Hell Hath No Fury Like God’s Love

The Preacher’s Institute (an Orthodox homiletics resource) posted an article from the Huffington Post that shows how the Orthodox have viewed hell: not as God’s punishment, but as God’s love:

Hell in this view is understood as the presence of God experienced by a person who, through the use of free will, rejects divine love. He is tortured by the love of God, tormented by being in the eternal presence of God without being in communion with God. God’s love is the fire that is never quenched, and the disposition and suffering of the soul in the presence of God who rejects him is the worm that does not die. Whether one experiences the presence of love as heaven or hell is entirely dependent on how he has resolved his own soul to be disposed towards God, whether communion or separation, love or hatred, acceptance or rejection.

So at the final resurrection, God simply loves. Whether a person experiences that as heavenly bliss or a tortuous hell depends on the disposition of the person. For those who cannot accept God’s love, they make a hell for themselves. I certainly understand that from my own experience that I can torture myself over past guilt when I am unable to accept the love of God in my own life. God’s love does not compel us to love God back, and how we respond to that love places us in ‘heaven’ or in ‘hell’.

The article does not go on to say whether or not ‘all sales are final’ on death. I know there are streams of Orthodoxy that have universalists (e.g., St. Gregory of Nyssa). So in my own reflections, I say that God’s love, while it doesn’t compel, does always draw us closer to God. John Wesley called the first stirrings of God’s grace toward humans as ‘prevenient’ – that grace that goes before to enable us to return God’s love and always draws us closer to God. Why should prevenient grace stop after death?

Here I like the hints from N.T. Wright, who reminds us that in the New Testament our role in the New Creation isn’t one of sitting back, but continuing the work of God. He also points to the images of the rivers going out from the holy city and the waters are for the healing of the nations. For me this says that the final tortures of hell (as a condition or state rather than a place) do not have to be final, but the love of God felt as torture can also be the refining fires that bring all to accept God.

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28 thoughts on “Hell Hath No Fury Like God’s Love

  1. Well, I don’t know your political leanings, but the Huffington Post is as hard left as you can get without falling into the old Soviet Union. FYI, they just purchased AOL. If you follow that money trail it leads some interesting places. 😉

  2. I am likely more left-of-centre, so I may not pick up on their slant. If they are as liberal as you say, I am surprised that the Orthodox website picked it up so approvingly.

  3. //If they are as liberal as you say, I am surprised that the Orthodox website picked it up so approvingly.//

    Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. LOL.

    I don’t know how familiar you are with groups like the Tides Foundation, One Nation, the Daily KOS, and other arms extending to or from George Soros, but Adriana Huffington is in the same circle as Code Pink, Bill Ayers, Apollo Alliance, and a long list of other far left individuals and groups. I have heard her interviewed a few times on radio and TV. She has a lovely voice like Eva Gabor, but her mind is terrifying. It is one thing to have a liberal leaning view of the world. It is another to be a communist radical. She’s the latter.

  4. Sounds like a good reason to read the Huffington Post to me! 😉

    I wonder what you mean by “communist”? You mean that she wants a totalitarian State that is ruled by one “Party” for several generations and where there are only two or three dictatorial individuals who organize a secret police and arrest, torture and kill people who don’t agree with them?

  5. I don’t know any of the organisations you mention, so I really can’t speak on this. I have learned to be slightly suspicious of labels that name ‘communist’ organisations. Much like the Tea Party calling Obama a socialist when he is still to the right of some in the UK who are in the conservative party, and the socialist party in the USA say Obama isn’t.

  6. Ha, Pam! I didn’t see your comment and I said something similar! Anyway, Lance I appreciate the input, but this really isn’t the topic of my post. I let it go as no one else seemed to want to talk about what I actually wrote.

  7. OK, Will, I’ll bite. Re your original post, I’ve known for quite some time that the Orthodox Church does not view hell as eternal torture so it was old news. Any Orthodox Christian will tell you that.

    It’s my belief that the conception of hell as eternal torture was an invention of Imperial Christianity to keep the populace in line.

    The injunction to “Love me, or I’ll torture you for eternity” does not exactly embody Agape Love, does it?

  8. You may be right about the shift in hell as eternal torture during Imperial Christianity. I do sometimes wonder if it was more than just the general populace and wonder if it might have had it’s benefits. Reading the stories of England’s kings (against the background of other kings), I wonder how worse they could have been if they didn’t give some credence to the bishops’ ramblings about hell.

    I am not advocating a return to preaching about hell. I have written somewhere on my blog about the ridiculousness of using hell as an evangelistic tool (first, you have to convince them there is this awful place of torment where God will send you, but he really loves, etc.)

    So, my question is that if God’s love does indeed eternally go to people and that God’s love is a drawing love, would it not stop drawing everyone to him even after Christ’s return? God’s love may torment those who cannot accept it, but I still imagine that God moves in that person to turn from torment to bliss. Why does death have to be the ‘last call’, if you will?

  9. Sorry to derail the conversation. I did not mean to take things down that road with my (originally) off-hand comment about the Huff. I have problems with left and right extremes.

    Pam asked: “I wonder what you mean by “communist”? You mean that she wants a totalitarian State that is ruled by one “Party” for several generations and where there are only two or three dictatorial individuals who organize a secret police and arrest, torture and kill people who don’t agree with them?”

    My short answer is yes. The things you mention in your question are external manifestations of a core philosophy. The question at hand is whether man can rule himself. The libertarian (literal, not political party) belief is that man can rule himself and should be free to do so. The socialist (by whatever label) belief is that man generally is not able to rule himself. The former says the rule of law and role of government is to protect man from man. The latter says the rule of law and role of government is to protect man from himself. The former puts personal liberty and the good of the individual ahead of the state. The latter puts the good of the state ahead of personal liberty. With freedom comes responsibility. When the individual gives away responsibility to the state, the state takes both responsibility and freedom. There are of course natural limits to both ideals and either carried to extremes has its own problems. As for me, I take a more libertarian view. I do not want the state to tell me what/when/where I can or can’t eat, smoke, pray, obtain health care, invest, travel, and so forth. It has taken time and life experience to realize all this, but I believe all men should be free to live life according to the dictates of their conscience. The rule of law exists to protect citizens from crime, but the role of government is to limit the definition of crime to harm one against the other rather than how we care for and protect ourselves.

    Will said: “I don’t know any of the organisations you mention, so I really can’t speak on this. I have learned to be slightly suspicious of labels that name ‘communist’ organisations. Much like the Tea Party calling Obama a socialist when he is still to the right of some in the UK who are in the conservative party, and the socialist party in the USA say Obama isn’t.”

    All of those orgs are easy enough to google. I am not a conspiracy nut. Communism is not a conspiracy, it is the logical end and ultimate goal of socialism. The organization I mention are (for the most part) open about their agenda. It isn’t a conspiracy if its public information.

    Sorry to once again depart from the main topic of the post, but I did want to answer the questions that were raised. I do not say these things to be argumentative, just to answer what was asked.

  10. Regard hell, I once again find myself across the proverbial isle. I personally believe hell is real and eternal and that some humans will end up there. Thankfully I’m not the judge. I don’t particularly like it, but I can’t justify ignoring scripture to suit my own wishes. I also don’t believe God “sends” people there. People send themselves there (Jn 3:17-18). God is many things. He is love, but He is also holy and just. Mercy is a gift undeserved. The wonder isn’t that some end in hell, but that all don’t. I would also agree that (generally) hell isn’t a great evangelism tool, but its also a truth that should not be ignored because we find it distasteful or difficult to talk about.

    Jesus said he came to save – to save from what is as much a part of the equation as saved for what. Jesus was executed, sacrificed for us. Why? Why if not to rescue us from a real hell? That sounds like love to me. God doesn’t say love me or die. He says love me. If we end it hell it is our own choice.

  11. Lance, thanks for your straight-forward answer on the left. Having lived in Europe for 23 years (2 years in Belgium and 21 in the UK) I’ve frankly never understood the fear that many conservative Americans seem to have. I disagree with you that the core issue of European and American left is that people need to be controlled by others, but understanding that that’s your view makes more sense of the fear I sense.

    As to what I need to be saved from: my own sin and the evil in my soul that works against God and God’s kingdom.

    • No problem, Pam. There’s a fundamental difference between the attitudes of those who live in the system verses those who see it from the outside. I suppose you could call it fear, on my part. The reality is tho that both of our major political parties support elements of socialism, though our “right” claims not to. American people though have a much deeper distrust of government. We want to do things for ourselves and not depend on others. We don’t want to be a burden to our neighbors and especially not to our children. Charity personal. When the state engages in giving gifts and caring for the less fortunate, it isn’t charity, it is redistribution. Of course no one thinks we should tell gramma to go find a cardbox box to live in tell the crippled vet to get himself a tin cup and sit in front of a department store. The fact is, socialism robs humans of dignity by giving the state the power and responsibility of charity. I doubt you see it that way, but here we see our churches and private charities slipping away. People who can give don’t because the government confiscates more of their income and what’s left, they feel it is the government’s responsibility to distribute. It wasn’t that way at all just a century ago. Those who are less fortunate become dependent on the state and our welfare systems reward laziness and dependence. Divorce is encouraged because a married couple finds it much harder to get services. Women are liberated to the point the “don’t need no man” and men have abdicated responsibility to be the great care givers and providers. Why should the man work when the state can pay for the family. He can leave, discard his children, and have a good time while the woman gets to keep making babies and collecting bigger welfare checks. It is a vicious cycle. Did the collapse of the family drive the move toward socialism or the other way around? I don’t really know. I just know what I see with my own eyes. America isn’t the same country I grew up in.

  12. Of course no one thinks we should tell gramma to go find a cardbox box to live in tell the crippled vet to get himself a tin cup and sit in front of a department store.

    But this is, in fact, what will happen in the reality of the system if we leave the poorest and most vulnerable to take care of themselves or to only be taken care of by their nearest and dearest. I simply don’t think a “libertarian” society is practical or realistic. Which individual is going to repair roads or sewers? How are we going to fight fires in a ruggedly individualistic society? Who will be able to afford the millions of dollars to pay for the everyday living costs of the congenitally or accidentally disabled?

    Perhaps at the heart of our disagreement is that the Tea Partiers firmly believe in the facticity of their claim that society will run well if everyone does their own thing. And I firmly believe that, factually, this is not the case. Not because I think that people need to be controlled in all that they do, but because I don’t believe that it is, in actuality, possible to

    • It worked in the US during the 18th, 19th, and most of the first half of the 20th centuries. Almost all hospitals, soup kitchen, and support for the dregs of society were operated by churches which ran on private funds. As society moves in the direction of socialism and entitlements grow, it becomes more and more difficult to move back.

      As to public services, there is an obvious need for that and our constitution provides for it. I don’t advocate abolishing government, but I do advocate minimizing it. Our local governments have been emasculated by the fed and that is exactly what the founders tried so hard to guard against. If a state wants to be socialist that’s a state’s right, but the states have had their powers shrunk by a growing central government that began in earnest with the 14th amendment and then substantially grew with the 16th and 17th amendments.

      In a society where people are free to earn, there is more supply for all. In a society where lawyers are few and far between the cost of care will drop to a fraction.

      On your last point we shall have to agree to disagree. I really don’t think the message of the tea party is that everyone can do their own thing. There’s still the rule of law and the proper role of limited government. They aren’t asking taxes to go away, but to be reasonable. They aren’t saying eliminate all social security and welfare, but they are saying cut the crap and the gov’t must live within its means and encourage people do likewise.

  13. oops…accidentally hit the return key….

    Not because I think that people need to be controlled in all that they do, but because I don’t believe that it is, in actuality, possible to provide society will all the necessary services via private charity or individual provision.

    • Sorry, but I didn’t read that last before I replied above. As I was saying, no one in the tea party is saying turn the fire service or roads over to the private sector. But the government forcing private citizens to purchase a product (health insurance) from a private company (or any company for that matter) is simply wrong. It is robbery. It isn’t a tax because the government isn’t collecting the money. It is simply robbery. This is what’s bringing people out of the woodwork over here. It makes me mad and it should make anyone mad to be told, under authority of law, that they must spend their money to buy a private product from a private company. That’s the kind of racketeering that Chicago was famous for in the 1920s. And Obama is from Chicago.

  14. I think what I’m asking is by what sort of moral philosophy you decide that it’s good to have publicly-funded police and fire departments, publicly funded schools, roads, sewers, etc. and Obviously Very Bad to have publicly-funded health provision. (See the recent facetious-but-serious post on my blog: “A thought experiment – Did I ask you to breed?”)

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that many people seem to think that publicly-funded health provision is so obviously wrong (like incest, for instance), that there shouldn’t even be room for discussion on the matter. Whereas most other Western countries “know” equally strongly that “of course” health is a matter of the public good.

    I think that my philosophy is consistent; but it seems to me that what you’re advocating isn’t really consistent at all. I’m quite happy with “Look, I’m scared shirtless of the government” but I don’t think that there is actually a moral argument in that. At best, it’s a fear-based pragmatic argument.

    *How* healthcare provision is provided is, to me, a matter of semantics. What I’m bothered by is the argument from the right that not only is there no moral obligation for us to look after each other’s health but that it’s somehow immoral to even suggest that such an obligation might exist because it could impinge on an individual’s financial freedom (proving once again what it is that we really believe in in the US).

    As to the idea that medical care “worked” in the 18th and 19th centuries, I’m not even certain how to address that other than to ask you for whom do you think it “worked” and what do you mean by “worked”?

    When my husband and I moved back to the US, it would have cost us $1500/month for private health insurance for two healthy middle-aged individuals with one condition of mild asthma between the two of us. That was more than our monthly income. And that’s the reality of the situation for a lot of people. And then, on top of not being able to find a job that provides benefits, we get called lazy and told “Tough luck, that’s that system” by people who are not actually toughing it out themselves.

  15. We’re still mixing apples and oranges, I’m afraid. Health care and fire departments are not the same and it is a poor analogy for several reasons and its frankly beyond the point to try and explain that now.

    Health care is not wrong. For all its flaws America has among the best health care in the world. What it doesn’t have (until now) is the government administrating all of it. We don’t have rationing and we don’t have panels of bureaucrats doing the triage. People take chances and make advances here, but when the state runs things the risks associated with advancements don’t happen (as much). When medicine becomes a government bureaucracy we might as well forget it. I know other countries have socialized medicine. Many Americans are convinced we need a system like Canada. Canada also has a tax rate more than double the US and waiting lists for care. If I need care here I can walk into an ER or an urgent care facility and be seen right away. I can usually get into my regular doctor’s office right away. Who would want to be a doctor where the government dictates what services you can provide and what you can charge? Medicare patients here already suffer second class service because terms and services are dictated by the government instead of the individual and his or her doctor.

    Americans all pretty much agree the health care system here has serious problems. What we don’t agree on is how to fix it. What really pisses the people off is when bureaucrats go against the will of the people and pass laws telling people how to spend their money against their will. That’s why Obamacare is so unpopular. We have people making political decisions passing 2600 page laws that no one comprehends. Its more onerous than tax law because at least with taxes money taken from the public is exchanged for services provided by the state. At least that’s the idea. Obamacare includes laws forcing private people to pay money to other private organizations. Requiring someone to carry car insurance in order to drive a car on a public road is understandable. But forcing an individual to buy health insurance is absurd. Once again, apples and oranges.

    I had good employer paid health care for my family up until about a year ago when I was laid off. Now I have very bad coverage and my wife has none. Private healthcare we could get, but it would not be nearly as much as you quoted. Also there’s a huge difference between the kind of coverage that pays for everything and major medical.

    And the real problem isn’t the insurance system. The real problem is the cost of doing business. When I was a kid in the 1970s you could still get a family doctor to visit your home and they’d take cash, a check, or a chicken for payment. They didn’t worry about million dollar law suits. Personal reputation is what carried the day. What we’ve lost is not our ability, what we’ve lost is our soul. Doctors must charge a fortune because there are so few and they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for malpractice insurance and overhead that wasn’t necessary a few decades ago. Do away with lawyers and let the doctors do the doctoring and we might all get well.

  16. Hi Lance:

    We appear to disagree on facts as well as on what constitutes apples and oranges.

    I don’t at all think it’s wrong to compare healthcare with fire departments. The point is about banding together to do things that one family or person can’t do on their own.

    I don’t want a system where the government prevents people from having certain types of healthcare (“the Candadian strawman”). As I said, I’m not invested in the method of delivery. What I *am* invested in is the concept that I believe that decent healthcare should be something that a wealthy western society views as being available to all its citizens. And that includes decent, viable preventative healthcare as opposed to emergency healthcare after everything has gone wrong.

    I don’t believe that the Right thinks “healthcare is wrong”. But I do believe that the Right’s ethical thinking on the matter focues on “my pesonal freedom not to pay for someone else” and that it is absolutely willing to say “If someone dies because of lack of healthcare, that’s regretable but so be it. It is more wrong to force someone to pay for someone else’s healthcare than to deny someone healthcare”. That’s my fundamental point of disagreement.

    And the real problem isn’t the insurance system. The real problem is the cost of doing business.
    This is where you and I absolutely agree. And this is where the ethical system of the American culture – which is almost exclusively focussed on creating profits – has got us. And I don’t see how we start changing the system until enough of us believe that people are more important than profits.

    • Excellent. Now we’re getting somewhere. 🙂

      We both agree the cost of health care is out of control. We appear to disagree on whether it is the moral responsibility of all to pay for the few. If we able to get the government out of the picture we could probably agree that the whole population has an obligation to the well being of the whole population.

      I’ve given this some thought and I can see some reasoning for comparing fire stations to health care. One reason its a poor example, though, is that fire stations are established by local governments (towns, townships, etc). Obamacare is federal. There’s also a radical difference between paying the city to provide a city service and being forced by the government to pay a private entity for a private service.

      No matter how it is accomplished, and I’m not completely on board with the premise that it really should be, the heart of the problem is the cost of service. That goes back, imho, to layers of legalism at every point in the system. The solution is not government, at least not directly. And when government tries to force the private sector into restricting prices artificially, the price controls will force providers out of business. The end result is not lower cost, but less services available and ultimately much higher cost. Instead of holding a gun to the head of the free market, the power of the free market needs to be harnessed for the common good. I know that private citizens need some way to be protected from bad doctors who really do malpractice, but if frivolous lawsuits could be eliminated it would save hundreds of billions. Yeah, that a lot of zeros, and I’m not exaggerating. Also, manageable paperwork, less red tape, would all help on the order of billions. Good health needs to be rewarded, not bad health. Perhaps most of all is revising the system so that individuals have control over how their money is spent. If there’s no skin in the game there’s no reason not to have a lot of unnecessary tests, unnecessary pharmacology, and sham surgeries. There’s a lot of fraud in the system and it happens behind the closed doors of hospitals and clinics just like it happens among welfare crooks. If you had your own money and you had to decide how to spend it, you’d be more careful how it got spent. You’d hold your doctor accountable and you would demand answers. When someone else pays, whether its a private insurance company or the government, there’s no reason not to “take them for all you can get”. Its human nature encouraged to behave badly.

      I hope this helps to explain my rationale. A lot of people here in America understand these things and this is why the government solution is viewed as the only thing worse than what we have now.

  17. If we able to get the government out of the picture we could probably agree that the whole population has an obligation to the well being of the whole population.
    OK, that’s good. But I talk to a number of people who DON’T believe that the whole population has an obligation to the well being of the whole population. That’s actually a major starting point for agreement.

    As far as Obamacare, does anyone think it’s an ideal system? It was a politically expedient one. And I don’t like the fact that it’s invoked the current system of private insurance either. But I don’t see anyone on the Right coming up with a better solution and I’m not convinced they actually care all that much. I think that the Right genuinely believes that the free market system will cure all ills and that if we stick our heads in the sand the free market will magically – and with no thought or effort on our part – solve the problem.

    Instead of holding a gun to the head of the free market, the power of the free market needs to be harnessed for the common good. OK, how about some ideas from someone, somewhere? In continental Europe, there are a number of mixed systems that work well. Notably in France which, I believe, was rated number 1 by the World Health Organization.

    if frivolous lawsuits could be eliminated it would save hundreds of billions.

    I completely agree. But the American value system – as I keep saying – is about money, selfishness and “me first”. What do you expect when you promote this kind of “survival of the fittest” mentality? Why do you think that when we get to the court system people are suddenly going to switch from the mentality of dog-eat-dog competition to values of common sense and cooperation?

    Also, manageable paperwork, less red tape, would all help on the order of billions. Good health needs to be rewarded, not bad health.

    Right. So under the horrible, communist National Health System in the UK, I phoned my doctor, the receptionist and I agreed the day and time that the doctor and I were mutually available and I booked an appointment. Six weeks before we left the country to come to the US, my husband had emergency surgery on his retina and was back home in three hours. Six weeks ago here in the US I was on the phone for 45 minutes trying to book a doctor’s appointment and I gave up because they couldn’t recognize my health insurance (from United Healthcare) So, yeah, the paperwork problem needs to be solved here. The thing is that, while you’re convincing yourselves that everyone else in the world has it so much worse, the truth is not being told.

  18. Pam,

    With all due respect, if you’re not here you aren’t getting the whole picture. The media is so left-leaning you’ll never hear what the right really thinks or does except for the bad stuff. The BBC is as far or farther left than most of our major news networks.

    Until 3 months ago the right was utterly powerless. There were dozens of proposals put forward, but the Obama administration would not even hold a meeting with the opposition. If you knew all about how Obamacare was passed you’d be mad even if you thought it was a good thing, just because it was all a backroom deal. And now the Republicans hold the House, but with only 1/2 of one branch they can do little more than throw a wrench into the works of train that’s already left the station. They can’t get real positive changes through to the president because of the Senate and even if they did Obama has too much political capital invested in his baby to let any substantive changes through. The right hasn’t got all the answers, but we know the left’s answer is wrong.

    //But the American value system – as I keep saying – is about money, selfishness and “me first”. What do you expect when you promote this kind of “survival of the fittest” mentality?//

    With all due respect, again, you’re being very judgmental. We have people like that. So does every culture. But as a people that’s a substantial overstatement and I think unfair and untrue. We are moving that way, I’ll admit, but that attitude has more to do with entitlement mentality than free enterprise. The free market system promotes the idea that anyone who works hard can succeed. Wealth is viewed as worthy for what it can do to benefit society, not just self. A rising tide lifts all boats. Likewise, when we drive ourselves over a financial cliff into national bankruptcy we all sink. It transcends selfishness. And its also an unfair characterization of Americans generally. America is the most charitable nation on the planet. Who does the world call when there’s a natural disaster? Who does the world look to for justice?

    I believe I just gave you a list of suggestions – all of which are elements of various Republican proposals which I’ve already explained why you haven’t heard them and they haven’t gotten out of the party caucuses.

    //The thing is that, while you’re convincing yourselves that everyone else in the world has it so much worse, the truth is not being told.//

    Fair enough. We have people who tell stories both good and bad. But even horror stories aside, the fundamental issue at hand is, if we agree to pay for this, where does the money come from? If we print it, our money becomes like the German Mark of the 1920s. If we tax our people who make the money, the source dries up and there is no money and we still don’t have a system that works. If we apply price controls the doctors can’t afford to practice and all go out of business. That’s not an answer. I don’t think we’re as wealthy as we think we are to pay for all this. I keep coming back to personal responsibility vs entitlements and finding entitlements sorely lacking in fiscal or moral appeal.

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