Can loved ones be in hell? I think everyone who believes in hell would say, “Of course.” But this poses some logical problems for me.
In Veggie Tales’ Jonah, the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything define compassion for us: “Compassion is when you see that someone needs help, and you want to help them.” It could also be said that you “let someone else’s trouble trouble you.” But how do the troubles of those in hell not trouble those in heaven who, I assume, tend to be loving, compassionate people? Is heaven possible in a world with a populated hell?
In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis wants to say it is. It is possible to love those in hell, which in his grand metaphor is a greytown filled with those determined to hate the world and themselves, and not to be made miserable by that love, even if they are our dearest loved ones. Lewis wants to say that if there is a hell then the Veggie Tales view of compassionate love does not work, because then hell would hold heaven hostage.
My trouble is that the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything have a good definition. My understanding of love seems to necessitate letting others hijack your emotions. As Mr. Holton, my 9th grade English teacher, said about having kids, “It’s like letting your heart walk around outside your body.” That makes sense to me. That is how my marriage feels, or having good friends, or having a god you love, or a dog you cherish, or loving anything at all ever. A true lover cannot care about the self-inflicted emotional distress of those they love without that distress in some way translating into distress for themselves. Distress is distress even if deserved.
Because love connects us, in a world of hate, all suffering is local. It’s quarantined. In a world of love, pain rides veins of sympathy, slowly spreading throughout the world to make us all miserable. Maybe God made the world that way purposefully. If we all loved each other, joy and misery would be universal. That also means that those veins of sympathy would intertwine heaven and hell.
So, is compassion not good, or does it somehow become not good after Judgement Day? Does compassion need to somehow accommodate corollaries (for example, another’s troubles only bothers you when they are not self-inflicted or deserved)? How can it? Will we not have real compassion or love for people in hell? Or, will hell be empty? I have no answers.
Maybe God cuts people off from his love because he loves others and must be allowed to be happy for their sake, otherwise the pain of the former will spread. Maybe hell could mean being completely forgotten. I cannot have compassion on someone if I do not remember they exist. But while God can make me forget, can he forget? I doubt it. Even if he is the only one who remembers that there are people in hell, wouldn’t his love of people who are getting tortured torture him? Is heaven good for us and miserable for God?
I think the magnitude of suffering dictates in part how bad we feel for even self-inflicted pain. Lewis’ “greytown” seems less awful than fiery torment. Even if fiery torment is self-inflicted, if we love them in any meaningful sense, we will feel bad, right? Aren’t we called to love our enemies? Is it a big step from that to love the damned?
But maybe my definition of love is incomplete. Maybe more central to love is caring about someone else’s wellbeing more than your own. In doing this, you throw yourself wide to the afflictions of compassion, but misery is avoided, because this sort of love is impossible without something else: a radical humility. You cannot care about someone else more than yourself if you care for yourself an infinite amount. Have you ever been loved by someone who is not humble? You haven’t. It’s impossible. Humility makes love possible, and part of humility is not taking on cares and woes that are not yours. You are not responsible for everything if you do not think of yourself as having power over everything. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Somehow, maybe, by giving up on yourself, you can care about others, but that care does not pollute your happiness, because you have given up on yourself. As Tyler Durten says in Fight Club, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” As Victor Frankyl notes in Man’s Search for Meaning, you have to give yourself up and devote yourself to some larger purpose to be happy. As Jesus says in Matthew, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
A radical humility is more central to our faith than anything else (my favorite passage is the Christ Hymn in Philippians). Maybe radical humility is what saves hell from destroying heaven. But at times it feels like alot of bullshit. Christ’s call to die to self is an obnoxiously internal command. I wish I could just do some hail Mary’s, observe Friday fasts, make a pilgrimage, and do stuff that makes me feel Christian and good. I long for legalism. But Christianity is an immensely internal experience. Humility, love, faith, God…I cannot measure it, see it, record it, or describe it. I hardly understand it.
So of course it would feel like bullshit, and of course it might be. It just makes me crazy.
These are ramblings. Please take them as such.
July 31st, 2011 at 5:57 AM
Interesting topic, Jer! Here are some things I have thought about that may bear on this topic:
1. There is suggestion in Scripture that when we go to heaven, we come to see things as He sees them. And this is much more, I believe, than just that we can see angels and demons. His perspective becomes ours. And we finally understand where God is coming from in his dealings in the world. So, whatever we are going to be feeling concerning people in hell, we are going to be having the same perspective as the All-knowing One, meaning that all the limitations and blind spots and skewered thinking we have here will be gone.
2. So, then, as much as we think we are objective, logical, and clear thinking, in many ways we are not. For instance, I think we consistently grossly underestimate the monstrosity of sin. There may be a lot of reasons for it, but in heaven that will be gone, and we will understand well why God has reacted to sin as He has, and why hell is necessary. It just won’t be an issue.
3. The other element is that of relationships. We have a tough time fathoming that relationships can get any better than the relationships we have here. And yet, even the closest soulmating in this world will not hold a candle to the most common relationships we will have in heaven. In heaven, I believe, we will start on a journey to actually approximate the quality of relationships found in the Trinity. So, will vastly inferior relationships formed in a matter of years be controlling us who will have incredibly fuller relationships strengthened over eons? That sounds hard, but you get the point.
4. Another thing I thought about is that our bodies as they are, are hard-wired for empathy (science channel). That means for most of us, we feel what another feels whether we like it or not. This is good and not so good. This is the basis of our compassion, and it is the basis of a lot of manipulation. When we get our new bodies, will it be this way again, or will we actually have the ability to turn this on or off. In other words, we become emotionally empathetic and compassionate when we decide to be.
Now, how these things work out specifically in our relationship to those in hell, I don’t pretend to know. But these considerations might be helpful.
August 1st, 2011 at 2:49 AM
My trouble is that the foundational belief that I hold is that Jesus loves everyone and I should love Jesus and everyone else too. So what I want is some view of either heaven, hell, or love, that allows for all these things to be true. I might not get it, but that is what I want. I see the main thrust of your points is that in heaven our perspectives will be transformed. I would prefer to have mine transformed now : )
Thanks for posting.
August 1st, 2011 at 7:35 PM
Understand. A lot we don’t understand.
My impression is that hell won’t haunt heaven, but heaven will sure haunt hell.
July 30th, 2011 at 9:39 AM
I love it when you stretch my brain into uncomfortable shapes! This one’s got me thinking.
July 30th, 2011 at 12:33 PM
Good! Cause there are few things I enjoy doing more. : ) Yeah, its something that I have been ruminating about for a while.
July 29th, 2011 at 7:15 AM
Of course I suffer for those loved ones that are in Hell (or that I think may be in hell). I mean, how do I really know that they are in hell. I won’t know until I get to heaven. In a way that suffering is not very strong, because there’s nothing I can do about it now. What really disturbs my mind and my heart is the possibility of living loved ones going to hell. I wish I had the courage to try and do something about it, but I don’t.
I too have longed for legalism at some point. But this would be too easy. My darkest side is hidden and private, and legalism won’t fix it.
July 29th, 2011 at 8:22 AM
Good point. Legalism is usually only helpful if when your actions are open to and measurable by others. Thanks.
July 28th, 2011 at 3:46 PM
I stumbled over your blog through facebook…but this is a topic that has been somewhat relevant in Norway the past week. We had a guy in an act of politically motivated terrorism hunt down and kill over 60 kids between the ages of 14-25ish pluss a few adults. He also placed a bomb in the capital as a diversion for his massacre.
According to the world ‘tradition’ towards terrorism, we should hate him. However, something happened that I stupidly didn’t think people could do without God’s help. Or maybe he has helped people who don’t beleive in him… But people have, as a nation, stood together and chosen to not hate the man who did this, but rather to love and support those who have been afflicted by this.
The emotional relief of only feeling immense sadness and not hate, for myself, and as a collective is huge.
So yes, love lets us hurt…but in a different way. What this has taught me is if we chose to love, we will hurt less. If that makes sense. -Hanna
July 28th, 2011 at 3:56 PM
Awesome to hear from you. Yeah its been all over the news and its good to hear your perspective. It must be crazy being there. It’s amazing when ttragedy breeds these sort of amazing responses (and it makes me want to live in Norway). But is sadness, even completely hate-free sadness, going to be a predominant feeling in heaven when hell is populated by those we love? I do not know. Sounds like a disappointing heaven. I don’t know though.
August 14th, 2011 at 2:21 PM
No idea, but if we are supposed to be happy in heaven, I’m guessing me have to somehow forget parts of our lives on earth. Maybe our focus is so different there….or God somehow makes that pain go away. But then we have to be completely altered too…. I guess we will see. Hopefully we get to take many, many of our loved ones with us 🙂
August 15th, 2011 at 12:19 AM
I appreciate your humility. And maybe all that is true. I don’t know either.
July 28th, 2011 at 3:00 PM
I don’t know. I suppose if it is a place being slowly emptied then misery might still spread until it’s empty, but in he post I was just thinking about it being permanent. What is Macdonald’s view?
July 28th, 2011 at 2:54 PM
Pretty good ramblings to me. How do you define Hell though? Is it a permanent place of habitation for souls? George Macdonald would disagree with that and I do feel it changes the argument slightly.