And when you ask me if I believe in it, or maybe I just say that I do without your asking.
Yes, I believe there is such a thing as hell.
The look on your face makes me want to take it back, but I don't think you will believe me if I do. 'That's horrible,' you say.
It's all horrible, I say. It's so horrible that you might wish for a hell even if there wasn't one. I read an article the other day about the world trade in prostitutes. Young girls kidnapped from their villages or on their way to what they have been told are jobs in other villages. Gang-raped on videotape. Their captors threaten to send copies to their parents if they don't cooperate. They live under constant threat of violence, in constant risk of disease. They live in 'permanent gynecological pain.'
So let us say there is no hell. But what if there is a life beyond this one? What kind would you like? The sex slaves meet up with their masters on the shores of eternity. 'So, like, what was that back there all about?' They reach the conclusion that it was a learning experience. Side by side they swim toward the Big Light. Pimps 'n' ho's. The girls get to wear designer bikinis. A consolation for all they've been through.
For a long while, I was very comfortable with universalism, the notion that whatever sort of paradise exists, we all get there. In many ways I still am. I've long held the view that hell is our own choice--through one avenue or another we have rejected God's presence, the result being a dark, tormenting place that is ultimately self-tormenting. Outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth, if you will. For me it is not a place to which God enjoys sending people. It's not the product of an unloving or a vengeful Creator. It's a place to which we send ourselves when we do not take adequate stock of the larger world around us and focus only on ourselves. One rejects God's presence and will and thus at least begins eternity knowing what that's like.
Now, 'orthodox' might state that that's not harsh enough while 'liberals' might say that's already too harsh. God is a God of grace after all. I don't deny that. How could I, both from a scriptural perspective as well as an experiential perspective? But what does grace mean to the pimps mentioned above? To figures such as Hitler? I have no doubt that God loves them and is gracious to them. But the moment they die, does God simply say, 'Well, that went terribly wrong. Hopefully you do better up here.' Does God approach 13,000,000 murdered souls and say, 'Hey everyone. This is Adolf. It was all just a big misunderstanding'?
I am more inclined to believe nowadays that one gnashes one's teeth while slowly discovering the real consequences of radical self-interest and a rejection of others' needs. As Keizer states, hell is 'the sting of neglecting to help create a more just world' (paraphrased). God is Father and Mother, and God is a responsible Father and Mother, disciplining and helping God's children to be better people rather than let them run free, watch them get into trouble, and then buy them candy hoping they'll do better tomorrow. In the first scenario, God cares. In the second, God doesn't.
Ultimately, this is God's concern (praise be, halleuljah) and I am but one grain of sand of a blogger. However, I can no longer conceive of an afterlife where radical grace without transformation is the rule.