Lately, I have found myself more and more interested in the Christian idea of hell. Maybe it’s the awful chill of winter. Maybe I’ve been listening to a bit too much black metal. I’m not quite clear what has put me on this mental course, but I have spent a good amount of time thinking about what it would actually be like to be in hell. I don’t even really believe that hell exists. I am not completely against the idea, but I accept that I have no way of possibly proving its existence or non-existence to myself, so I just figure I’ll find out after I die. That is not the part that really interests me. What I want to know is what, assuming that hell is real, would torment a human for eternity.
In the Book of Matthew, we are warned to “be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” To be honest, I find this quote a bit odd. This implies that we take our body with us to hell. If this is true, one must wonder what that thing in the casket back there on earth is. Is that a wax replica of us at the funeral while the real body goes to hell? Is your body snatched out of the coffin and sent to hell the minute you enter the ground? (But then, what happens if they dig you up?) Does God duplicate our body and send that one to hell while the real one is on earth? Is the body I am currently in an illusion and my real body somewhere in the ethers waiting for judgment? In that case, can I blame the illusion body for the sins committed on earth? After all, the earth body did the things I am getting sent to hell for. As the eloquent, renowned philosopher Silkk The Shocker once said, “It ain’t my fault!!!”
If it is just your soul in hell, that opens up another can of worms. I can specifically tell you that the conditions of hell would be awful on my body, but I can’t predict what extreme heat would do to my soul. No part of the Bible mentions the soul having nerves, so why should we expect that it would feel pain in the way the body does? If it is physical, it is capable of feeling physical pain, but I have not often heard the soul described as a physical thing. It is usually thought to be a spiritual entity independent of the flesh. Most descriptions of the soul are of the ghost in the machine variety, where the soul is a non-physical being that steers our body around then hops out when the body is no longer sentient.
In order to move forward with this line of questioning, I’ll pick the most likely scenario, which is that the soul just recreates your body once you get to hell. There is no reference to this happening in the Bible, but this explanation gets my body in hell, which for the purposes of this argument, is where I want it. Then, we run into another problem. Revelation says that you shall be tormented “forever and ever”. If hell is supposed to be eternal, how can the body and soul be destroyed? I mean, once you are destroyed isn’t that it for you? If the torment of hell is supposed to be eternal, how can it be that you are destroyed? Revelation refers to hell as “a second death“, but what happens after the second time you die. Do you continue to go to new hell after new hell? Do you die and wake up again?
Let’s assume that my body and soul are now in hell which is described in the book of Revelation as being “the lake of fire and brimstone”. I think that would be really terrible…for a while. The thought of an extended amount of time in extreme heat is an awful thought. 20, 30 years would be gruesomely terrible. 100, 200 years would be worse. But, after some point, wouldn’t I just get used to it? I mean, the thought of eternal fire is terrible, but eternity is a long time. My immediate reaction would be a period of unbridled misery. But, after a while, wouldn’t I forget what normal earth temperature felt like and become hardened to the torrid warmth? After a period of time, wouldn’t I get used to the pain? I don’t think this would happen right away, but we are talking about eternity here! Even if time is different between hell and earth, there has to be some point where a person accepts their surroundings, no matter how miserable. To understand this phenomenon, imagine a thought experiment where from the age of 15 to the age of 100 a person named Bob was awakened by a right hook to the face thrown by Mike Tyson. Day after day, Bob is waylaid by a vicious shot the skull from the former champ. The first 10 or 20 years of this would be awful, but after some period of time wouldn’t Bob simply adjust and accept the beating as the way things are supposed to be. Bob would be able to brace himself and would build up a tolerance to this sort of abuse. Any brief survey of history would lead one to believe that humans have the miraculous ability to adjust to nearly any set of awful circumstances.
Another problem with hell as it’s currently constituted is that going to hell actually removes one of the most dreadful aspects of being alive…. death. In hell, one doesn’t really seem to have a rational reason to fear death. The terror that humans feel from never knowing for certain what the afterlife is has been removed. Dying in hell would be a relief to many who are stuck there. Endless, painless silence would seem to be a good deal better than eternal torture.
There are some basic structural problems with the idea of hell that I cannot quite reconcile. I’d like to believe that whole thing is just an idea created by humans to scare people into doing good, but maybe that is not true. However, if it is real, you have to question its effectiveness. I really have to wonder if it is the most efficient possible use of a sinner’s afterlife.