Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Purpose of Hell

A few weeks ago, tragedy struck the nation when a shooter went into an elementary school and gunned down a bunch of young children and their brave teachers who were trying to protect them. He killed a bunch of innocent people and then turned the gun on himself, so the end result for him and his victims is exactly the same. This reality feels really shitty. I want that mother fucker punished! For the first time in a long time, I can really understand the appeal of the concept of hell. It would be know that someone who has caused so much pain is getting what is coming to him.

Of course, this only works if you don't think about it too much. Hell is not merely punishment, it is torture forever. Is justice really being done if this guy is still burning in a lake of fire a billion years from now? As much as there is a part of me that wants this guy to be punished, torturing him doesn't make things right, and the idea of him going through that makes me sick, even though he has done something unimaginably bad.

And then there is the mental health angle. Whether it was nature or nurture, this guy was clearly not right in the head. I think it is safe to say he either got a bad set of genes or he was severely damaged by a terrible upbringing (maybe both). In any case, had he survived I'm sure he would have to be removed from society in either a prison or a mental institution. But would it really be right for us to torture him? Even though there might be a part of us that wants to beat this mother fucker to a bloody pulp, I think we can recognize that we would be monsters if we actually went through with this action.


  1. Like you, there is times where I wish that Heaven and Hell did exist, I definitely understand how it is a major draw of why people find religion comforting, a sense of final justice, people getting what they deserve in the next life (for better or worse).

    What makes me snap back into reality is the fact that if the god of Christianity exists, what makes me think he would be just in the afterlife, if he isn't a just god in this life?

    I talked about this in depth on my blog sometime back:

    As for Adam Lanza, had he survived, I would have supported sending him into a mental institution for life instead of prison, it seems clear from the facts surrounding his life that he

    1. That's a really good point. If he had lived, the rational part of my brain would support him being institutionalized instead of simply punished.

  2. Such language! :-)

    I wish there was an afterlife more for the kids than for the shooter. I don't want revenge so much as letting the kids live out more of their life and ideally reunite with family. Too bad desire doesn't dictate reality.

    1. That's true, but the desire for heaven is something that I find pretty easy to understand. It's always nice to think people who had bad luck in life get rewarded in heaven. This was one of the few times when I can really understand the desire for there to be a hell, but of course, it only works if you don't really think about it.

  3. Of course, had the shooter lived, he could have had time to repent and give his heart to Jesus. Then there would be no eternal justice.

    As Shakespeare put it in Hamlet, words from Hamlet speaking of his disgust at his mother marrying his uncle so soon after his father died:

    "Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven. Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio."

    1. That's right, being able to repent after something like this really does make the whole heaven/hell thing that much worse. Even worse, I suppose he could have asked Jesus for forgiveness before he killed himself and still gone to heaven. And even if that doesn't work because suicide is against the law, if he had chosen suicide by cop he could still have made that work.

  4. How about this...

    Heaven and Hell exist, but not for the purpose of retribution or reward. Heaven is eternal existence in the presence of the divine expression of love and Hell is eternal existence in your own presence apart from that love. It seems to me that one of those would be sublimely fulfilling and the other would be abysmally empty.

    My experience (and that of some others) thinking about Hell for long is that Hell is the only place left when you absolutely refuse to let God be God. Remember the lie from the Garden "you will be as gods...".

    The requirement to spend eternity in one state or the other involves the willingness to give up our selfish claim to autonomy in the universe, i.e. bow the knee to Christ. Why must that choice be made in this body? I do not know, but maybe the fact that Faith, along with Hope and Love, will never pass away has something to do with it. Why will we still need Faith in eternity? I'm not sure but I suspect that has something to do with the fact that it will never get old - eternity is a very long time after all.

    As for the justice part the whole point of Christianity is that justice was done when Jesus the Christ was crucified once for all. The tragedy of Hell is that nobody has to go there, the price was paid. So yes, Mr. Lanza may yet be in Heaven (though I doubt it) and the teacher who sacrificed herself to save her students may not (though I doubt it).

    Why do I doubt it? Because outward behavior (imperfectly) reflects the inner man. Mr. Lanza's actions were supremely selfish just as Ms. Soto's actions were supremely selfless. God is a righteous judge and is not mocked.


    1. In the church I grew up in, hell was definitely eternal punishment, with visions of a lake of fire and torture and what not. I definitely had that in mind when writing this, but you bring up a good point that hell means different things to different people. If hell is not a place of torture, but instead a separation from God, it definitely changes things. I haven't really thought about that version of heaven/hell much as it is not what I grew up with and it doesn't seem to be the most common conception as far as I can tell.

      What about the "weeping and gnashing of teeth"? My recollection is that hell itself isn't mentioned much in the bible, but that phrase is used a few times. Would a simple separation from God cause weeping and gnashing? Don't know where I'm going with that, I just haven't thought about this version of hell much.


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