Musings on Hell

Stuff I posted on a message board I frequent.  None of it is certain, no matter how strongly I argued for it…I was just sort of letting my imagination go.  It was also a discussion that involved people from all different levels of Christian faith, so I sometimes used terms in order to relate better to them.

*****

I just can't fathom Hell as a meaningful part of how the universe
works. The ultimate reality is, I think, beyond our categories of good
and evil and is in some ways inescapable. How do you get away from the
deepest part of reality? You can't. We're saturated with it. And that's
a good thing.

I
also think people tend to overestimate what free will means. We don't
choose to be born, isn't that okay? We don't choose where we're born,
isn't that okay? We don't choose to die, unless we commit suicide, but
isn't that okay? If we have no control over many of the most
significant parts of this life, what makes us think we have control
over where we end up after death? Like Sleeper said, if we can't make
ourselves go to Heaven, what makes us think we can force ourselves into
Hell?

I think we'd all agree about what Hell is: complete
separation from God. I guess the only question then is what does this
separation mean? Is it just a turning away from admitting that there
exists a being that loves you? Or is it something deeper? Are we not
giving God enough credit? If God is the ultimate reality, pure being,
saturating everything that exists with his beauty and power…then how
do we get away from him? By denying reality. By lying to ourselves. By
becoming so wrapped up in the surface that we never glimpse the depth.
By being ignorant of who we truly are and instead convincing ourselves
that our identity lies in what kinds of clothes we buy, and what we
decorate our houses with. If God is the ultimate reality, then Hell is
the ultimate lie.

And so I can imagine a spectrum. Hell on one
side…people denying reality, and living only for the surface. And
because they are living a lie, they don't believe they are in Hell.
They're convinced that their life is real and meaningful, and don't see
that they're only living as an empty shell of a person. Then gradually
they begin to sound the depths and thereby make themselves more real,
more genuine. As they begin to shed the masks that keep them from being
who they really are, their level of reality increases. And the deeper
we go, the more beautiful everything is. Things get more complicated,
more intricate, and the further we can zoom out the more we realize
that so much of our lives are a game we play, thinking it's real, and
that the true reality is something so much more beautiful and intricate
and perfect and glorious.

I can imagine that to die would mean
being forced to shed all of your masks. To be forced to face reality
for what it is, unmasked and with nothing to shield you from it. They
say that death is the great equalizer. Dying necessarily takes away all
your worldly concerns, all of what you thought defined yourself,
allowing you to focus completely on what's really there, on what's
really true. You end up on the opposite end of the spectrum from Hell.
In a sense, you become completely real, and are united entirely with
God.

I'm not sure exactly how you can still deny reality when
you are face to face with it. How can you live an ultimate lie when you
are faced with the ultimate truth? I'm not sure it's possible, and I
don't think we need to believe that we have the free will to choose it.
In fact, believing that free will is this strong may just be another
symptom of the lie…believing ourselves to be much more independent
than we really are. The only reason we can believe the ultimate lie is
because we don't see the ultimate truth. When you're forced to see it,
how can you still embrace the lie?

Side Note: In the process of writing this I've just come up with a whole thing on
free will that sounds really interesting. What if our will is only
really truly free when our will equals the will of God/ultimate
reality? And the rest of the time we are just fooling ourselves into
thinking we determine our own lives. We think of our free will as
something that we as individuals can have separate from everything. Not
dependent on other people, things in nature, or God. But we're not
really as free, in that sense, as we think. I know I feel the most free
when I am being most deeply myself. When my actions stem from the
deepest part of who I am. And the deepest part of who I am is
intimately connected to God. So at that point, when I feel the most
free, my will is essentially his.

A response:

"so hell is not so much a prison as a place were God has withdrawn himself completely."

But how can God withdraw himself completely if he's the whole basis of
reality? If he is pure being, how can he ever be absent from anything?
I don't think it's possible. The only way we can do it is to bury him,
and not acknowledge him. The only way we can get away from God is to
focus only on the superficial and ignore the depth. And that
necessarily happens in this lifetime. The point of my post was to say
that Hell is not a place, and it's not an option for the afterlife.
It's a state of being, or really a state of not-very-much being. It's
an option right now, but cannot be an option in the grander scheme of
things.

A few replies later:

Ever looked at an image in the
newspaper really closely? When you hold it right up to your face, there
are just dots. But when you zoom out and get a different perspective,
they come together to make a complete image. Close up they don't make
sense, but further out they do.

If
you looked though a microscope at your own blood, you might be
terrified. Various cells fighting each other constantly, a battle
raging on. If you stay completely in that scale, you might start
cheering for one side or the other, which would be incredibly
dangerous. Zoom out, and it's precisely a battle that you *need* to
keep yourself going.

Apply that to human life. We are all
dots, or blood cells. We're fighting battles and loving and hoping and
dying and afraid. But what we don't realize is that we're all part of
something incredible…and that somehow we *need* every part of life,
even the bad stuff. For we are all pieces of the ultimate reality. We
are all little broken up pieces of God. We are all drops of water that
form an ocean. And when we can stop playing our little game and expand
our awareness, we can come to see the world the way God does. If we
stop being so focused on ourselves, on the role we play out while on
earth, we can begin to see that everything, as broken and beautiful as
it is, is an extension of God. We stop fooling ourselves and see
reality for what it is.

While we're here on earth though, it is
a choice. We can either consent to live the lie, never knowing that
we're lying to ourselves…or we can work to discover the truth, and
then align ourselves and our deeds with it. Ideally, to the person who
is truly awake, every action should come as naturally as breathing.

But
everything that keeps us fooled is here in this life. We're actors in a
play that don't realize that the movie isn't real. But when we
die…when our roles are snatched away from us, how can we do anything
other than embrace reality? It's not a choice at that moment, but a
natural and involuntary movement to join in the dance. We'll see that
beautiful image for what it is. We'll realize that all along we've been
something so much more important, more real than the roles we played on
earth.

"When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky."
– Buddha

Also, much of what I just said came from Alan Watts. smile.gif

Just posting it here to keep it around. 🙂

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  1. Lots of good thoughts here.One additional question is how can we objectively determine the characteristics of the Divine? Right now we take whatever Divine impulses we get and interpret them in light of our own culture and upbringing. We seem to perceive the Divine through a filter with various preconceived beliefs. What is the consequence of this type of "knowing" for theology.

  2. To me, it means that the Divine can only be felt, not interpreted or described. We must remember that any positive claims we make about it must necessarily be analogical and not absolute.

  3. You have made so many different points and gone off in so many different directions that I doubt that you are truly seeking answers. I think you are among the many who simply love questions. If I'm wrong, select one issue you want clarified.

  4. That's a little harsh, isn't it? It was just an exploration, a thought experiment. There's nothing wrong with letting your mind wander is there?

  5. Sorry. I'm accustomed to talking to callous bastards like myself. If you're in mind wandering mode, I can't say a thing against it. I do it too. But if you ever want to zero in on something, let me know please.

  6. Yeah, I tend not to be *too* interested in zeroing in on topics of cosmology and metaphysics…just because there are so many ways of imagining the world and so many possibilities that are, in the end, out of my (out of humanity's?) league. I generally tend to focus on more personal existential struggles and the quest for how to best live one's life.Although every once in a while a musing on something like hell is a worthwhile exercise. 🙂

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