JUSTICE AND ETERNITY
Ziggy's Corner: This is an essay I've been planning on writing for some time now. I hope you enjoy it.
In what little debates I have had with different people, either on line, or off, this is one of the stickiest of subjects. Many people see the issue of Hell as a way to control the masses to do things that a smaller group of elitist wish them to do. In way, that is very much the truth, as humans do lust for power.
A person could easily say that these small power mongers do not stop at hell either, but also with anything in existence. For example, the laws of society could be considered manipulations by the power mongers over the masses. An example would be a city in California declaring that people could not go around with their belly buttons exposed, or else face fines. Now any good, reasonable person can see the silliness of such a thing… but the city goes on to state that they want people to be decent, to protect them from their lusts. But has anyone ever been raped because her or his belly button was exposed? There are people who are turned on by them… sure, but I've never heard of such an incident.
Another example might be a town warning people to stay indoors at night, and lock the doors, because a rash of unexplained attacks on animals have been occurring. Here is something more reasonable than the first law… its based on the basic demand that people are supposed to be protected by their government. But a person could easily manipulate such a thing and swell it out of proportion. One law follows another, and what was meant to protect the citizens from an unknown attacker, whether animal or human, devolves into a witch hunt, with vampires or werewolves or demons on the hunt.
Humanity needs limitations to protect themselves… even if we don't like it, we have to accept that reality. It can be said that if there are dangers in the real, material world, there are just as many dangers in the spiritual world as well. And if we warn people and especially our children of said dangers in the real world, why would we even consider not telling them the very minimum of what might await them in the spiritual?
Many of my opponents, who are spiritual themselves shake their heads, and sigh, "God is a good, and loving deity. He would not create such a horrid place like Hell. He wants us all to be with Him and love Him and each other forever!" Then other people who disbelieve in Hell say, "It just proves that certain closed minded people want nothing more than to deceive and control, and withhold our love, holding us in fear." Such people, not all of them, but a small group would also believe that such an Orthodox view of God is held not only by those who would corrupt and control, but also those who decide to remain to be ignorant, or rather want such a being to be.
I'll address the second statement first. As I said before, they're correct on a small portion. There are and have always been, and always will be those who corrupt certain things in order to force us to obey them. If we really study and look at their actions and reasoning, we'll eventually find out the truth, in which case they're rule breaks and crumbles at all points save for the very minute population which wishes to be controlled and told what to do. But though they still retain followers, their power still slips and their influence isn't what it once was. In other words, they go from being powerful organizations, to small cults. The wish to control and be controlled is a massive part of the human mentality, it can't be helped, and despite of humanity's humanity of progress, I don't think either will ever disappear.But can it be said that Hell is part of this group control by the small, and powerful? Anyone will indeed abuse anything, so a fanatic can and will abuse a given, as I gave the example above with a town holding a lockdown while it goes from hunting a madman/wild animal to looking for a mythical monster. So yes, Hell can be used by such men and women to install unjust fear, without using reason to advance. But does this mean that Hell is just a fairy tale and a legend? Or is it a truth? Is Hell a given reality?
The answer to that question is yes, it is real. Why? Because it has to do with justice. And no, I'm no talking about the justice of Kira and the Death note (the popular Japanese Manga and anime show), but justice in a much larger role. You see, Hell is the absence of God. It is where those who do not desire the presence of God are sent, simply because it's the one and only place where God is not present.
This is an answer to the first statement, that God is so good and loving that He wants us to be with Him no matter what. Many critiques will either gasp or smirk at my statement that Hell is the only place where God is not present. To these that means that, "Either A. He's not Omnipresent, or B. There is no Hell." Let me ask this then, can a dish be declared both completely clean and dirty at the same time? No one, nothing can be two opposite things at the very same thing. God is Omnipresent, yes… but He is also just. A person who dies with a life times of crimes against his or her fellow humans can not just get away with it, if you believe in God. There is justice. And that means either he or she goes to Purgatory, as we Catholics believe, for a while, for minor crimes… or Hell.
Hell is the total absence of God. His sight can take Him to see what goes on there, but no one there can see nor feel Him, though they know that He truly exists, having experiencing His presence briefly during the judgment. Hell is like an empty cup, with no water in it. Let's say there is a person who for some reason or other denied the existence of water. Nothing you could do, could make him accept it. Then one day, he experiences water, and his throat is quenched… really quenched and he realizes it was water that has helped sustain him all these years. After that one drink; however, he doesn't go near the water again. His throat burns, he yearns for it, knowing it's existence but for some reason, he won't go near it. That is like being in the presence of God during your judgment, then going to Hell. Water still exists, it might even be flowing nearby, but never again shall the man know its presence.
At this point, I'd like to apologize to any I've so far confused, if any. I'm not the best apologist, debater, or essay writer. I'll never be published in any fancy magazine, but my hope is, I may touch the mind and heart of at least one person who reads this.
Now, getting on with it. Many people who are soft hearted, and keep in mind there is nothing wrong with that… so long as it does not cloud your reasoning, can not accept the existence of Hell. They deny a good and loving God would send a person there. But then how do they deal with justice?
One theory is that God is so loving, He simply overlooks these sins, that once the sinner is in His presence, their wronged minds snap to reason, and they repent. I've never been to the judgment myself yet, so I can't say the percentile of this reasoning correct or incorrect. Perhaps they might have a point with the mentally ill, or those who repent upon their very last seconds of life here on Earth. Of unborn and baptized babies, I am very happy to see the Vatican finally throwing out Limbo (I will say this, to the confused, the Church never officially declared yes on Limbo, up until now, its always been a "We're not quite sure yet"). But no matter how high the percentile of this theory is, its not high enough to warrant out Hell. Because it denies that a person in the presence of God is incapable of operating free will. If he or she denied God all their lives, why all of a sudden, unless they've truly been mad, would they accept Him? Does this mean God strips us of free will once we face Him upon death? The early Church believed that once we died, we lost all chances of trying to repent. "For after we have departed from this world it will no longer be possible to confess, nor then will there be any opportunity to repent."
"The grief of punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late they will believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life."
Again, we understand more about the mind of the madman than what the early civilizations did, and so, if a maniac committed great crimes, but was unaware of what he or she was doing, I and the compassion of the Christian church both have high hopes that God does not judge such actions. There the person comes to grips with reality, and is judged either on their last rational act. If the said person had always been mad, then he or she has the hope of given a test, to accept God right there and then. But it is they who must chose. And just as a person has the right down here to deny God, and continue to deny Him in His own presence, so a mental awakened person has the right to deny God, if the so chose.
There is another option, for the critics of Hell. Reincarnation. As most of the Eastern Religions believe, a person who lives a bad life has a chance after a few trials in the afterlife to try again and get it right. One thing I've learned is that, contrary to popular belief, most Eastern Religions that teach reincarnation do not teach a constant, eternal reincarnation cycle until you get it right. A good deal many of them have their limits, and after that the soul is simply gone, or it is sent to its eternal punishment. But is this justice? Could a good and loving God allow such a thing, giving us a chance to make up for past crimes over and over, until we finally get it right, and chose Him?
I do not believe so, and again it has to do with justice. Now upon first glance, reincarnation… especially the "Christian" variants of it, do look like justice. You are punished, as Heaven is denied to you. But, it denies us our free will. God, using reincarnation, browbeats us into accepting eternal salvation and life. Not only does this sound like a crime against our free will, but it doesn't sound like a kind, and benevolent God. A kind and benevolent dictator perhaps, but not a God who willed us the gift of free will. If He gave us will to choice Him, then why would He decide that we would be best served to deny our free wills?
But are we free? Some people say because God knows where we will end up, as He's all knowing, then we're really not all that free. This is considered predestination, and on one hand, its got a good point, however; it does not work out like what many people think. It does not mean that God decides that some people are to be born to go to heaven, and others to hell. That would not be a just God, nor a loving one. He wanted His message to be spread across the globe, and a good and loving God would not create a person who had no chance at all to have eternal life.
St. Justin the Martyr said this of free will, "We have learned from the Prophets and we hold it as true that punishments and chastisements and good rewards are distributed according to the merit of each man's actions. Were this not the case, and were all things according to the decree of fate, there would be nothing at all in our power. If fate decrees that this man is to be good, and that man to be wicked, then neither is the former to be praised nor the latter to be blamed.
Furthermore, if the human race does not have the power of a freely deliberated choice in fleeing evil, and in choosing good, then men are not accountable for their actions, whatever they may be. That they do, however, by a free choice, either walk upright or stumble, we shall now prove…
That the same man pursues, both good and evil, frequently wavering and changing his mind. But if he were set upon a path by fate, to waver or change were not possible. Besides, if fate decreed that some men are to be evil and others are to be good, then fate itself would be the cause of both good and evil, and would be in opposition to itself.
God did not make man like the other beings, the trees and the four legged beasts, for example, which can not do anything by free choice (In other words, the animals and planets rely on instinct, as opposed to humanity, which relies on both instinct as well as free choice).
Neither would man deserve reward or praise if he did not of himself choose the good; nor, if he acted wickedly, would he deserve punishment, since he would not be evil by choice (This makes a good argument for the mentally ill, as they can not understand their decisions, and thus can't choice by choice), and could not be other than that which he was born. The Holy Prophetic Spirit taught us this when He informed us through Moses that God spoke as follows to the first created man. "Behold, your face, the good and the evil. Choose the good." (Deut. 30:15 and 19).
St. Theophilus of Antioch, the seventh bishop of Antioch, and the sixth successor of Peter of that city, said this, "For God made man free, and self-determining."
And Arnobius of Sicca, who was an opponent to Christianity for a good long time, until he was warned in a dream to convert, says this, "'But if Christ came as the Preserver of the human race,' you say, 'why does He not, with equal kindness, free all without exception?' Well, does He not free all alike, when He calls all alike? Or does He repel and thrust anyone away from the supreme benevolence, when He gives to all alike the power of coming to Him-- to men of rank, to common folk, to slaves, to women and boys? 'The fountain of life,' He says, 'is open to all; nor is anyone turned away or denied the right to drink.'
If you are so fastidious as to spurn the kindness of the gift offered to you -- nay, if you are of such superior wisdom that you term what Christ offers ridiculous and absurd, why should He keep inviting you, when it is but His part to expose the fruit of His bounty to your own free choice? Plato says that God is not is not the cause of man's choosing his lot in life; nor can anyone's will be rightly imputed to another, since the freedom of will is placed within the power of the very one who wills.
So we can clearly see that the Church ( by the way, when I say the Church with capital letters, I am talking about the Catholic Church, as I am Catholic.) and Christianity as a whole, believed that men and women had free will. And that it was God who granted it to them.
So a good and loving God, who granted us free-will to choose Him, would not browbeat us to chose Him. He'd not use reincarnation or simply deny us the free will that allowed us to deny Him in life, at the last court. To reject that idea, is to reject that we have free-will, and thus deny justice.
Another standing point for the opposition of Hell, is the devil, Satan, Lucifer. Like Hell, they deny that he does not exist, that he is a myth, something to threaten small children into obedience. As I already pointed out, there are those out there, that abuse givens. Just as they can abuse the reality of hell to control a group of people, so too can they abuse the reality of the Prince of Lies.
But according to some of the critiques, the Jewish people didn't believe or teach Hell, they didn't believe or understand about fallen angels. They even say that Satan and Lucifer weren't even the same person! It was the Christians, they say that brought both Hell and Satan into reality of discussion. I'll address these now.
First off, Hell. Did the Jews believe in it? As what we understand Hell now to be, perhaps not. But they did indeed believe in an afterlife. In fact, from everything that I have read, the Jewish afterlife was very close to what the Greeks held as well. Sheol was a dark, shadowy void where the souls of both good and evil went. There was a theory that once a person died, their life continued, just the same as they did in the human world. Certainly after the Persians came and went, the idea of Sheol started to change from what it had been, to a more Grecian thought. Now, like the Greeks, the good went to an area much like the Elysium Fields, were the evil went to be tormented in an area much like Tartarus, and from the Persian belief in resurrection, they came to believe they could escape from Sheol to a new life in the Heavens. So the Jewish people really did believe in Hell, but it was an evolved thought.
Does that mean that it was simply a borrowed thought and belief? That could be a good point, a very strong argument by those who don't believe in Hell. And yes, much of what we consider Hell as of now, is indeed heavily influenced by other cultures and religions. But that does not mean that Hell does not exist… and such an argument against it, based on the above, doesn't hold much water, as our concept of how Heaven is, also borrows images and beliefs from other cultures… therefore if Hell is fake simply because if borrowed from other cultures, so then must Heaven equally must be fake, for doing the exactly the same thing! What we must understand is that both Heaven and Hell, and for that matter Purgatory, are spiritual places and far beyond the understanding of mortal minds to grasp, no matter how much grace one has … even if as in the case of many saints that had the privilege of seeing these areas so that they can tell us what they are like. We see what we can only handle in seeing. I have no doubt that of all the stories told of Heaven and Hell, the reality of those areas are far greater and far worse than the best or worst stories we've heard about them.
Now on to the claim that the Jews didn't understand or believe in fallen angels. Okay… I have to admit I haven't read a whole lot about this issue, but what I have read about, is that in the early stages of their faith, it is that they did very much seem to hold all angels in equal status, and they were all very much feared. If you doubt that, just read any Old Testament passage with angels in it. People bowed in awe, and were terrified. Only when angels were in human form was the fear lowered. What is more, many people who are into angelology believe that the Angel of Death who descended upon the Egyptians was a dark angel, or an evil angel.
In Job 4:18, we read where one of the friends of Job claims that God does not trust His servants, and charges His angels with folly or error. Now this comes from the voice of a human, claiming to know how God thinks, and not only that, but from a book that's more or less considered by a now growing majority of experts that it is a work of fiction. But… let's stop and think… the work was considered to be written between 500-250 B.C. This would then put it either during or just prior to the Persian influences.
It was nearer toward the Persian occupation that ideas of different angels started to take root. By the time the Christian era came about, a good majority of Jews believed that the serpent who tempted Eve was either an evil angel… or was being controlled by one. So there it is again, the evolution of ideas… we can even find ideas of angels from Zoroastrianism, the ancient Indian/Persian religion. In fact… not only angels but God and the devil as well… as we can see in Zoroastic concepts of Ahura Mazda, their good god who dwells in the light in the sky and their evil god, Ahura Mainu, the source of evil… who dwells in the abyss deep below. The concept of Heaven and Hell are also seen in this religion, though it differs from Christianity, and people in Hell are able to eventually be redeemed.
So the idea of angels evolved just as Hell and Heaven did. Ah, my opponents will say, because the ideas evolved, it means that Christians did indeed invent Satan and Hell to control the masses. Au contraire mi amigos, not true. As I said above, during the beginning era of the Christians, many Jews were starting to believe that it was an evil spirit or the king of the evil angels who either seduced or used the serpent to seduce Eve. By the time the Christians came around the ideas of Satan and Hell were already being formed, by the Jewish people… not by the Christians.
But they believed in a Hell that one could get out of, some people might say. Such a difference from Christianity's hell nowadays that people might claim that the eternal hell was created by control freaks. Well lets not forget that this was a total different religion than Christianity to start off with. It also believes in reincarnation, as opposed to Christianity. However; many Christians for the first couple of centuries weren't sure if Hell was eternal or not. Many followers of the Church argued for both sides of the debate, Origen being one of the leaders of that movement, until the dogma that it was an eternal punishment was decided upon at the Second Council of Constantinople. It was also decided upon this course because of the same reason as I wrote this essay from the beginning.
Now we shall talk about Satan and Lucifer. Many people believe that he does not exist… a few claim this is because he was created by the Christians, or the idea of Satan and devils came from Ahura Mainu. While there was a good deal of borrowing from this faith and others, I'll continue to state, that just because borrowing happened, does not mean that it did not exist. Others say that Lucifer and Satan weren't even the same guy!
How did that happen? According to the critics it was a misunderstanding of Isaiah 14:12, "How you have fallen, O Lucifer, son of the morning." Another reading has it reading, Light-Bearer. According to Gustav Davidson, author of A Dictionary of Angels, "an apostrophe which applied to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon." And he is right, if one were to read the verses before and after, its obviously speaking about old Nebbie!
Davidson goes on to say, "The name Lucifer was applied to Satan by St. Jerome and other Church Fathers. Milton in Paradise Lost, applied the name to the demon of sinful pride. Lucifer is the title and principal character of the epic poem by the Dutch Shakespeare, Vondel (who uses Lucifer in lieu of Satan), and a principle character in the mystery play by Imre Madach, The Tragedy of Man. ….. Actually, Lucifer connotes star, and applies (or originally meant to apply) to the morning or evening star (Venus)."
So then what of Satan? In Hebrew it means adversary. In Numbers 22:22, the angel of the Lord stands against Balaam, "for an adversary" (satan). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the term is spoken… but is designated as an "office" according to Davidson. It wasn't until the New Testament that the s was capitalized, and he gained the title of the evil one.
Thomas Aquinas believed that Satan was, "the first angel who sinned" and was a seraph, nor a cherub, arguing that a "cherubim is sic derived from knowledge, which is compatible with mortal sin; but seraphim is sic derived from the heat of charity, which is incompatible with mortal sin."
The thing is, just because he has a different name, or is called different names does not mean he's fake. Remember, God has many names Himself. In rabbinic he has the nickname, "the ugly one" This reminds us that it was in the early era of the Christian beginnings, in fact, even just before that era began, that the idea of Satan as God's opponent. This means it wasn't the Christians who "created" him. He was already being discussed and thought about, before Jesus came about… perhaps not in very large circles but the idea was already there, when Jesus started to preach and found His church.
The elements of Satan and Hell would further be added to from other cultures as Christianity grew. Most knowledgeable people will know that the word Hell came from the goddess of the underworld from the Norse mythology… Hel, who ruled an area that shared her name. As Christianity was a missionary religion, as fundamentally opposed to its predecessor Judaism, it took elements from other areas and religions that we could use to more easily communicate the ideals of our religion to the natives of wherever the church would preach. What was more, is that these elements were added to our own practices and names, as our understanding of the faith grew with study and prayers.
"Much Jewish religious thought, from the biblical Book of Job onward, has been preoccupied with the problem of affirming justice and meaning in the face of apparent injustice. In time, the problem was mitigated by the belief that virtue and obedience ultimately would be rewarded and sin punished by divine judgment after death, thereby redressing inequities in this world." Perhaps without the Book of Job and the Persian influence of Judaism , we might have had to wait for a while before we reached the beliefs we hold now. Religious justice based on Judeo-Christianity might have been much different… but seeing as how I'm a guy who believes that there is a GUY with a plan upstairs, it wouldn't have taken too long.
I do hope that this has make some people thing, even if they don't completely agree with what I have said, whether minimal or total. I know I'm not the best debater or essay writer, and I do tend to go off topic too much, but I hope I've touched at least one mind at the very least. If I've done that… I did my job properly.