There was a difficult time in my life, where, due to having no career or even a job, I did a lot of housework and puttering about, and spent way too much time watching TV. I discovered old sitcoms like “Gidget” to be pretty good, and wound up watching episodes of kids’ cartoons like “Thundercats” and “He-Man“. I also watched a lot of the evangelical talk show “The 700 Club” (presented by Reverend Pat Robertson and his genial co-hosts Danuta Soderman and Ben Kinchlow.) Now the basic theology of this program is called “Dispensational Premillennialism”. That God will for all eternity torment those He judges to be sinners seems an especially strong belief among those with this theology.
Recently I read “Love Wins”, a book by Pastor Rob Bell, which is a look at the Christian doctrine of Hell, defined as the place where conscious souls will suffer unimaginable suffering, as well as understand that their suffering will never end. Of course I had to read it, because it is gently but firmly critical of this conventional understanding. His teaching dovetails nicely with things I have been thinking about for a long, long time.
Following is my 1986 poem “Damnation”, wherein I muse about the paradoxical effects of Hell on those who are not condemned to it.
The flaming fire of Hell will burn their immortal hearts,
As the saved ones and the blessed are by compassion torn apart.
The city of the Lord! Could it be touched by human pain?
Could the Raptured faithful there still be burned by sorrow’s flame?
Though the mighty Lord of Life will wipe the tears from out their eyes,
Love-filled and merciful, could they be heedless of the cries
Of pain-racked guilty Damned who die eternally?
Unblessed by Jesus Christ the Lord: from torment never free.
The neighbor whom you love, who will not see the light,
With many Good Samaritans cast bound into the night.
Do you, who’ve been from youth well-taught to love your fellow-man,
Believe that most will feel the wrath of Him who made Leviathan?
Could you still feel joy despite their pain, and for salvation praise the Lord?
Or could compassion be your bane and take their pain for yours?
Or rapt in holy joy, could it be taken light?
Could dark and fear and death, and death, seem small in Heaven’s light?
Love is the greatest thing that lasts: this all His friends know well.
A lover’s empathy is plain —
Would not Hell’s pain be Heaven’s Hell?
- An Unwitting Damnation (psychologytoday.com)
- North Carolina pastor sacked for denying the existence of hell and damnation (freethinker.co.uk)
- What in Hell Is Going On? (themoderatevoice.com)
- Preach Hell…Christ Did (revivalandreformation.wordpress.com)