As I read over atheist comments on the Internet the other day, they provoked what might be called a crisis of faith within me, though not quite in the way that was intended. As I read over various comments I thought to myself, “Good Lord how is it possible that you could exist? If it were up to me, these people wouldn’t be allowed to carry a sharp pair of scissors let alone make a decision that will effect them for the rest of eternity.” The problem of Hell is one of the biggest difficulties that I have had with the faith and I have considered it a great deal.
Why is it such a problem? Let’s consider a thought experiment. Let us imagine that you are a child who loves to ski and that you have 9 siblings. Let us further assume that you have it on absolute authority that the next ski vacation will be the occasion of a horrible accident that will cause three of your siblings (not you) to experience horrible pain for the rest of their lives. The family has a vote on whether or not to go on the vacation. How would you vote?
For me the obvious answer to this question is that I would vote no. No matter how much I enjoy skiing, I would be prepared to give it up for the rest of my life to avoid the horrible accident that would cause such pain to my siblings. After all, I would avoid the vacation if I was the one to do the suffering and, given the command to love my neighbour as myself, it cannot matter that the pain occurs to other people and not to me. This thought experiment demonstrates the fundamental difficulty of Hell. How is it possible for a good God to create human beings when some of them will choose a course that leads to eternal suffering?
When contemplating this difficulty C.S. Lewis noted that we have to be careful that we do not make humanity’s least common denominator the master of the universe. To understand what he meant, we can think about the popular movie “A Christmas Story”. In the film, the young protagonist “Ralphie” fantasizes about being blinded by “soap poisoning” in order to punish his parents for not letting him have his own way. In such common juvenile revenge fantasies, we see that love can be used as a weapon against other people. A person with a juvenile mindset will say, “If I just have the will to harm myself enough, those others will be forced by their love to give into my demands and let me have my own way.” Using love as a weapon, therefore, the most base of human beings could usurp the very throne of God and make everyone miserable.
I agree with C.S. Lewis that Hell is necessitated because people allow self-will and pride to prevent them from accepting the God’s correction and love. I well remember an incident when I was younger where I thought to myself, “I will show them! I will make them all miserable by going off by myself and they will feel sorry for me and it will ruin their good time.” In my anger at having a request rejected, I was willing to forfeit a blessing in order to attempt to blackmail my family into doing things my way. I remember how mad and embarrassed I was when they left and had a good time without me! All those hours sulking behind the couch and for what? Nothing. They didn’t feel sorry for me at all. In just this way, those who would destroy heaven in order to get their own way cannot be allowed to enter.
It is for this reason that I believe that the nature of hell is that it is the natural consequence of refusing to die to self and acknowledge God’s right to govern your life. If hell is simply the consequence of refusing to learn how to love others with God’s help, then it is completely understandable that God would create beings of free will and allow them to live with the consequences of their choices. God creates all beings, blesses them and helps them to be as happy and joyful as they will allow themselves to be. What could be more reasonable?
There is another Hollywood movie that illustrates my conception of Hell very well. In the movie “Death Becomes Her”, Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn play rivals who hate one another and end up living in a close facsimile to my conception of what God means when He speaks of the Lake of Fire. What could be more miserable than an eternal existence devoid of love and joy?
Ultimately, one has to trust God when one considers such difficulties. He knows far more than we ever could and He loves far more than we could even imagine. I earnestly believe that God does everything in His power to minimize the horrible consequences of the choices made by those who reject Him, but they will have their way. All we can do is do the best we can to be obedient to God through constant prayer, unconditional love and respectful witness.