Time Magazine recently reprinted an article from Patheos Progressive Christian Channel blogger, John Shore, titled What Christianity without Hell Looks Like.
Here’s the money quote from the article, “A Christianity without Hell would have nothing to recommend it but the constant and unending love of God.”
I don’t know what the author of the quote thinks Hell is, but unwittingly, in that one line, Shore actually describes the classic Christian vision of Hell.
St Augustine was once asked, “What does God do to the souls in Hell?” His response? “He loves them.” The truth is, the flames of Hell are nothing more than the fires of God’s “constant and unending love” licking at the hearts of those who refuse to melt.
Each of us is utterly dependent upon God for our life. Nothing can exist outside of him. United with our body in this life, we often suffer under the delusion that we live under our own power. But when we die there will be no way to pretend that anything besides our complete dependence upon God’s love stands between us and total annihilation. For those who have spent their lives learning about the constant and unending love of God first hand, and moreover, learning to depend upon it utterly, that experience will be one of tremendous joy, gratitude, and rejoicing. How giddy we will feel standing on the razor’s edge of nothingness knowing that it is God’s constant and unending love that has, in fact, made us indestructible! How amazing to suddenly be able to fly…without wings!
But for those who have spent their lives in perpetual, spiritual, “do-by-self!” toddlerhood, refusing to depend on anything or anyone besides themselves, having to suddenly depend entirely on some completely unfamiliar, unknown being, sustained solely by some unknown, unfamiliar power, will be nothing short of terrifying. How could such an experience be anything less than an eternal torture of doubt, fear, and existential nausea as they gaze into the abyss, so eternally in touch with their own powerlessness that they can never accept that God has always been there, will always be there, and in fact, is there still, sustaining them in spite of themselves.
God is present. He is constant. He is unending love. But whether we experience that reality as Heaven or Hell is not up to God. It’s up to us. The fires of God’s love burn bright and hot and without discrimination–constant and unending. It is up to us whether we learn to melt…or not.
In fact, Mr. Shore, the only way that Hell cannot exist is for God’s love to cease to be constant and unending. But those who who have been blessed to experience God’s constant and unending love have also been given the power to imagine the tragedy of living outside of it.