God doesn’t do the condemning Himself… Condemning for all Eternity is not an act of Unconditional Love, or Justice – it’s an act of Vengeance.
Eternal Damnation And Unconditional Love
When we condemn someone to Eternal Damnation, we sit on a pedestal of meting out Justice. But in reality what we are doing is seeking Vengeance. Not for ourselves, necessarily – it could be on someone else’s behalf. As a result, it may seem on the surface an act of Love, but if you look a little deeper you can see it’s really an exercise in Hate.
Condemning someone to Eternal Damnation is not an example of Loving your neighbor. If Loving your neighbor as yourself is one of the most important things you can do, then it doesn’t seem as though this condemnation is right.
If you can accept that, then let’s take this idea a step further.
Get a bottle of wine, pour yourself a glass, and put your thinking cap on. This one’s going to be a doozy!
Traditionally, we think of Hell as a place where all terrible people go. Where people are punished for their sins. That is, if they haven’t otherwise found Salvation through their walk with God or by taking Jesus Christ into their hearts.
Well… that’s weird. “If they haven’t otherwise”… That sounds pretty conditional doesn’t it? If we don’t take Jesus Christ into our hearts then we face Eternal Damnation.
Yup. I just read that again. That’s a condition. Something’s afoot. And I don’t mean one of my feet.
Yet, at the same time, we think of God as being the very essence of the concept of Love. He is Love. More than that – He is unconditional Love.
Well… wait a second… God can’t be both Unconditional Love and He who punishes sinners by sending them to Hell. It can only be one or the other. Otherwise He is placing conditions on this whole Eternal Salvation thing.
If God is a God of Unconditional Love, then He can’t punish. Not for all eternity. He, Himself, couldn’t specifically push you away for your sins.
For that reason alone I would argue that He doesn’t.
So God doesn’t do the condemning Himself. After all, if He did, there’d be no redemption. And as it is, condemning for all Eternity is not an act of Unconditional Love, or Justice – it’s an act of Vengeance.
It’s something humans do. But God is not a human.
So if we agree that God is a God of Unconditional Love, then who does the condemning?
And furthermore… what is Hell, really?
Who Condemns You To Hell
If God is the being from where all Goodness and Unconditional Love spring from, then we can agree that He can’t do the condemning, because that act would be in opposition to His very nature.
It would be sensible to conclude, then, that in order to remain purely Good, He simply cannot accept sin into Himself. To do so would be to upset the purity of the Good that encapsulates Him.
But Eternal Damnation occurs somehow, right? We might go somewhere we don’t like for all eternity. Y’know… if we don’t be good…
So where is this place? And who sends us there?
I haven’t dug into this idea before – at least not entirely – but I’m of the belief that sin wasn’t created as a means to measure our own personal virtues and vices against. It was always about recognizing the sins in ourselves, yes, but less so in terms of measuring up to our own personal salvation.
I think it has more to do with how we treat other people. Because we know other people have sin, too.
We know, inherently, that if we live in glass houses, we shouldn’t be throwing stones.
Therefore I don’t think any kind of eternal “punishment” is rendered by measuring how much sin I have. I think that “punishment” is rendered based on how I treated other people who have sinned.
Or, in other words, did I treat my neighbor with Unconditional Love? Or did I judge the sin in him while ignoring the sin in myself?
Acknowledging that I didn’t treat my neighbor as myself creates a kind of guilt, doesn’t it? A guilt that I see and feel within myself. One that becomes much more intense after I’ve passed on and can see how I treated people across my entire life.
No one asked me the question. Yet I still have no other choice but to plead guilty. I’m not actually answering to God or Jesus in this eternal courtroom.
So it isn’t God that puts me in Hell. It isn’t God that passes judgment on me.
It’s me. I’m the one who sees his own guilt and metes out that judgement. I don’t need to answer to God. I need to answer to myself – to hold myself accountable.
Because no matter what kind of person I am or what I’ve been through, I know better. I always have. That’s the trade-off in eating from the Tree of Knowledge.
I think Hell is a place each individual puts oneself via one’s own guilt. Hell is Guilt made into our own personal prison. We make that real on our own, by our own nature. It’s that absolute disconnection and distance from God Himself that we do the work of creating.
Essentially, God doesn’t punish us – we punish ourselves.
Much like C.S. Lewis talks about this concept of a moral conscience or center that we seem to constantly hear from or otherwise feel, we all inherently know wrong from right. We know our wrongness from rightness. Even when we don’t necessarily consciously know it.
We know our wrongness from God.
We even know our distance from God.
What we are left with is an immense sense of Guilt. We are naked before ourselves, looking in the mirror of our hearts.
And we feel absolute and utter Guilt and anguish. We punish ourselves for it.
Hell is a prison that we create ourselves, measured by our own Guilt.
So How Do We Absolve Our Own Guilt?
We can’t “train” ourselves to not feel Guilty. Eternally, it’s impossible. That Guilt is there, like a time bomb, one way or another. Quite frankly I think we know it long before we’ve passed on to Eternity.
We can’t pretend we’re not Guilty or otherwise ignore our Guilt. Again, maybe we can as long as we are mortal, but once everything else has been stripped away, we can’t ignore it any longer, because once everything else is stripped away, that’s all that’s left.
We also can’t act like we aren’t Guilty and think it doesn’t matter. We can’t simply will it away.
We also can’t just forgive ourselves. It’s not wrong to forgive yourself – to be clear. But, ultimately, you alone do not have the authority to let yourself off the hook – not anymore than a felon has the authority to let himself out of prison.
So, again, how do we absolve ourselves of this?
Simple: by forgiving others.
Forgiveness is an important part of setting yourself free from the bonds of those who have hurt you. It’s also about setting those very same people free from those bonds too – freeing them from the debt they owe you.
But that’s not exactly the kind of forgiveness I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the forgiveness of the sins that other people have in their heart. Even if those sins have nothing to do with you, personally.
I do not mean forgiving others so that God will forgive you.
I do not mean forgiving others so that they will forgive you.
This isn’t about you, silly… (and that’s the point – it never was). In fact, the simple act of being, feeling, or sensing your own guilt is making it about you.
It’s by forgiving others… to forgive others.
By genuinely, truly, making it about other people.
I’m talking about something that’s entirely selfless. That’s the only way you could set yourself free of your own guilt.
After all, you feel Guilty because this is what you’d gotten wrong in the first place. You focused too much on yourself.
By forgiving others in this completely selfless way, you see their value.
By forgiving others in this completely selfless way, you see their worth.
In genuinely forgiving others this way, and thereby seeing their value and their worth…
…You intrinsically understand your value, your worth. You see it all the other way around.
You become something other than yourself.
And you connect yourself to other people.
Not only that – you connect yourself to something bigger.
Thus you bring yourself closer to God.
And by bringing yourself closer to God, you distance yourself further from “just you”.
You see the glory of God in other human beings, thereby seeing the Glory of God in yourself.
You may need another glass of wine.
In the end, none of this necessarily absolves you of your sins. It doesn’t remove the things you’ve done. Not anymore than forgiving others really absolves them of the things they have done. That was never the point.
It simply makes it “well”.
And when you are finally, genuinely, well in yourself, you can be fully and genuinely well in the Lord.
In doing so, you close that distance between yourself and God.
Share Your Story
What do you think of this concept of Hell? Does it make sense? Do you see in your own life where guilt may threaten to imprison you? Where do you think you should begin making it “well”? Share your thoughts and experiences below!
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