Monday, May 2, 2011

God is Hell

     One time I received some religious literature from a Christian of the Baptist tradition. On the cover it had flames and the title said “Hell 1000 degrees hot and not a single drop of water”. I held onto this piece of literature for the longest time because I found it in some ways humorous. However, it holds a serious weight to it because this is often how many people have come to understand hell.
     In fact, in opposition to this understanding many Christian groups have all together thrown out their beliefs in a hell. They claim that this understanding about hell is incompatible with the love of God in Jesus Christ. Personally, I would join them in the fact that this understanding of hell makes God very sadistic. On the other hand, I cannot forsake the spiritual traditions of my Fathers, which might be something those Christian groups are totally unaware of.
     Contrary, to the modern understanding of hell some of the Fathers of the East have offered a different picture. For instance, St Gregory the Theologian said,” God Himself is Paradise and punishment for man, since each man tastes God's energies according to the condition of his soul.” Eternal punishment in this instance is not some place that God has made to hurt people but rather how a person experiences God in the life to come. As Metropolitan Hierotheos said in his book Life after Death, “God himself is paradise and he is hell.”
     The Metropolitan further points out that hell is not an absence of God or a created place of torment. Rather, he teaches that Hell is the energy of the uncreated grace of God and not something created. From this perspective the ideas of suffering that have been historically associated with hell (1000 Degrees hot) are more or less a suffering that we create for ourselves in the afterlife.
     God as understood as an experience of Hell to those who reject him makes the idea of hell a total action of mercy and love. I have even heard it described by those in our Eastern tradition as a place for those who cannot be healed, similar to our mental homes. Such an existence is not one that God forces them into for eternity but is the result of their own self deception and their continual rejection of him. At no point does He reject them rather we find them eternally rejecting him.
     One might ask why on earth would someone choose to live in misery for all eternity. The answer of course is found in the deception of sin. Sin is so destructive that it continues to corrupt what we are. Every time we choose it we reject God and this rejection carries on with us into the next life. God knew just how lost we are to it and this is why he came to destroy the power of sin on the cross. Now he offers us a way to escape the power of sin but we must choose to embrace the gift. He does not force people to go to hell neither does he force paradise, for he is both.
     With this in mind in recent events such as the death of the famous terrorist we should consider God’s form of eternal justice as opposed to our own. I know many think telling a person to go to hell or to have hope that some sort of retribution will come down upon them in the next life to is something good. However, our traditions understanding of hell challenges our way of thinking in these matters. Maybe Proverbs 24:17 “Don't rejoice when your enemies fall; don't be happy when they stumble.” makes more sense in this context, knowing how one will experience eternity. As St. Isaac the Syrian said " those who are punished in Gehannah, are scourged by the scourge of love".


  1. after the death of Osama BL- your final sentences are even more important

  2. Very well written. Hell and hell are not merely "places" as westerners so frequently imagine. Heaven is not a pleaseure-palace that only a mean God would keep us from. God is both--depending on who we choose to be... Keep up the great work!

  3. I agree with the comments by Priest's wife and even though I am an Australian and we had people killed in 911 and lost 88 in Bali,yet any rejoicing at the death of OBL is imprudent and unChristian. Let's remember that like OBL we will all appear before the Judge of the Whole Earth.
    Thank you also for the excellent explanation of Hell.

  4. A timely and profound reminder. Thank you.

    I added you to the Eastern & Oriental Catholic Web Ring:

    And do keep up the great work!

  5. "Hell and hell are not merely "places" as westerners so frequently imagine."

    Anonymou, western Catholics imagine this no more often than Easterners. The Church - East and West - has always taught that Hell is eternal separation from God, not some anthropomorphic pit of fire. Instead of saying "Westerners", which is insulting to our Roman Catholic brethren who comprise the vast majority of the West, say "Protestants" which is more accurate.