Read the Fineprint." In the article, I state that the nature of Hell assures no true love by God... love cannot exist with that "or else" hanging over our heads.
Darrin pointed out that "or else" scenarios are the reality of our existence. There should be consequences. People who commit heinous crimes are deserving of Hell; and if one accepts the heaven of the bible, it follows that Hell comes along as part of the bargain. Darrin asked if I thought there will be justice in the afterlife.
These are great questions and valid concerns. Before I share my thoughts on the matter, I have to clarify that I am an Agnostic. Any talk of the afterlife is, to me, somewhat of an academic exercise. Also, my language here is primarily Christian since those are the waters in which I swim and has been the majority of my experience. So, without any further ado....
First, I have to say that I have no issue with consequences. I believe we tend to reap what we sow. This is an idea found in many faiths. My problem tends to focus on the eternal nature of Hell as explained in popular Christianity. That an individual NEVER gets an opportunity to repent, there is no possibility of redemption, all hope is gone. Eternal, unquenchable punishment... for the choices of 80+ years? I hardly resemble the man I was just 20 years ago. What would I be like after a millenia has passed? Hell is dropping a nuke to swat a fly. The numbers, to me, render it ridiculous.
As a Christian, my view on Hell began its radical shift after I became a father. What would it take for me to cut off relationship with my child... with no hope of restoration? When I first started articulating some of these thoughts years ago, my wife challenged me:
"I don't think I agree with your take on Hell," she said to me one day at breakfast. She pushed the newspaper toward me, "Look at this! Look at what this... sick, twisted man did! I don't care if they execute him, it is still letting him off easy! He deserves to rot in Hell forever, and it would not bother me one bit!"
I let a moment pass before saying softly, "What if it was Jacob?"
My wife froze as she processed what her feeling would be in this altered scenario.
"Shit!" she mumbled, and then took a long draw on her coffee.
What people want as a consequence for the stranger, and what they want for their own loved ones tend to be two different things. In God's case, we are all loved ones. That's why God call us to love our enemies.... he wants us to remember that those "others" are his sons and daughters.... they are our brothers and sisters.
In that light God's disciplines are that of a good father. Good discipline seeks to redeem the soul, change its direction - not extract a pound of flesh. This is demonstrated in the scriptures:
Hebrews 12:9 We all had human fathers who disciplined as they thought best, but God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness.
The endgame of all good discipline should be restoration. This is why I think justice is better defined by thinking of restoration and putting things right; rather than a balancing of the scales. As Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."
So, do I think there will be justice in the afterlife? Yes, not because I think scales will be balanced, but because I think all things will be restored.
One of my favorite scenes in the finale of Lost is when we get to meet Benjamin Linus as a penitent man. He regrets the deeds of his mortal life. Now, on the other side, he sees clearly the type of man he was.
I think scripture gives us peeks into this. Jesus asked the Father to forgive the people killing him. Why? Because they did not know what they were doing. Was Jesus saying they were not aware of their actions? Not at all, but he seems to be telling us they did not have clear vision. Paul states this in his epistle to the Corinthians. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. This is why I have come to believe that true spirituality has much to do with clearing our vision, and little to do with accepting dogmas and creeds.
and what about the bible?
For me, it is an ancient book. Like all ancient words... some are timeless (act justly, love mercy, walk humbly) others need to be left on the rubbish heap. I think heaven and hell are just an ancient people using a carrot and stick to get people to behave. Carrots and sticks work while folks are young, but there comes a time when the adult needs to be motivated by something better.
Also, having observed Christianity for over 30 years, I honestly believe that a belief in Hell- whether tacitly or enthusiastically - damages the soul. I don't think one can accept that fate for the souls of others without corrupting one's own. The meanest Christians I have known held fast and loudly to their belief in Hell. The most loving ones I have known are those who put Hell on the shelf, or abandoned it all together.