Thursday, December 03, 2015

Advent Calendar Day 5: Hell - A conversation starter

Five Images of Hell
 1. Hot (Dante)

“amongst the tombs were scattered flames,
whereby they were made all over so glowing-
hot, that iron more hot no craft requires” (Inferno IX.118-20)

         2. Cold (Dante)

“How icy chill and hoarse I then became …
The Emperor of the dolorous realm, from mid
breast stood forth out of the ice”  (Inferno XXXIV.22, 28-29)

         3.  The Mouth of Hell (‘Hell’s Teeth!’) (Medieval Art)

“high up on hell is a mouth ever open,
those who enter in experience everlasting death” – Mechtild of Magdeburg,
The Flowing Light of the Godhead

4        4.   A small place (C.S. Lewis)

“All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World … For a damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself” (The Great Divorce, p. 113).

          5.    Empty (Hans Urs von Balthasar)

“though we must accept the possibility of hell (due to the play between divine love and human freedom), we are not committed doctrinally to saying that anyone is actually “in” such a place.” (Robert Barron, Catholicism, p, 257)

Three reasons we MUST believe in Hell
                   1.  Jesus speaks of Hell

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched” (Mark 9.43-38).
           2. Without Hell there can be no judgement or justice

“Faced with the Balkans, Rwanda, the Middle East, Darfur and all kinds of other horrors which enlightened western thought can neither explain not alleviate, opinion in many quarters has, rightly in my view, come to see that there must be such a thing as judgment.  Judgment – the sovereign declaration that this is good ad to be upheld and vindicated, and that is evil and to be condemned – is the only alternative to chaos” – Tom Wright, Surprised By Hope, p. 191.

            3.   Hell is required for human freedom to be meaningful
Hell is God's great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice” – G.K. Chesterton.

Three Reasons we must NOT believe in Hell
             1.  Hell means there is a place that God is not

“These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” – 2 Thessalonians 1.9.

             2.  Jesus has emptied Hell

“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water” – 1 Peter 3.18-20.

            3.  Hell makes vengeance triumph over forgiveness

For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement” – James 2.13.

Further Reading

  • Alan E. Bernstein, The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds (Cornell University Press, 1993).
  • Caroline Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-136 (Columbia University Press, 1995).
  • C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce: A Dream (Geoffrey Bles, 1946).
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare we Hope ‘That all men be saved’? (Ignatius Press, 1988).
  • Tom Wright, Surprised By Hope (SPCK, 2007). 

Used as a discussion starter for the Falstaff Theological Society 11.10.15.

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