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Michael Stoeber Hell, Divine Love, and Divine Justice Within the Christian tradition the doctrine of hell has received a variety of formulations, critiques, and apologies. Underlying the diverse views on the subject are three common assumptions: it is an everlasting condition of existence that is to be construed as justified punishment involving extreme suffering. Enlightenment and contemporary critiques of the belief rest upon the indictment of it as cruel, excessive, alienating, and non-reformative punishment. Yet, despite these criticisms, as well as the move on the part ofsome contemporary theologians toward a view of universal salvation, it is still maintained officially as a dogma of the Roman Catholic and various Protestant churches, and held today by a majority (60 percent) of U.S. citizens.1 This essay will argue that the concept ofhell should be included within a Christian theological framework. But it maintains that the concept can best be defended against critics if we move beyond the tendency to view hell as divine retribution exacted through the infliction of pain. Rather, I defend a different traditional view, one Logos 2:1 Winter 1999 Hell, Divine Love, and Divine Justice177 that envisions hell as an afterlife condition of spiritual contraction or self-isolation. In order to develop this argument, and the particular conception of hell I have in mind here, I begin by exploring various attitudes toward human suffering. Part 1 outlines the traditional Christian imperative toward the suffering of others (compassion) and also explores distorted responses (apathy, sadism, and masochism). This Christian imperative to compassion seems incompatible with the idea of the divine infliction of eternal punishment. Indeed, the idea of divine love, which is the source of this imperative to compassion, seems inconsistent with this view of hell. But to deny hell seems inconsistent with the idea of divine justice. This issue is the subject of Part 2. Theologians who stress the idea of divine love in their theology tend to deny hell and espouse a doctrine of universal salvation. Those who stress divine justice tend to defend hell as a necessary condition of creation. But this tension between divine love and divine justice only applies to views that depict hell as the divine infliction of pain. Part 3 illustrates a different picture. In line with the theology of suffering outlined in Part 1 , 1 argue that a morally acceptable view of hell is not to be understood in terms of a hard-line scheme of retributive punishment. It should rather be conceived as the stark contrast to a vision of spiritual integration and fulfillment in love. Hell is the possibility of a permanent contraction or constriction from one's spiritual expansion in love. Part 4 goes on to suggest why the possibility of this afterlife condition is necessary to coherent Christian theology. Such a view of hell does not depict God as actively inflicting pain, and it secures the authentic freedom and dignity of the individual with respect to her or his own eternal destiny. Moreover, it also allows one to maintain attitudes of compassion and hopefulness toward those individuals who are immersed in this condition of self-isolationism, even though they might choose to maintain this orientation indefinitely. It is in 178 Logos these ways that this view of hell embraces and upholds both the ideas of divine love and divine justice. But I begin, as I said, by exploring the various ways ofresponding to the suffering of others. Part 1 : Apathy, Distorted Empathy, and Compassion Typical responses to suffering can take one ofthree forms. One can respond to the suffering of another person either apathetically, in a distorted empathetic fashion, or in terms of compassionate love. Traditional Christian ethical teaching stresses the last attitude as imperative for the Christian life. This attitude is exemplified by the teachings and actions of Jesus. In this section I will briefly analyze these three fundamental moral attitudes before relating them in Part 2 to the idea of hell. Most generally, apathy can be understood as an existential stance wherein people remain distant and remote from suffering and other intense passions, whether in themselves or in others. As a consequence of this suppression of their own feelings and of any...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 176-199
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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