraction, and no locomotive ability, seems to meet all the normal criteria for Hell, if you ask me.

    Firstly, you’d watch the Earth fly off on its orbit around the Sun, and you’re left floating in your spot in the frigid emptiness of space. Near absolute zero in a vacuum would really hurt. You have the sensation of freezing and suffocating and pressure, but you don’t get the sweet release of death….

    Some say the world will end in fire,

    Some say in ice.

    From what I’ve tasted of desire

    I hold with those who favor fire.

    But if it had to perish twice,

    I think I know enough of hate

    To say that for destruction ice

    Is also great

    And would suffice.
    – R Frost

    That certainly sounds hellish, Misthi. Though it does pose some questions.

    How would anyone, immortal or not, maintain awareness at such low temperatures? If you can feel pressure and so forth, you must be made of matter, so how come you can’t succumb to gravitational attraction? And how the heck did you get into the vacuum of space anyhow? – you hint it might be by “staying in place” after the earth flies off, but how?…

    I can’t quarrel with the hellishness of this sci-fi version of Tithonus though. ;-)

    • #17
  18. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    How would anyone, immortal or not, maintain awareness at such low temperatures?

    Really, that’s the plot hole you’ve discovered in this scenario?

    ;-)

    • #18
  19. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    iWe (View Comment):
    The Torah does not mention an afterlife at all. We are commanded to make our choices in life, and for the sake of this world. So whether there is (or is not) an afterlife is almost besides the point: it is what we do in life that matters.

    I think focusing on an afterlife becomes a copout that people use to justify inaction and wallowing during their actual lives.

    Yes, that’s what I’ve always understood, thank you @iwe.   In the OT the worst thing God will do to you is shorten your days upon Earth, maybe in an awful, painful way like Aachen, but then that’s it, He doesn’t hound you down eternity.

    And also, see Elaine Pagels–there is no devil in the OT.

    But I understand that inJesus day there were Jewish sects that were developing the belief in afterlife, under the influence of other religions in the polyglot Roman  empire.  The Pharisees were one.  And I think Jesus may have had Pharisaical training.  Otherwise, when they asked him the question about which of his serial wives a man will be married to in Heaven, whyn’t didnt he just say, “What’s Heaven?” Instead of answering that marriage doesn’t exist there.

    • #19
  20. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Fear can be good and necessary. Fear of God is encouraged throughout the Bible. It is the safety net which catches us when our devotion fails. It is the awe which saves us from pride. It is a reminder that the Lord is both just and merciful. It the response of a limited being to a limitless Creator too great to be boxed within the boundaries of human knowledge and understanding.

    Hell is not Purgatory. That has been unbroken dogma for millenia, not merely a point of theological musing.

    If one trusts in private revelations, the most prominent are the apparitions of Mary. At Lourdes and Fatima, Christ’s holy mother showed the children — children! — Hell before she showed them Heaven. Thus has been Christian tradition since the beginning, this fear of Hell. It is necessary.

    Christ spoke often of Hell as a threat and not as a cleansing fire. He likened it to Jerusalem’s place for burning waste, rather than to the fire of a forge.

    It’s okay to wonder, but rejection of Hell’s finality is rejection of free will. It presumes that no will can ultimately resist the beautiful invitation of God’s love. It presumes that no personality can be generally cemented in a chosen order, but rather that we are fluid beings ever changing.

    There is more to faith than the Lord’s mercy.

    • #20
  21. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Hypatia (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    The Torah does not mention an afterlife at all. We are commanded to make our choices in life, and for the sake of this world. So whether there is (or is not) an afterlife is almost besides the point: it is what we do in life that matters.

    I think focusing on an afterlife becomes a copout that people use to justify inaction and wallowing during their actual lives.

    Yes, that’s what I’ve always understood, thank you @iwe. In the OT the worst thing God will do to you is shorten your days upon Earth, maybe in an awful, painful way like Aachen, but then that’s it, He doesn’t hound you down eternity.

    And also, see Elaine Pagels–there is no devil in the OT.

    But I understand that inJesus day there were Jewish sects that were developing the belief in afterlife, under the influence of other religions in the polyglot Roman empire. The Pharisees were one. And I think Jesus may have had Pharisaical training. Otherwise, when they asked him the question about which of his serial wives a man will be married to in Heaven, whyn’t didnt he just say, “What’s Heaven?” Instead of answering that marriage doesn’t exist there.

    Hypatia & iWe,

    Although the Torah does not directly mention the afterlife, Kabbalah, high Jewish mysticism, discussed it in depth for well over a thousand years (probably longer but harder to verify). What is interesting about this, is that the beforelife seems to be of much greater interest than the afterlife. Gd has created the universe intentionally with flaws. Specifically, these flaws are there so man can fix them. We are born into the world with our mission already set out for us by the almighty. While we can (in this world) we must do as many mitzvahs (good deeds) as we can. Once we are in the next world we can’t do any more mitzvahs.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #21
  22. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    @midge, my husband is always posing the question you do: if we remain sentient, conscious brings after death, why can’t we repent then?

    Oh but it isn’t hard to answer .  Since the 4th century the church as been about temporal power, control, and aggregation  of  wealth.   Who would give it earthly deference, who would submit to the burden if its structures, who would give it their lands, money, children–if they believed they could govern themselves, pursue their own comfort and pleasure here below, then make amends after death,  and enter eternal bliss?

    • #22
  23. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    @midge, my husband is always posing the question you do: if we remain sentient, conscious brings after death, why can’t we repent then?

    Hypothesis: There is no entropy in the afterlife.  As such, there is no time as we know it.  No causality.  There is only eternity.  How can one repent when there’s no such thing as past, present, or future?

    Repentance depends on the existence of entropy.  The statement, “I was wrong before but I know better now and will do better in the future” has no meaning in a plane of existence where time doesn’t exist.

    • #23
  24. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Christ spoke often of Hell as a threat and not as a cleansing fire. He likened it to Jerusalem’s place for burning waste, rather than to the fire of a forge.

    The place for burning waste is Gehenna, or Gehenom. In other words, the place Isaac of Nineveh and @susanquinn‘s source described as for chastisement and purification. It’s not that the fire isn’t threatening (it is), but that the threat is comparatively easy repentance now (which incidentally ought to help you live a more virtuous life in the here-and-now), or much more punishing repentance later. At least that’s how they saw it, and Gregory of Nyssa, too.

    Hell is not Purgatory. That has been unbroken dogma for millenia, not merely a point of theological musing.

    Of the major catechetical schools of Late Antiquity, the Alexandrian school held out hope of universal reconciliation, the Antiochene school was annihilationist (the damned simply cease to exist – they are “burned away” into nonexistence), and the school of Rome taught eternal damnation. Now, the school of Rome has been outstandingly influential, and if you’re a child of Rome, it makes sense to take its basic teachings as dogma. But these dissident interpretations are historically Christian, if now in the minority. Perhaps thanks, in part to some of Origen’s followers, who out of Origen’s humble speculation created an exceedingly odd dogma of their own, positing not just universal reconciliation, but the pre-existence of souls, that Christ was resurrected in the shape of a sphere, etc.

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    It’s okay to wonder, but rejection of Hell’s finality is rejection of free will. It presumes that no will can ultimately resist the beautiful invitation of God’s love. It presumes that no personality can be generally cemented in a chosen order, but rather that we are fluid beings ever changing.

    The argument that, the longer we persist in our habits, the harder they are to change, is a cogent one. Even if change isn’t literally impossible, but “merely” exceedingly difficult, slow, and traumatic, that’s reason enough to fear confirming oneself in the wrong habit. Humans are quite capable of fearing great punishments even when those punishments fall short of infinity.

    But I don’t see how rejecting Hell’s inescapability entails rejection of free will, rather than an extension of free will beyond the boundary of death. If you ask me, the worry that a heart may become so hardened, it becomes utterly incapable of reform, even after eons of correction, is a cogent reason to fear eternal damnation, but even this worry doesn’t preclude postmortem repentance, just makes the prospect of it bleaker. To worry that hearts may become irretrievably hardened isn’t incompatible with the hope that no hearts be this hardened.

    • #24
  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Misthiocracy (View Comment):
    Repentance depends on the existence of entropy. The statement, “I was wrong before but I know better now and will do better in the future” has no meaning in a plane of existence where time doesn’t exist.

    Entropy is a statistical-mechanical thing about how unlikely ordered states are compared to disordered ones. And I’m not sure if “frozen in time” is the right way to look at “eternal” in the religious sense. We presume these terms are all analogies to begin with; and if you take the literal-minded view that souls are “frozen in time” in eternity, the saints are gonna have an awfully hard time casting down their golden crowns before the glassy sea, and hymning “Worthy is the Lamb” and such.

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy (View Comment):
    Repentance depends on the existence of entropy. The statement, “I was wrong before but I know better now and will do better in the future” has no meaning in a plane of existence where time doesn’t exist.

    Entropy is a statistical-mechanical thing about how unlikely ordered states are compared to disordered ones.

    Exactly. It’s a statistical-mechanical property of the material universe, which is the place the soul no longer resides.

    And I’m not sure if “frozen in time” is the right way to look at “eternal” in the religious sense.

    I’m not an expert, but isn’t this essentially how Augustine of Hippo described “eternity”?  Like, for a mortal human, accurately contemplating “eternity” is just as impossible as accurately contemplating “nothing”.  We just can’t do it.

    We presume these terms are all analogies to begin with; and if you take the literal-minded view that souls are “frozen in time” in eternity, the saints are gonna have an awfully hard time casting down their golden crowns before the glassy sea, and hymning “Worthy is the Lamb” and such.

    Well, I’m not a big believe in the concept of saints in the first place, but that’s neither here nor there.  If a soul in Heaven looks down upon the four dimensions of the Material Universe in the same way that we see length, width, and breadth, they can presumably see all of material history all at once without the need to experience any passage of time from their own point-of-view.

    • #26
  27. Vicryl Contessa Thatcher
    Vicryl Contessa
    @VicrylContessa

    Lots of interesting views here. Good post.

    • #27
  28. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Misthiocracy (View Comment):

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    @midge, my husband is always posing the question you do: if we remain sentient, conscious brings after death, why can’t we repent then?

    Hypothesis: There is no entropy in the afterlife. As such, there is no time as we know it. No causality. There is only eternity. How can one repent when there’s no such thing as past, present, or future?

    Repentance depends on the existence of entropy. The statement, “I was wrong before but I know better now and will do better in the future” has no meaning in a plane of existence where time doesn’t exist.

    I don’t think the assumption that time doesn’t exist in the afterlife is reasonable.

    It implies a state of being that isn’t usefully distinct from not-being.

    • #28
  29. Pepe LePew Inactive
    Pepe LePew
    @PepeLePew

    Isn’t the doctrine that we’ll have a bodily resurrection on a renewed Earth? We’ll carry scars (and habits) just like Christ. But ask yourself, why does God ask we love him and our neighbors? Because that’s the exercise that will put us in the best position to live with God as did Adam and Eve. Would it be hell for some, a burning hate, to see their enemies alive and happy in such an Earth? If you can never love your enemies what will it be like to know they have a happy eternity ahead of them?

     

     

     

    • #29
  30. Bob W Member
    Bob W
    @WBob

    Misthiocracy (View Comment):
    An immortal life spent within the material universe, with all sensation intact, but no ability to communicate with anybody, no gravitational attraction, and no locomotive ability, seems to meet all the normal criteria for Hell, if you ask me.

    Firstly, you’d watch the Earth fly off on its orbit around the Sun, and you’re left floating in your spot in the frigid emptiness of space. Near absolute zero in a vacuum would really hurt. You have the sensation of freezing and suffocating and pressure, but you don’t get the sweet release of death.

    Then, over time, the solar system would fly off on its orbit around the Galaxy, leaving you floating in interstellar space. The feeling of solitude just gets worse.

    Then, over time, the Galaxy itself would fly off on its orbit around the Universe. Feeling of solitude just gets worse and worse and worse.

    Then, thanks to entropy, even the distant stars start to wink out of existence, until finally you’re stuck alone to endure eternity in the heat death of the Universe.

    Trillions and trillions and trillions and trillions of years with no relief ever.

    What need is there for a separate Hell?

    Right! The universe isn’t the work of the true God, but rather of the Demiurge. Look how pointless and hopeless it is! Turn to Gnosis for true salvation.

    • #30
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