How Hell Elevates Human Dignity

Fallen angels in Hell
Even the angels have a choice

First of all, if you are seeing this on Facebook, please be aware that some of my updates didn’t pop up there for whatever reason, so you may want to check the last few days’ posts.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the religious blogosphere lately about Rob Bell’s universalist book, “Love Wins.”  Having not read the book and having no intention to, I can’t really comment it per se.  However, Rabbi Derek has made a couple of posts on the subject, one of which introduced me to the Experimental Theology blog, which I quoted from in “Too Strong a Medicine.”  As I pointed out there, there is no less inherent horror at a torture lasting “billions of years” than there is at one lasting an eternity:

Heck, we’re aghast at the extremely finite tortures inflicted by the villan in the movie Se7en against the seven deadly sins–how horrified would we be if he had somehow stretched those tortures against his rather venial victims out over decades, let alone if he somehow had the power to stretch it out over centuries, millennia, or the life-span of the sun.

But there’s another horrifying aspect to Beck’s approach that he has also not considered.

Others, like Pastor Bill Randles in “How Hell Glorfies God,” have taken the traditional approach of defending Hashem.  I’m going to take a different approach here:  I’m going to defend the rights and glory of Man.

Somewhere, a Calvinist is reading this and trying not to do a spit-take on his keyboard.

Going back to Beck, let’s hit one of the cornerstones of his brand of universalism as he lays out in his “Universalism Summary Defense.”

Most defenders of a classical view of hell eventually make appeals to God’s justice. However, for justice to be justice it has to meet a few, almost axiomatic, standards. Most importantly, all notions of justice involve proportionality. As they say, the punishment must fit the crime. Thus, a punishment of infinite duration and unspeakable torment fails to meet any moral standard of justice. More, if we want to link justice to love then there needs to be a rehabilitative facet to the punishment. Not all justice is rehabilitative. Capital punishment isn’t. But a loving justice will try to accomplish three things:

  1. Vengeance for Victims (Justice)
  2. Rehabilitation of the Perpetrators (Grace)
  3. The Reconciliation of Perpetrators and Victims (Forgiveness and Repentance)

Of the major soteriological systems only universalism gets us all three of these things.

Here Beck completely confuses Justice and Mercy.  Justice is nothing more nor less than forcing the perpetrator of one or more crimes to reap what they sow.  It’s almost mechanical in a way:  If you steal, you (Biblically) are forced to pay back what you stole with interest, even if it means having to sell yourself into indentured servitude.  It is Mercy that seeks to rehabilitate, not Justice.  It is Mercy that says, “We don’t just want the criminal to serve his time and walk away no better (or possibly worse) off for it; we want him to come out a better person for his own good.”

The problem is what do you do with a person who simply does not want to rehabilitate?

So when Beck says that the purpose of a Hell of flames and torment must be in part “Rehabilitation of the Perpetrators,” what he is really saying without recognizing it is that Hell is like the Ministry of Love from Orwell’s 1984.  The novel ends on a note of utter depression and horror as Winston, tortured beyond human endurance and utterly broken,

gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark mustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

Beck has unwittingly put the Holy One in the position of Big Brother, of O’Brien, of the Ministry of Love.  There is no dignity in Man, because in the end the only question is whether we will surrender before the torture.

Let us return again to the honor-shame paradigm of Hell.  In this paradigm, there is a true and honest choice:  Those who choose to submit to Hashem’s mercy will be clothed in His honor.  Those who choose not to be, will not be.  And since we do not have, in our sinful natures, the honor to be able to stand in the Presence of the Almighty, the Omniscient One who knows all of our secret sins, those who do not have their shame taken away by the Sacrifice of Yeshua are put outside of the domain of the King.  That place, outside of the Light and Life of Hashem, is what we call Hell.

It is a choice with a real and eternal consequence, but one that the Holy One refuses to take away from us.  To do so would be to diminish the real dignity of Man, a dignity that He invested in us in our creation when He made us in His own image.

Shalom

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