28 October 2010

On Hell

The post I put up on whether religious vows are binding beyond death spoke of purgation as a way of bringing in the harvest of a life, and as a cleansing, or claiming --- where God's love summons all that is true and real and good in us and says "no" to or strips away whatever is distorted, unreal (merely potential), untrue or false. I also referred to a final or definitive choice we make at the moment of death when we says yes or no to God's own Self/Love. Ordinarily we have prepared for this final moment by every choice in our lives and so we affirm ourselves, our relationship with God and with the whole of creation, or we deny and reject these things --- this time finally and irrevocably. During our lives we have a chance to become truly human. To whatever extent we achieve this through the grace of God, that Self is welcomed into eternity. Purgation is a combination of the final choice we make for this, and the love of God which welcomes all that is real and true into his own heart while letting go of all that is unreal or merely potential, etc.

Because of this post I wanted to say something about hell. It is not a topic I usually write about or that fits in well here (I find the appearance of the article on this page absolutely jarring!) but a reader asked me to say something about it a while back and this is really the first sense I have had that it would link with other posts. So, what is hell in this whole understanding? First, many people consider that souls are immortal and that hell is simply the separation of the soul from God for all of eternity. This would make sense except that souls are only immortal insofar as God continues to breathe them forth. Souls (and of course we ourselves) are immortal because God's love for us is immortal and he will not forget us or leave us to decay! Because of this whether we are speaking about heaven or hell, so long as we are speaking of a form of existence, we must be speaking of the active and effective presence of God because God is the ground and source of all that is to whatever extent it is.

My own sense of hell then (and this is absolutely my own provisional sense, nothing more) is that it is a form of radically alienated existence where one is faced with a love one was but no longer is meant for and can never be human without, but which one has also rejected definitively. What is hellish then is the presence of God, the presence of love in conjunction with a fundamental untruth, emptiness, and even radical inhumanity of one's existence. Untruth and emptiness call for truth (or verification and making true) and fullness. Hell, I think is the state of existence of eternal and unfulfillable yearning (which now assumes the form of nagging regret and disappointment) coupled with the inchoate knowledge (guilt) that one has irrevocably rejected these things and the God who, even now loves and sustains one --- though wholly from without and in a way which says "No" to all the nothing one has chosen. The fire of God's love can be many things to us: consoling, awesome and even terrifying, empowering, painful, purifying, illuminating, blinding, warming, creative, destructive, and so on. We are made for this love and we experience it in all these ways as part of its power to unlock the potential of our lives, a bit like a forest fire unlocks the seed cones of a redwood and enables new life to spring forth. But what kind of experience is this fire when we have been emptied of true (realizable) potential and the fire cannot inspire awe, or console, or illuminate, or purify, or create??? This I think is the experience of hell.