So lets talk a little about hell and how our view of it changes how we act out in mission. I started feeling my view of hell was incomplete during university, when questions were raised regarding the nature of eternal punishment. The purpose of punishment is correction, so how could God be into punishment forever? What's the corrective purpose in that? That's just God being nasty, and apparently, according to what God says about God, God's not supposed to be that mean.
So I kept my ears open for other views of hell. And at this point, there are three that bounce around in my head:
1. Hell as fire and eternal punishment. Basically what I just alluded to, a place that God comdemns you to.
The other two are more based on my choice, which makes more sense to me.
2. Hell as a place God sends those who desire to be there. I have heard it described in terms of being cast into "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth". Basically the idea is that God allows people to pursue in the afterlife exactly the path they pursued in life, the difference being that God completely withdraws his spirit from that place. Because in life, even the most screwed up, ugly situation benefits from the spark of light, which is the goodness of God, which works its way into every corner of creation. Even among those who reject God, any good thing they experience, any hint of friendship or tenderness, comes from the light of Christ. In hell that redeeming light is gone. Everyone is free to be as selfish as they desire, cruelty is unrestrained, making it, well, no party anyway.
3. This one is the most convicing to me, and it comes from Eastern Orthodoxy. In that version, when we die, we all go to be with God. But, as James Ferrenberg puts it,
some people are simply unable to experience heaven - that to them, God's love and truth is too much to bear. Lovers of darkness who cannot love the light...to them the light is hellfire.
So each person in their life makes a choice, to embrace the light or reject it, and that choice determines what your experience will be when you go to be with God. For those who have embraced it, it will be heaven, the fulfillment of all we have have hoped and longed for. For those who reject it, the light of God will be the very fires of hell.
C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle would even seem to suggest that it goes in degrees. There, the dwarves who just "sort of" embrace the light just "sort of" experience heaven. For them it is comfortable, but dull and boring. I wonder if that is what the apostle Paul means when he talks about getting into heaven as one "just escaping flames". Or maybe this is what the Parable of the Talents is talking about...
Anyway, there's one version I forgot. It's from Father Zossima in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov, and ties in with the number 3.
Fathers and teachers, I ponder, "What is hell?" I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love. Once in infinite existence, immeasurable in time and space, a spiritual creature was given on his coming to earth the power of saying, "I am and I love." Once, only once, there was given him a moment of active lifting love, and for that was earthly life given him, and with it times and seasons. And that happy creature rejected the priceless gift, prized it and loved it not, scorned it and remained callous. Such a one, having left the earth, sees Abraham's bosom and talks with Abraham as we are told in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and beholds heaven and can go up to the Lord. But that is just his torment, to rise up to the Lord without ever having loved, to be brought close to those who have loved when he has despised their love. For he sees clearly and says to himself, "Now I have understanding, and though I now thirst to love, there will be nothing great, no sacrifice in my love, for my earthly life is over, and Abraham will not come even with a drop of living water (that is the gift of earthly active life) to cool the fiery thirst of spiritual love which burns in me now, though I despised it on earth; there is no more life for me and will be no more time! Even though I would gladly give my life for others, it can never be, for that life is passed which can be sacrificed for love, and now there is a gulf fixed between that life and this existence."
Which one makes the most sense to you? How does your view of hell affect how you act out in mission? What is the mission anyway?