This, in essence, is why I no longer believe that Hell exists. No one can ever wave a Bible in front of me and terrify me that the Monster God can’t wait to torture me down in his First Century dungeon.
If we believe, as we should as Christians, that God helps us grow, answers prayer, cares about what happens to us and wants to see us get better and better, what is the utility of an eternity of torture? How can we love a God that we believe will torture us? Even a God who wants to torture us? This kind of confused faith actually makes it impossible to love God, for you cannot love anyone who holds a gun aimed at you. It also comes from the fundamentalists who try endlessly to invent a new religion called Old Testament Christianity. But there is no such thing.
You can sympathize with evangelicals, a little, if you remember that they have all been preached to out of Jonathan Edwards and his dreadful screed called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. I had to read it in high school. Luckily my father, an Episcopal priest, was on hand to debunk it and free me forever from terrorism based on a nonexistent version of Christianity.
Imagine instead an eternity in which Time does not exist. An eternity in which we will be able to help in the unfolding of the Universe as God meant it to be. Imagine that you could step into a moment of Time and make a rescue or alleviate an emergency. Personally I am convinced that some of the beings that people think are angels are just us–after death–continuing with our work of making up for mistakes we made while we were here. Isn’t that an entirely different thing from imagining God as standing over us contemplating our pain and suffering?
The concept of Hell is an unquestioned cultural assumption from Antiquity. Kings and emperors used to have big palaces, a court and many servants, with big dungeons under the palace where they amused themselves punishing their enemies. Wouldn’t you think that God is above this? I am convinced that God is not this human king who has the desire to see suffering is you cross him. It’s entirely un-Christian.
In fact, it is psychologically impossible to love a God that is terrorizing you with threats. We can be good because of pure intimidation–many people are. The display of respectable outward behavior, however, has nothing to do with whatever chaos may be dwelling within you, or me, or anyone else.
But we can also be good because we want to give back and pay God forward for everything we have been given. And we should be working to create a world where the helping, rescuing angels will not be needed. Then we can spend Eternity making God’s creation come right, as I believe we are intended to do.