I don't think I understand the concept of hell...

(133 Posts)
deadlift Fri 12-Apr-13 20:10:15

Hi, I hope I can explain my question clearly. I've been thinking about it for a while and I just don't really understand.

As a Christian, I would never condone torture because I don't think we should ever treat people like that, regardless of what they've done. If I can love my neighbour enough not to condone torture than how can God, who loves us more than I could ever love anybody, commit somebody to eternal torture in hell? I don't think I could condemn anyone to that (I certaintly hope I couldn't) so how could an all loving God do that?

I'm sure there's probably an explanation that I just haven't thought of (I know my current understanding of God is pretty rubbish) and I'd really appreciate it if somebody could help me.

Gingerdodger Sat 13-Apr-13 09:51:39

Of course it means loving everybody regardless of who they are. Therein lies the need for courage as it is easier to love the lovable and live selfishly in many ways.

I don't think a non believer loving another and demonstrating compassion is any different.

Sorry rushing now.

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 10:11:23

So you agree that a person doesn't need god to do what god wants him to do, but because he doesn't believe in god according to that verse, he's off to hell anyway? And that seems like the sort of thing a morally superior god would want?

I still don't see how it takes courage to love people? Not unless we water down the word to mean the ability to take a bit of flack or feel a bit out of our comfort zone maybe? Can you give me an example of where you needed actual courage to love someone?

And how ironic that you can decide that the cowardly refers to those who do not love one another but then the rest of the verse is about chucking large groups of other people into a lake of fire. Do you not find that even a little disingenuous. That god's saying 'everyone who loves people like I do will live forever in paradise, but those of you who don't love people like I do, well you're off to be tortured' and that sounds like the actions of a loving sane god?

LizzyDay Sat 13-Apr-13 11:03:53

Thing is a lot of Christians seem to apply cognitive dissonance to this, with vague interpretations of hell and its fiery pits as just 'being separated from god'. So it somehow doesn't seem as vengeful - just a mildly disdainful 'if you're not on the list, you're not coming in'.

Or just duck out of the issue altogether by saying it's all so complex that no-one could possibly hope to understand it and no one knows till they get there. But that doesn't stop a lot of Christians talking about the Kingdom of Heaven as it's a place they're hoping to end up in.

Gingerdodger Sat 13-Apr-13 11:16:00

I do not believe that all who do not believe in God are off to hell anyway. I cannot get into other people's heads but I believe that the concept of God is huge that God reveals himself to us in ways that we have to be able to understand and we are called to follow. Therefore if God is not revealed to a person in a certain way they cannot follow it but there still may be aspects of God present in individual morality that individuals are called to follow.

I do believe love takes courage. The greatest example of this is the love Jesus showed for those who condemned, ridiculed and ultimately killed him. There are countless other examples everyday carried out by individuals showing compassion and love when it would be easier to put their self first.

My phone being dodgy hence the half first message.

niminypiminy Sat 13-Apr-13 11:23:37

Matthew 13 is an interesting chapter to pick a sentence out from in order to take it literally, given that the entire chapter is about metaphors and parables, none of which works when interpreted literally. Jesus is drawing on an existing body of metaphors for judgement developed through the later OT scriptures. I think it is probably truest to say that the idea of judgement and hell was a matter of theological debate that has gone hand in hand with biblical scholarship, and that many, perhaps most, Christians do not interpret those verses literally.

Regarding love and courage. We need to remember that what Jesus means by love is what we do not what we feel. He is pretty uninterested in nice feelings. Love for Jesus is what we do when we welcome the stranger, care for the sick, visit the prisoner, clothe the naked, feed the hungry. Would it take courage to befriend a sex offender on his or her release from prison? Would it take courage to welcome a destitute person into your home? Would it take courage to go without yourself so that another person could have their needs met? Would it take courage to forgive someone who had wronged you? Would it take courage to sacrifice your own needs, your comforts, your wants and desires, for another?

Jesus knows that this is hard. It takes courage. We fail -- I fail, and fail, and fail again. But it is still the ideal that I try to live up to, because Jesus is the best model there has ever been. As for who will go to hell, well, in my view God's forgiveness is, his desire to love us and welcome us, is greater than our capacity to sin. That doesn't mean that it's ok for us to do terrible, cruel, stupid things (such as we all do). It's not. But it means that God will always love us, and always want to welcome us home again, and will always be there willing us to turn away from our stupid, cruel careless actions and towards him.

We all face judgement: judgement is to have our actions looked at by God, who will see them all clearly, seeing through the endless layers of self-justification and self-deception that we all surround ourselves with. I'm pretty terrified of that. But I trust that God's forgiveness is wider and more generous than whatever I can have done,

As for hell, it is being without God -- turned away into nothingness. A good metaphor of hell is an abyss of nothingness. You may say that you already live in a universe without God, so that nothingness would make precisely no difference to you. I would say that perhaps God is like the roar of traffic we are all so used to that we do not hear it. Just because you don't perceive him, does not mean he is not there. In any case, I don't know who will be in hell: I don't need to know, because judgement is between the person and God. All I can do as a person is try to love and forgive as Jesus told us to, and to follow him.

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 11:28:13

So Jesus wants us to follow his example of loving people who you think don't deserve to be loved those who killed him, but then those who don't copy that love will get killed in 'the second death'. It just doesn't make any logical sense.

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 11:30:47

It's like me saying 'I'm full of love and forgiveness but if you're not the same then I have organised a special place for you to be tortured. Anyone who organises that sort of punishment isn't full of love and forgiveness. I don't know how else I can point out the glaring contradictions.

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 11:35:08

But Niminy lots of people do all the things on that list of examples without religion. Furthermore, according to that list, the sex offender and the person in the example above are both off to hell. Also god is expecting you to show love to someone he is going to send to hell. How does that work?

niminypiminy Sat 13-Apr-13 11:36:41

headinhands: Gingerdoger and I have both said that we think that hell is separation from God, which is a pefectly orthodox position. I don't know why you are harping on the idea of torture (which I think is morally repugnant, and for the record I do not believe that hell is a place of physical torture). Why do you insist that we should take scripture literally?

Also, read my post. Did I say, or did Gingerdodger say that we thought that those people who don't do sacrificial love will get sent to hell? I wouldn't presume to know: that is between them and God.

LizzyDay Sat 13-Apr-13 11:39:36

"As for hell, it is being without God -- turned away into nothingness. A good metaphor of hell is an abyss of nothingness. You may say that you already live in a universe without God, so that nothingness would make precisely no difference to you. I would say that perhaps God is like the roar of traffic we are all so used to that we do not hear it."

Well - isn't that metaphor implying something along the lines of 'you don't know what you've got till its gone'? With overtones of 'you'll regret it'?

niminypiminy Sat 13-Apr-13 11:40:25

Where did I say that the sex offender is off to hell? Only God knows, and he is bigger and better and truer and juster than any human person is able to be. What I'm commanded to do is to love my neighbour (and it is pretty clear that Jesus means outcasts, hated and reviled people are our neighbours) as myself. Perhaps I need to get on with doing that, and stop worrying about who is going to hell.

Jesus said that if you do all the things on that list you have done them to him. Whether you have faith or not.

Gingerdodger Sat 13-Apr-13 11:40:50

Thanks Niminy, your description of love and courage is a great summing up of what I was trying to say.

It's really hard to say what eternal separation from God would mean to others but to me it seems like that would be worse than the fiercest hell I could imagine. Having said that as a Christian I very rarely think on 'hell' I focus my faith in trying my best to live that Christian life as I believe I am called to do, often failing, but being able to ask for God's loving forgiveness.

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 11:44:16

The reason that the concept of hell has evolved is because we as a society have. As we progress, we seek to reinterpret the scriptures to fit. If we are to say 'well that was the way god chose to explain it', why?

We can see the same process of evolving in the area of disease. It used to be that illness was seen as demonic, a view shared by jesus in the NT but since we have developed medicine we now see there is nothing to suggest that there is anything supernatural afoot. If we explain it that Jesus used those words metaphorically why oh why would a loving god see fit to further entrench harmful attitudes towards some of the most vulnerable members of a society.

Why not spend his time educating the brains of the time in some basic healthcare?

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 11:46:45

The bible says the sexually immoral are off to hell. You don't agree? Or you don't think the sex offender is in that category? Who are the sexually immoral it talks of?

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 11:53:31

No it's good that you have reinterpreted those scriptures through your 21st century values. I'm explaining that that process of necessary redefining highlights how you are thankfully, morally superior to the bible, and that this is evidence that religion, and all religions are man made.

Gingerdodger Sat 13-Apr-13 11:54:35

head you are asking us to judge who should be in heaven or hell, only God can do that.

Gingerdodger Sat 13-Apr-13 11:56:28

Also to add I think God's judgement is much more complex, nuanced and beyond our understanding than my post above made it sound.

niminypiminy Sat 13-Apr-13 12:03:52

Re sexually immoral going to hell: We need to remember that Jesus wasn't particularly interested in sexual immorality. He doesn't like divorce very much (and that in itself is signficant -- for those who think of Christianity as misogynist -- because his target is men who abandon their wives to destitution). He confronts a crowd about to stone a woman 'taken in adultery' by asking them who they are to judge her. That's about it.

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 12:04:11

But god has a list in his bible. If it was none of your business why do you suppose god made sure those verses were in the bible? Why even mention hell or anything negative that might happen to certain groups of people?

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 12:08:27

Again, when you say it's all too complex and nuanced wrt to judgement it's because you are using your well developed morals which draws you back from making offensive statements. Whereas no one ever says that gods love is all complex and nuanced and hard to understand, because it's nice and love is good.

Gingerdodger Sat 13-Apr-13 12:10:03

My own behaviour and practise of Faith is my business, other people's is not in the context of God's judgement.

niminypiminy Sat 13-Apr-13 12:11:14

headinhands I have to go. But I'm curious to know why you want to pin such a simplistic, literal and uninformed view of the Bible on Christians.

God didn't write the Bible: human beings did. God inspired the Bible, and it's the record of human attempts to understand that inspiration. It was written by many people, over many centuries. Interpreting it is never simple, though there are passages of great simplicity.

I think Christians and atheists have much of value to say to each other, and to learn from each other. But it's hard to see how that debate can be very enriching if one side keeps trying to make the other fit into a stupid caricature.

LizzyDay Sat 13-Apr-13 12:28:15

But we don't really have anything but the 'caricature' that is in the Bible to go by, do we? If you ask a fundamentalist, they'll say 'hell yeah - you unbelievers and sexually immoral people are gonna fry on Judgement Day'.

But ask a non-fundamentalist Christian about heaven and hell and you will get stuff like 'I don't know', or 'it's not literally what the Bible said, it's somehow different these days, but it's not really for me to say'... Where does that get you?

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 12:32:31

Niminy, that defence would be acceptable if you saw all the bible as a metaphor. What do you believe, what isn't metaphor and how have you decided whether a passage is to be taken at face value or is metaphorical? Do you not concede that over time more and more of the bible is consigned to the metaphor camp as we develop our sense of humanity, make discoveries in science and so on. Do you disagree that the trend for seeing hell as allegorical is a relatively new phenomenon?

headinhands Sat 13-Apr-13 12:36:29

As for uninformed, I was a Christian for 20+ years and have read the bible a lot. If that's not enough to be informed what else would I need to do?

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