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Ever since I revealed I was obsessed with hell at 13, I’ve been thinking about hell again. No, no, I haven’t been offering my soul to Satan—I did enough of that in junior high—but I’ve been wondering how, and why it’s conceived of. I realize there are studies of the place and of its master; I know systematic and poetic and artistic thinkers alike have imagined whole vistas to describe it. (In fact, one of those systematics, one of the most inventive of the last 300 years, contributed to my fall from graduate school.) Their method is not mine. I am of the opinion that the truest way to think about hell is idly, for it is common knowledge that an idle mind is the devil’s playground, and how better to learn about the devil’s ways than to give him room to roam?

But idle study has its problems, not the least of which is it’s really difficult to observe the devil at play and not feel like the devil yourself. That, at least, was the fear David Lipscomb expressed in this magisterial sentence, process of waywardness, originally published in the Gospel Advocate in 1868, and reprinted last March in the same:

But the wanting of something new with which to excite the public mind, the resuscitation of these old oft exploded theories, the calling the minds of the people away from the great living principles of the religion of our Savior, betokening an unsteady mind and an unsettled faith, is the result of a false and deceitful philanthropy that would be more merciful than God, but which, in reality, relaxes man’s sense of responsibility to his Maker; dissatisfies him with the fixed and steadfast laws, appointments, rule and order of his Maker; and unsettles his faith and makes him the helpless waif of every wind of doctrine and cunning craft of man and carries him down to the grave a dissatisfied, faultfinding, doubting rebel against God—to be “cast out into outer darkness” where is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12), where the “worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44), “into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

Seek the paths well worn by Jesus and the Apostles; believe what they said, and extend not beyond it, Lipscomb warned. Above all, keep busy, “constantly, entirely engaged in doing the Master’s work.” Hell hath no fuel like a stray mind.

William Blake, Overview of [Dante's] Hell Yet what else is my mind to do but stray? I’m unemployed and frustrated about it. The devil, I say, be damned; I’ll take notes on his whereabouts when the opportunity arises! And, if you’re willing to indulge in your own idleness, I might also enlist your help, assuming you’ll be so kind to share your thoughts and imaginings. What did/do you imagine hell to be, if anything at all? Might it be comparable to being eaten by a bear, for example? Or is hell more sophisticated, gradations of suffering á la Dante? (see Img. 1: William Blake, Overview of [Dante’s] Hell.) Perhaps you have no physical imaginary of it but simply a worry, a suspicion, or you have a story of someone else’s hell to relate (I have one, for example, which is still painful to talk about, much less write, five years after the fact; for now, that’s as much as I’ll say about it). What, even, of hells on earth?

To stimulate us, let’s return to the Gospel Advocate issue of March 2005, which features a grand cover story in big, flaming orange letters on a black background, “The Reality of Hell,” and in addition to the Lipscomb reprint includes essays by Jeff Darby, Joshua L. Pappas, Chad Ramsay, and Gregory Alan Tidwell. Like Lipscomb, these writers weren’t seeking new thoughts to think, but were instead satisfied to insist that hell exists. I suspect their insistence is in part to counter the Borgs and McLarens out there who refuse to take up the cause of hell, either for or against, or perhaps they had heard of Rev. Carlton Pearson, of Oral Roberts fame, who declared recently that hell does not exist, and they wanted to guard against such heresy. It’s often difficult, I find, to judge why the GA publishes what it publishes, so I don’t usually try.

Nevertheless, the Gospel Advocate can sometimes serve an idle mind’s fancies. So let this one serve ours: Most of the arguments in the issue distill to some version of the claim, Jesus said hell exists; ergo, it exists. Things get interesting when the GA writers begin to ask what hell is. Two writers, for example, insist that either God’s or Christ’s nature requires hell, making hell dialectically equivalent to, or at least equidistant from, theophany. Hell exists, for example, because to call Jesus “savior” presupposes hell’s existence. Similarly, hell exists because God’s holiness requires it. This latter argument implies that God is in fact incomplete without hell: “God’s nature,” the writer says, “his inherent holiness—not only makes room for hell, but it also demands one exist.” A third writer asks in the title, “Will There Be Degrees of Reward and Punishment?” and concludes that yes, there will be degrees of reward and punishment. Finally, variegated punishment will either last forever or it won’t, and the GA says that it must, because for God to decide not to punish forever is to go against the Bible (not to mention the fact that hell is an extension of God’s self and for God to end it would be for God to end a part of Godself—and that would just be impossible since God is the eternal constant).

So this is where we begin: hell exists by God’s nature, and it is horrible, horrible, and horrible, for ever and ever. Teeth, there, are gnashed; worms, there, do not die; fires, there, are eternally fueled.

Is it not so?



haven’t read this long post yet.

but hell is 57 varieties
that would mean that i don’t have an opinion, but it doesn’t matter whether i do or not, i’m just a posting machine that needs to get back to work

however, it is uncanny, i had been thinking of posting on hell, as well…though not in the vein of the article i’ve linked

I think that’s the argument of The Devil’s Larder, though I admit that’s one Crace collection I haven’t read…

i must say, i will have to give this more thought than customary.

my thoughts re:Hell is that i find is a particulary uncompelling argument for proper behavior.

that it is rather powerless when confronted with the actual curbing of desire and that it is doesn’t actually propose any sort of positive alternative…or better, that it doesn’t give any real reasons why this or that behavior should be stopped. but, i don’t want to hijack, so i’ll not elaborate at the moment.

rather than thinking it ineffectual, i’ll try and productively think about hell

Hell is an eternity without the joy of either (1) Golden Girls reruns, or (2) Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

J, positive alternatives to hell, or positive alternatives to actions that are deemed either hell-bound or not? Hell has always been expressed to me as the ultimate negative alternative: e.g., be good, or it’s HELL for you! Hell by that reckoning is the de facto, the default, the “else”—unless, that is, you believe in purgatory. That would be the assumption especially if you buy into the Gospel Advocate’s claims about hell being part and parcel of God.

GR, We were at The Mill Saturday night, and an acquaintance kept ordering PBRs. Every time he ordered, though, our waiter said, “Another Pee-Br for you!” It was more than a little distracting.

I probably would have thought about slapping your waiter. I would have stopped, though, for fear of Hell.

Yes, slapping him did cross my mind. But then there was at least one other person there more obnoxious than he, and faced with that choice, who does one slap?

Aside: my erstwhile critic & editor, with whom I sleep, has alerted me to two screwy sentences in the first paragraph, but which I have decided not to revise at this juncture. This I note in order to call attention to the grandness of Lipscomb’s sentence again: to anyone who has read L, is this typical, or extraordinary prose on his part? (In the essay in question, this is the single greatest sentence, used to wondrous effect.)

tantalus would have to be how i concieve of hell at the moment... forever jonsing. in that, to desire something so badly that you would do whatever you needed to to get it; yet, even then, unable to satiate, medicate, numb the desire.

hell was my comps.

hell is having spent an entire week cooking and the guests arrive and the food is under/over/poorly cooked...not that this has happened to me, but it would be hell.

to try to explain:

don’t get divorced because you’ll go to hell.

this says nothing about the joys of staying married nor how to remain so. this says nothing about the hell of divorce, child custody battles. this says nothing of the hell of hurting your spouse with philandering or the persons with whom you stray. this says nothing of divorce as salvation from abuse, etc.

playing the hell card sees sin as some personal, spiritual struggle and failing with God, rather than the socio-political consequences of sin.

in a way, it might be the best way to speak to teenagers about the problem of lust (though it’s still powerless to curb lust—except those cases of spring break marriages at harding where the couple prefered to elope rather than burn) but at some point sin needs to be addressed in the here and now.

i guess i feel the social implications of sin are more important than eternal destiny, and i guess i stress the social aspects of sin because only late at night, after a glass of wine or two, i will lay my head on the pillow and wonder if i’m a heretic, if my disbelief in satan, my disbelief in the literality of scripture (see the article linked at left Unholy Strictures), my lack of being appalled at coarse language (though smug self-righteous rudeness still bothers me), and only then wonder if i will burn.

It has begun to dawn on me that I comment here rather more often than I write in either of my blogs, but then, I have a surfeit of opinions, so perhaps such commentary is only natural.

Anyway, in no particular order:

I have not read anything else by David Lipscomb, but I’d agree that’s a hell of a sentence. . . err, a heck of a sentence. Anyway, I’m impressed. He might even give Sam Johnson a run for his money.

As for hell, considered as a concept or a place rather than as a curse word, I have a somewhat curious relationship with it, whatever it is. When I was about 9, I was riding in the car with my mother one night, somewhere in Western Illinois, and I was, as is not untypical for children in such situations, bored. My mother had various solutions to long car trip boredom. One night she explained the branches of higher mathematics to me. One night she discussed the lineage of Classics scholars (“John Crossett, who was a student of Werner Jaeger, who was a student of ___, who was a student of. . . who was a student of Aristotle, who was a student of Plato, who was a student of Socrates.” On this particular night, she decided to tell me the story of the Divine Comedy. I didn’t read it myself for another decade or so (and, to tell the truth, I actually have only read the Inferno—I keep meaning to rectify that), but that early telling had a decided impact on my picture of hell, and I have never, since that night, been able to picture it as anything but a series of concentric rings, filled with mud and sloth and all manner of unpleasantness.

At the same time, however, I’m not at all sure that I believe in hell. And if I do believe in it, then I suppose I view it in somewhat the manner I view heaven—that is, we can imagine it all we want, but we won’t really know until we get there. I can only hope that hell is not reminiscent of being seriously depressed, which is enough for me for one lifetime.

G, I hadn’t noticed that particular tic of our highly eccentric waiter, but I was, on occasion, ready to slap him in any case. Our acquaintance’s fondness for low grade beer is a charming eccentricity of its own.

Whew. Enough from me. Sleep well, all.

I suppose I have a Hell of a problem: I’ve never really been able to believe in eternal punishment. I mean, sure, there were times when I’ve thought “Shit, I will totally go to Hell for this. And for saying ‘shit’ just now.” But when it comes time to believe that I will actually be condemned for eternity….nothing happens. I either can’t imagine that much suffering or can’t believe that any sort of God would let me go there.

I think I’m more afraid of the shame that accompanies serious moral failing than I am afraid of some penal colony in the bowels of the earth. Shame is my hell.

Oh, and Laura, I’m sure I don’t know you, but if you call PBR ‘low grade’ again, the claws are coming out. Seriously.

I’m sorry, GR, but I’m with Laura on this one. I’d not pick PBR if given a choice; I would, however, buy one for you, if given the opportunity. (I’ll vouch, though, that Laura is indeed worth knowing.)

And Laura, just in case I haven’t said it before, your mom is totally crazy/cool.

Reading those Gospel Advocate essays (although, truthfully, Lipscomb’s is the only one that counts as an essay, and it was written 140 years ago), the writers’ connection of hell to God struck me as ridiculous, but I think it’s because of the machinations used to make the connections stick. In truth, hell is always connected to the God known because hell exists or doesn’t by the grace of God. Its presence or its absence is the same thing, and though I didn’t make this part of the question above, maybe I should’ve: not only what kind of hell do you imagine, but also what kind of God?

The other scourge of my graduate studies (besides myself) was that bastard Emanuel Swedenborg, in whose mountain of a life and voluminous writings I got lost, never to find my way out. (I might try him again someday.) His cosmology constructed all realities in the shape of man, which was the shape of God (made in God’s image). This was Maximus Homo, and it was a sort of Platonism run amok, in that all reality had its analogue in heaven. All that exists is in equilibrium, including heaven and hell, which remains coeval because 1) of the number of spirits in each, and 2) because God rules both.. The structure of hells to S is like that of heaven, yet where the heavenly spirits and angels (they’re different) debate the qualities of love, joy, peace, etc., the demons of hell experience evil—as S writes,

Every evil, as well as every good, is of infinite variety. That this is true is beyond the comprehension of those who have only a simple idea regarding every evil, such as contempt, enmity, hatred, revenge, deceit, and other like evils. But let them know that each one of these evils contains so many specific differences, and each of these again so many specific or particular differences, that a volume would not suffice to enumerate them. The hells are so distinctly arranged in order in accordance with the differences of every evil that nothing could be more perfectly ordered or more distinct.

Swedenborg’s hells are all located under every mountain, in every nook and cranny. It was all really inventive, even beautiful in an Enlightenment kind of way. And it all stemmed from S’s God—so too, did heaven, which if you note the T.o.C. of Heaven and Its Wonders and Hell, is much better cosmologically defined than hell is.

All that I realize is all talking at what you guys have said, without actually responding. Truth is, I’m not certain what to respond—which is partly my fault given the way I asked the questions originally. Practically, I’m with J—Why worry about “afterlife” when this life’s consequences are as difficult as they are? Pragmatically, I’m with L—It’s all imaginary, and it always has been, even Jesus’s “gnashing of teeth” was of its own curious 1st century culture. And sympathetically, I’m with GR—I can’t much imagine eternity in either direction. With the last, I fear it’s partly my own spiritual anomie of late, which seems particularly unimportant in light of, for example, my continuing unemployment, as well as my great difficulty in echoing GKB’s sentiments—which is an essay of itself that I probably won’t post here, not for some time anyway, and about which I frequently catch (what else but) hell from Kathy.

More about all of this, eventually.

S’s concept of the balance between heaven and hell seems similar to the proposition in sin noticias de dios.

without the whole little critique against globalization and corporate take over

now, now…De gustibus non est disputandum

and, though i too go in search of the perfect pint (May 03, 2004)...and though i would never climb the mountains of bush nor ride the silver bullet…you gotta admit that PBR is a great beer for 2 bucks a pint. if ya gotta go cheap, you gotta go PBR that original winner in 1882.

what else you gonna have with a burger? what else you gonna have with a pizza in your pjs when you haven’t bathed in two days? what else you gonna have when you go to the local dive and hear the angry chick shred her guitar?

no, i gotta take a stand on this one…PBR is perfectly respectable…if you doubt me, you can leave your mesh back ball cap in room as you leave, because you don’t deserve to wear that 1970s vintage clothing you got on!

can you tell that i’m procrastinating?

you’re absolutely right that one’s concept of God is closely bound with one’s understanding of Hell…which could be why job and ecclesiastes get rewritten

though, i would say that one’s disbelief in satan affects neither. some would disagree with me. (Article VIII, which is part of the credal statements of non-CoC evangelical colleges throughout the land)

all this to say, i don’t have the foggiest who God is.

as the story goes, i used to know. i would’ve been 3, or so, and we were on lake garda the conversation turned towards theological matters and my sister, wondering about God knowing those bad things you do, asked how many eyes God had in order to be able to keep track of everyone. i, apparently, quickly responded…God doesn’t need eyes.

i still stand by that…God doesn’t need eyes…but most of the time i can say little else.

Indeed, your procrastination is evident! I will add, that, where you say,

i don’t have the foggiest who God is.

I usually change who? to what?.

even though your bad sentences can and will never touch the funkness of my bad sentences (the last one, was so poorly constructed it, left me thinking what the hell was i trying to say), i, at least, am less of a heretic. i, at least, use a pronoun for God that connotes the hope of a personal relationship

you, my friend, will start out in one of the inner rings of hell and maybe eternity will be long enough for you to get a glimpse of purgatory

Ah, me! Consigned to hell already, and I haven’t even said whether or not I believe in it, or why! Why, my friend, are you unjust? Who be you more like, Bildad, Eliphaz, or Zophar—or, dare I say it? Are you Elihu?

along with tantalus, i would define hell as schizophrenia and manic depression or any tortuous psychotic state…and, i think that these actually say a lot of how i concieve of the world and God (not the least of which is that i am very 21st century american)...but an explanation of this to come later

When you come to that explanation, leave hell consigned to here, and I’ll do the same; God, I think, deserves God’s own post(s).

Moving on.

For the hell of it:
Image: Robot Devil from Futurama

Also, Faust!

Hello folks,

I guess I’m famous, or infamous for an article I wrote while an undergrad at HCU in Florence, AL. I sent it in to the GA, because I was proud of it at the time. It was something like three years later when it was actually printed in GA. By then, I felt I could have done a much better job of writing it, but, I digress.

To agree with a post made above, my article was indeed not so much an essay as it was an informative article about the basics of “annihilationism,” or “conditionalism.” The GA ran the series not so much in response to Borg, or some other theologian at large, but in response to “annihilationist” teachings among churches of Christ (F. LaGard Smith, E. Fudge, etc.). For those who read my article, let me say first that the GA editors (God bless them) messed my references up, and they did not print properly at all, but the article itself is worth reading as a crash course in the doctrine I was studying at the time. As for the beliefs of my brothers who wrote the other articles in the issue, I agree with their basic premises, but I don’t endorse all of their reasonings.

A final thought here: perhaps those who read the article will notice that I did not make one’s beliefs about what hell will be like, whether temporary or permanent a matter of orthadoxy or heresy, but one cannot choose simply to deny the reality of gehenna and still believe that the Bible is the word of God. Those of you who don’t know who God is, or don’t believe in the devil, or don’t know if you do or don’t, or aren’t affected by evil around you, etc. need to come to terms with the Bible. Is it the inspired word of God or not. Come to a decision and decide to be hot or cold. Your present life, and eternity will be better for having examined the evidence actively and fairly, and made a decision once and for all. I believe the Bible is God’s word with all my being, and, until now, I still believe that hell will be a place of eternal punishment away from the presence of God.

—Joshua P.

JP, it’s flattering you might think so, but don’t think anything that goes on here will make you famous! We’re backwards in these parts. That said, most of us wrote stuff in graduate school we’re not fond of—few of us got it published. Kudos to you for publishing as an undergraduate. As I remember the GA, it didn’t give a very succinct bio. But I don’t remember that GA very well, and I don’t remember which was your article. In writing the above I separated authors from ideas for the very reason that I wanted to generalize, to use your work and the others’ as a springboard off which to jump, without getting your respective personalities in the way. That your personality might stop by I never considered. Thanks for doing so.

Small world isn’t it? Anyway, I was just kidding about the “famous” bit. It can be very surprising what one runs accross on the web on occasions. :-)
Grace and peace to you.

This is most interesting. I should be outside on this beautiful, sunny, and cool Saturday morning . . . mowing the grass with my push lawn mower (to cut down on the amount of emissions entering the air from our Milwaukee reformulated gasoline). Instead I am in here on the computer recovering from my way to late date with my wife at the Redrocker’s (Sammy Hagar) concert last night.

I come to my favorite Hermit site and find Greg and Joshua here. Since I have not really read a “modern” GA in a long time I could not vouch for the contents. I mean if it does not date prior to the 1960s and preferably on microfilm it really isn’t worth reading is it?? But my beloved brother Joshua has an article, I did not know this. And on hell too.

Our dear brother Moses Lard, of blessed memory, after an extended study of the depressing subject of hell, came to the conclusion that Scripture does not teach the endless punishment of sinners. His scholarship is very erudite and thorough even if on the dull side. Now our dear brother Jimmy Allen has also taken that position. I have decided that it is just about dangerous to study and examine traditional views because they often end up going to gehenna.

I have a simple position on hell. I want nothing to do with it. Scripture rarely (in my view) uses “hell” either as a threat or a motivating idea (I did not say it NEVER does, it just is not a big theme). Therefore whatever hell is not really a big theme for me either. You want to talk about the new heavens and the new earth, ok. the cross? great. The power of the indwelling Spirit! Now we are talking. The kingdom. There we go.

Josh I would be interesting in reading your article. I am glad to know that whatever is orthodox on this subject is not made a litmus test for “soundness.”

Bobby Valentine

In the spirit of the original question, if inadvertently, BV proffers another vision of hell: a concert that features Sammy Hagar.