I went to a wonderful event at The Collective last weekend – their Threshold Weekend with Peter Rollins. There was much inspiration and food for thought and Peachy and I enjoyed it thoroughly (Peachy came, too, even though she is already enlightened).
At one point Peter Rollins mentioned a book by Rob Bell called “Love Wins” and how controversial it was when it came out, how certain churches would vehemently oppose it and shout “Blasphemy!” I hadn’t heard of the book and wondered how something with such a benign title as “Love Wins” could cause such a stir? What is controversial about Love winning?
When I looked up the book on amazon I saw that the full title of the book is “Love Wins: a Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” Ah – Rob Bell wrote a book questioning hell, questioning the existence of some horrible realm of demons and suffering where people might get sent for eternity if they sin or even if they simply don’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior, even if they have never heard of him. He’s simply asking the question – Would a loving God send people to eternal torment forever?
Again – why is this controversial? Isn’t the answer obvious? To me, it’s just common sense that a Loving God would not be capable of condemning anyone to an eternity of fire, damnation and torture with a red-hot poker. To me, it’s common sense that a Loving God would ensure that Happiness is Inevitable for all living things. To me, it’s common sense that God’s love for us will ensure not only our eventual happiness but also the inevitability of World Peace. Of course Love Wins!
I sincerely ask the question – why would anyone be offended and angry over someone stating that God loves us too much for a fiery Hell of eternal anguish to exist? What is the attachment to hell?
Hell really doesn’t make sense. I remember reading Dante’s Inferno in college. It is a Medieval classic describing the many layers of hell (complete with a vestibule) with specific cruel punishments for specific sins, the torture becoming more and more atrocious with each level. But oddly enough, the first layer of hell, called Limbo, is not such a terrible place. In the first level of the inferno live Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and all the great minds of antiquity that Dante’s culture admired and revered. Yet, they had lived and died before Jesus Christ, so they could not have been saved, no matter how intelligent or noble, and therefore they had to spend eternity in hell. But because Dante liked them and they really couldn’t help it, he made the first level of hell an ok place to be – it’s just that they were technically eternally damned, so they certainly weren’t allowed into Heaven or even Purgatory.
Everyone can see the ridiculousness of that situation, right? In order to conform to the non-sensical theology of his time, Dante invented a version of hell that wasn’t too bad for his philosophical heroes to dwell in. And we can all understand it – we don’t want our loved ones to burn in hell! Of course not, even if we believe their religion or their life style choices to be wrong, we love them, we don’t want them to be damned for all time. It’s heart breaking. Shouldn’t we be glad to realize that a Loving God would never banish billions of soul to hell?
So why not just give up the idea of hell and embrace the reality that a Loving God loves us all? Is it that we haven’t learned to love our enemies yet? Is it that we don’t like the idea of God loving those who we don’t love ourselves? Is it that, even though we want a happy ending for ourselves, we’re not willing to give up on the idea that those we don’t like or disagree with will surely spend all of eternity in suffering? Are we hanging on to hell out of our own anger, spite or vindictiveness? That’s not pretty, is it?
Yet, here we are in 2015 and people are still clinging to the notion of God sending souls into eternal darkness and torment? The idea of Love Winning and conquering hell is somehow controversial? We are still hanging on to the Medieval sense of hell and of an angry God that will throw us in a deep dark dungeon and throw away the key. What is the attachment to fearing God?
I’ve never understood fearing God. I didn’t grow up in a religious household, which in this instance might have been a good thing. I was never taught to fear God, I was never told that if I wasn’t a good girl I’d go to hell or God would be angry and punish me. I had enough to deal with anger and punishment from my regular human parents, but at least I didn’t grow up with some kind of Heavenly Father about to strike me down with lightning. Whenever I go to church and there is some kind of creed or prayer spoken about fearing God, I always abstain or change the words to “loving God.”
I remember at one point hearing a rather simplistic new age edict that every emotion was either from fear or love. The theory was that every negative human emotion such as anger, hatred, envy or depression has fear as a root cause and all positive human emotions come from love. I don’t know if the mysteries of the human heart and of all emotional energy in the universe is actually this simplistic, but it makes sense that fear is the opposite of love. So, if God IS Love, how can we come closer to God through fear? How can we know and feel God in our lives through fear? Again, I ask, why would we want to be a God-fearing people?
I saw that Richard Rohr also has a CD called “Hell, No!” questioning the existence of hell. In the CD’s description it says:
“Until Christians deal with their false notion of hell, their capacity to love and trust God is seriously compromised. Such a belief aims the whole Christian life in a fear-based direction and with a narrow win/lose worldview that only appeals to the ego. Love cannot happen through threat, punishment, or demand. God’s ways are much more subtle and true. The largely medieval notion of hell that many Christians hold to this day makes mystical union with God largely impossible and even undesirable.”
When you fear someone, you basically just want them to leave you alone, not notice you – you want to go about your business, following the rules and hoping God won’t notice any sins you might commit along the way so you can just skate through and not end up in hell. If you know someone who will severely punish others for mistakes or transgressions, who will inflict pain and suffering – is that someone you want to be close with? Is that someone you can love deeply and intimately, even if you think the punishments are justified? No – believing that God would send souls to an eternity of pain keeps us from even wanting a mystical union with God and keep us from truly knowing and feeling the all-loving and all-merciful God that only wants our absolute healing and happiness.
Quite contrary to an angry punishing God of medieval hell fame – I experience God as eager to love us! Eager for our happiness! Eager for us to open and receive His healing presence of Peace!
If we are a God-fearing people, then we can’t at the same time be a God-loving people. So, let’s give up the idea of hell and punishment, let’s truly believe in the forgiveness of sins and the Victory of God and Christ and Love. Let’s eagerly run into the arms of our All Loving God. It’s inevitable anyway. Love always wins!
Continue your contemplation of a Loving God with these posts:
Stand on One Leg and LOVE! The Rest is Commentary