A recent post over at Patheos about an Eastern Christian understanding of Hell made me think about a common modern reaction to the idea of Hell in general: that only a cruel deity would make such a place, as a sort of dungeon to throw subjects who displease him. Universal salvation, the idea that everyone must go to Heaven, is often considered more appealing.
I disagree wholeheartedly. I think the lack of at least a possibility of Hell would be tyranny on God’s part. It seems to me that Hell is necessary for love.
Firstly, I think most will agree that we must have some degree of free will to love. Love must be a choice. For love to be love, it cannot be compelled.
Now, let us say we get to the Pearly Gates, and St. Peter stands there, and he says “Come on in!”
“But I was a sinner,” we might respond. “I don’t deserve to go in.”
“Of course you don’t!” he might respond “But Jesus died for you! You can come in because God is loving and merciful.”
Now, up to this point, all of this sounds fine to me. But suppose the dialogue took a different turn. Suppose we said “But I don’t want to go in.” Would God force us to go to Heaven?
You might say I’m thinking about Heaven as too much like an earthly place, like a scenic park with a physical gate. Going to Heaven isn’t like walking through a gate, you might say, but developing a closer relationship with God. That, too, sounds fine to me. But would God force us into a relationship with Him? Since the relationship is compelled, or forced, wouldn’t that be the antithesis of love?
“Why would anyone choose Hell,” one might argue. “That’s crazy!” Sure it’s crazy. I don’t claim to know if anyone would make such a choice. We might even hope that, ultimately, everyone chooses to love God and one another and enter Heaven. We might hope that Hell is eternally empty. But without at least the possibility of Hell, there’s no choice. We must go to Heaven. We must love God. In forcing love, God would contradict the essence of love; it would not be love, but a lie.
To my mind, Heaven or Hell is a choice. It’s a choice we at least have the option of making, and it’s a choice we make by our lives, which we might think of as a series of choices. C. S. Lewis talks about this choice in The Great Divorce: ““There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened. ”
Can I get some comments on this one? Concerned Students, you still there? I am, after all, just an undergraduate student giving his opinion.