Accept Hell? Hell No!

“We must accept hell and we must accept that many go there,” declares Fr Dwight Longenecker.

When I first read Fr Longenecker’s two blog articles I was focusing on his pessimism and its relationship to the Latin teaching on efficacious grace. But a few moments ago I re-read the above words, and my heart cried out, NO! We must never accept hell! We must never accept the eternal destruction and punishment of our fellow human beings. NO!

Perhaps Roman Catholics ultimately need to accept this. Given magisterial teaching that the eternal destiny of the soul is established at the moment of death, it’s difficult to entertain the possibility of universal salvation. Wickedness and unbelief seem to reign in the world, as observed by Fr Longenecker. Surely damnation is the just reward for most of us.

But as an Orthodox Christian, I do not accept an eternal hell, will not accept an eternal hell. Every fibre in my being cries out against perdition. The God of Pascha will not allow hell to stand everlastingly. God will be all in all.

Why do Christians so easily accept hell? Why do we need hell? Is it a concern for orthodoxy or spiritual disease that drives us? We read the New Testament, and we are so damned sure we know what the words mean, must mean. How can we believe the gospel if we do not also believe in an eternal hell? How can we preach the gospel, if we do not also preach an eternal hell?

Have you ever loved another? Can you accept the possibility that that person may be condemned to eternal torment and suffering? If you can, then I humbly suggest that you do not yet love as God loves. Olivier Clement once asked Elder Sophrony what would happen if a person does not agree to open his or her heart and accept the love of God. Sophrony replied, “You may be certain that as long as someone is in hell, Christ will remain there with him.”

St Catherine of Siena prayed to her Bridegroom: “How could I ever reconcile myself, Lord, to the prospect that a single one of those whom, like me, you have created in your image and likeness should become lost and slip from your hand.”

The Lord replied: “Love cannot be contained in hell; it would totally annihilate hell; one could more easily do away with hell than allow love to reside in it.”

St Catherine then responded: “If only your truth and your justice were to reveal themselves, then I would desire that there no longer be a hell, or at least that no soul would go there. If I could remain united with you in love while, at the same time, placing myself before the entrance to hell and blocking it off in such a way that no one could enter again, then that would be the greatest of joys for me, for all those whom I love would then be saved.”

(Go to: “Tweaking Augustine”)

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48 Responses to Accept Hell? Hell No!

  1. kimfrank says:

    Thank you, Fr. Aidan, I am a quiet but appreciative reader. I often find your posts completely over my head, but I can’t put into words how grateful I am for this post. I especially appreciate your comments about it not being possible to love someone and still believe in eternal conscious torment. Every someone is loved by a mother or brother or daughter… We are all so broken… God knows we are dust and his mercy endures forever. I hang on to these words. I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister of people who are saved, are called to be saved and are being saved. With me. With God’s grace and mercy.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Kim, I have long, long believed in the unconditionality of God’s love, and I have long affirmed a hopeful universalism. But then my son died, and I knew that I could no longer remain on the fence of “maybe.” I cannot imagine a heaven without my son. I cannot imagine ever becoming a whole person again without my son. At such a point, one has little choice but to trust in the absolute power of God’s love and the triumph of Christ’s resurrection. Little else matters. Hell represents the defeat of love. It cannot stand. God will see to that.

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      • kimfrank says:

        Thank you, again, Father. It is very helpful to hear an orthodox priest be so unequivocal about this issue. I am also very sorry about the loss of your son – may his memory be eternal. I agree that our experiences teach us to know in ways that well-developed/reasoned arguments can only point to. I became orthodox because I could no longer divide the world between saved and unsaved. I knew that it was not possible for me to love anyone that I categorized as unsaved. How can someone you carry in your heart be in hell unless I am there too, and why wouldn’t I beg God to let me be in hell instead of them? How can I convince my friend to follow Christ if that means her Buddhist mother is in hell? Why would I do that? It is absolutely unethical and a violation of who we are as persons in communion with each other and God. I think that our lives have eternal consequences – it will not be easy to die and to be in the presence of God, coming to terms with my life in light of His love. I am so grateful for the possibility that people will pray for me when I die. I fervently pray for those who have died. But eternal consequences are different from eternal conscious torment. I think the only way Christians can believe in eternal conscious torment is to compartmentalize this aspect of their faith and not really think about it, not really know it. Even as a motivation for evangelism, it fails because it introduces people to a God that is false and often worse than their own tradition’s understanding about God. I am the daughter of protestant missionaries. Very early as a missionary’s child, you start to ask yourself questions about what happens to people who never have the opportunity to hear about Christ, or who devoutly seek to love God and others in their own tradition, or who are born and suffer greatly and die too soon. My motivation to evangelize can only be to share the good news of God’s great love and the healing found within His body, and by His mercy, by His Spirit, by His love, everywhere….

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Thank you, Kim, for a wonderful comment. Clearly you and I are in a similar spiritual place.

        I do not apologize that Aaron’s death has invited me to think on these eschatological questions with an urgency I did not have before. That I did not have such urgency before demonstrates that I did not love others very much nor understand the significance of death and the threat of everlasting damnation. But his death, with the consequent trauma and grief, has changed everything–as well it should.

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  2. Nathan Duffy says:

    “But as an Orthodox Christian, I do not accept an eternal hell, will not accept an eternal hell.” – You must be better than the Orthodox Saints who do, then.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Nope, I’m sure not.

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      • Nathan Duffy says:

        Perhaps I’ve misread the blog then. The tone certainly seems highly indignant that someone could think anything different about God, and it also seemed to indicate that believing in eternal hell was a ‘western’ thing, while universalism was an Orthodox thing. Which, when read as addressing modern Orthodox w/ the temerity to dissent from the universalist view might not be so offensive, but when read as addressing the great number of Saints of the Church who either explicitly or tacitly hold to the opposite view, the tone becomes quite presumptuous and offensive. Perhaps you didn’t intend to present as the single, tenable, authentic Orthodox view is universalism while only the West believes in an eternal hell, but it certainly seems that way, and it certainly is not true.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Nathan, I think you may have misread my article. Did I present my view strongly? Absolutely. I do not think we should “accept” hell. We should protest it with all our strength. We should pray for those in Hades with all our strength. We should pray for the salvation of every human being with all of our strength, and we should pray this with confidence and hope, for it is a prayer that is in the Spirit. Do you think God finds hell more acceptable than I do? I doubt it.

        Did I invoke this as an East/West polemic? I do not think so, though I do believe that that the Roman Catholic Church has a real problem here, given its own dogmatic teachings on this subject. A Catholic could not write what I wrote (at least not within the bounds of magisterial teaching); but an Orthodox Christian can and did. There still remains within our communion the freedom to proclaim the ultimate salvation of all. We honor St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac the Syrian and we do not call their eschatological teachings heretical. May I also point out that I quoted a Latin saint, too.

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  3. Seraphim says:

    When I first read Longenecker’s post I was disgusted. Perhaps it is because I lack imagination, or perhaps the unique path my own life has taken has shaped my mind in such a way that I can’t think otherwise, but anything other than universalism or Calvinism seems absurd to me. Either God really does arbitrarily choose some for salvation while choosing others for Hell, or eventually all will be reconciled unto Christ. How could any soul still in possession of their rational faculties not choose God? Do people actually think it is possible to eternally choose Hell? Such an assertion goes against everything we know about human behavior.

    I’m not a universalist because it is easier to accept or because it feels good; I am a universalist because nothing else makes sense to me.

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  4. Father Aidan, I hesitated at first to leave a comment on so personal a post, but then the comments above came in, and, because one in particular expressed in a rather unpleasant way (to put it charitably) what seemed like an idea that I had had in reading your post (one never knows: the comment I refer to was short, and I don’t want to give it too much credit for substance), let me try to express this disagreement with some sensitivity.

    When you said “as an Orthodox Christian” and then stated and explained a bit your rejection of hell, it reminded me of something I read often enough and that you actually have taken issue with a bit yourself. I mean of course those who say, “The Church Fathers say” or words to that effect and then proceed to say something that is not a Doctrine of the Church. Now as an Orthodox Christian is a bit more personal and not as authoritative as the other remark, but perhaps it is sort of, say, a timid cousin to The Church Father say. I think also–and forgive me for this–that your response to kimfrank indicates more of what’s going on here: I have the impression that this is not so much your speaking as an Orthodox Christian (although I don’t doubt that your Orthodox faith influences on your thoughts here) as it may be your speaking as a grieving father. I ask you to forgive me for that, Father, because it is far beyond my purview to comment on your grief, but in any case I am probably also not the only one who read that in between the lines of your essay above, even indeed before reading your comment to Ms. Frank.

    I remember reading Father Longenecker’s article several days ago. I don’t recall its specifics in great detail, but I do remember that it left a fairly positive impression on me. I may have disagreed with certain details. My recollection is mainly that I was refreshed to see a bit of push back against the “universalism” I’ve been reading too much of lately from a number of Christian traditions and “traditions.”

    But debating that when the matter is so intimate is not something I’m inclined to do, to be sure. I’ve read many of your blog posts over the months and usually not felt like getting too heavily involved in the commentary. Perhaps the verbosity of this comment suggests that that is a wisdom I should have heeded this night as well. Perhaps I should simply say, thank you for your candor in this post (as well as others), and may your prayers, study, and conversations be agents of blessing to you.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Virgil, I do not mind debating this matter with you, as I am sure we can do so respectfully and civilly.

      May it not be that the death of my son has given me an experience and knowledge that should be positively taken into account? May not grief and loss be a form of ascesis? Instead of my grief being a factor that may mislead (“Oh, he’s grieving–cut him some slack”) may it not instead be a source of insight?

      I do not know how to factor that into a “debate,” but neither do I excuse it or minimize it. God and I have cried many tears for my son. The prayers are beyond count. This is a theological datum that needs to be taken into account.

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      • mary benton says:

        Fr. Aidan,

        “God and I have cried many tears for my son.” How true – you do not cry alone.
        Your son is all right. (I know it is very bold of me to say that but I feel assured that it is so. And not on the basis of theological argument.)

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      • Mark says:

        May it not be that the death of my son has given me an experience and knowledge that should be positively taken into account? May not grief and loss be a form of ascesis?

        Dear Father Aidan, may God bless you!
        I am so grateful you have the insight and sobriety to point this out. Glory to God!
        I have thought about you of course in this light, and completely affirm this interpretation. It is deeply Orthodox- for we believe in the material world; we believe God is really here with us.
        The temptation always is to make theology abstract. Forgive me but I have wondered about this for you and others in this blog- as certainly you spend far more time trying to “understand” through study and thinking than I try to. But you know your business better than I.
        How refreshing it is for me then, not only that you let your experience speak but that you can see the rightness in this, the Orthodoxy in this! Yes, of course, the death of your son has “influenced” your theology, your ethics, your spirituality… How could it not?
        Why would anyone not want to let it so influence them?!
        The impulse to see this as a ‘negative’ thing seems to be a product of making theology abstract and a mere matter of intellectual “figuring it out” from Scripture, or *writings* of the Fathers, etc. But God has given us a very different way to know him– a whole life to live! Certainly not in competition with Scripture and Tradition, but utterly essential to our communing with Him in any real, not just “in my head” way.

        I am so grateful that you have expressed this sentiment.
        Forgive me for my little ‘doubts’ about tendencies in your blogging that are more ‘study-focused’ than I appreciate. Clearly there is much more to you than this, and I will try to remember as much more faithfully.
        (and, like Kim, it is always encouraging to see a priest willing to speak an unpopular truth boldly!)

        Love;
        -Mark Basil

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Mark, I know that my blogging may at times seem abstract, but that is because my primary purpose in blogging is to share with my readers what I am learning from my reading.

        But my theological and spiritual life is far from abstract, as my closest friends and former parishioners can attest. I am first and foremost a preacher (albeit only a mediocre one). Theology is never for me just an abstract exercise. I am always asking, how does it preach? how does it affect the lives of my (former) congregants? how does it affect my life? Hence my insistence upon the gospel, as opposed to “correct” dogma.

        I do not feel comfortable speaking too much on spiritual matters. I do not have the insight and spiritual depth that, say, my dear friend Fr Stephen Freeman does. I can only do what I can do. But when it comes to topics like justification, universal salvation, and God’s unconditional love and mercy, then I find myself easily slipping into preaching mode. 🙂

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      • Mark says:

        This is helpful Father. Thank you for explaining it.
        Love;
        -MB

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      • Father Aidan, let’s be fair about my concerns. I did not say that your experiences should not factor into your contemplations on this matter. I, like Mr. Duffy, was concerned by the phase “as an Orthodox” because of its implication that your soteriological conclusions are the doctrine of the Church, which they are not, and the omission that your conclusions are profoundly informed by an experience that is not exclusively an Orthodox one: grief over an especially terrible loss. And it was on this last point that I expressed my reluctance: I have no desire to psychoanalyze the sorrow of a stranger, and I surely have no desire to try to evaluate your late son’s eternal state. I do not know, and I do not ask, for the details of why this is an issue for you, one that makes you say as part of your basis for universalism that you cannot imagine a heaven where you are not reunited with him. One is left to wonder, is it he mere fact of how he died that causes your concern? I understand this, but, for my own part, I do not regard it as an absolute impediment to salvation. Is it something else about him? I don’t want to ask, because it’s not my business, and that’s just it: this flows from something very private, and inquiring into it to any degree, which becomes inevitable in a candid discussion, leaves me with a bad taste.

        I usually don’t get too far into these kinds of discussions for other reasons as well. I have no desire to debate which Church Father said what. If I say that there is no universal doctrine of universal salvation in the Orthodox Church and anyone here thinks me wrong on this, then I haven’t the devotion to debate it here. I would hope that this was an obvious point, that there is, as you also say elsewhere about numerous matters, Father, room for difference between Orthodox and diversity of opinion among the great minds of our Church. But I don’t feel like arguing the point a great deal.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Virgil, your comment leaves me perplexed and not a little bit offended.

        Let me just say the following about a minor point. You object to the phrase I used in my article–“But as an Orthodox Christian …” You seem to feel that this phrase is virtually equivalent to saying, “The Orthodox Church dogmatically teaches universalism.” I disagree. The context of the article is quite clear: I am identifying myself as belonging to a Church that is not bound by the magisterial teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, I am identifying myself as belonging to a Church that permits me to uphold the eschatological teachings of Sts Gregory Nyssen and Isaac of Ninevah. At no point have I stated or implied that my position regarding the non-eternity of hell is the dogmatic teaching of the Orthodox Church (as my previous writings on this subject will bear out). Please understand, not everyone who visits my blog for the first time, or even for the second or third time, knows that I am an Orthodox Christian, much less that I am an Orthodox priest.

        Enuff said, I think.

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  5. john burnett says:

    Paul Evdokimov wrote:

    Without prejudging anything, the Church abandons herself to God, the lover of men, and redoubles her prayers for the living and the dead. Some, the greatest among the saints, have had the audacity and the charism to pray even for demons. Perhaps the most deadly weapon against the evil one is precisely the prayer of a saint, and perhaps the lot of hell depends also on the charity of the saints. Man himself prepares his own hell in closing himself against divine love that remains unchangeable. “It is not right to say that the sinners in hell are deprived of the love of God… But love acts in two different ways, it becomes suffering in the damned and joy in the blessed.”63

    Every faithful member of the Orthodox Church, in approaching the holy table, confesses: “I am the first of sinners”, which means the greatest, or more exactly, without any possible measure or comparison, “the unique sinner”. St. Ambrose, as a pastor and a liturgist, explains it and gives it a concise and striking form: “The same man is at the same time condemned and saved.”64 St. Isaac, as an ascetic, gives another: “The one who sees his sin is greater than the one who raises the dead to life.” Such a vision of reality leads to a final and paradoxical conclusion. A very simple man confessed to St. Anthony: “In watching the passersby, I say to myself, ‘All will be saved, I alone shall be damned.’” St. Anthony concluded: “Hell really exists, but for me alone.” This love of men is answered by the magnificent words of a Mohammedan mystic: “If you place me among those in Gehenna, I shall pass my eternity in speaking to them of my love for you.”65
    In repeating St. Ambrose’s words, we can say that the world in its totality is “at the same time condemned and saved”. Even more, perhaps hell in its very condemnation finds its own transcendence. It seems that this is the meaning of the words Christ said to Silouan of Athos, a contemporary staretz, “Keep your spirit in hell but do not despair.”66

    63 St. Isaac the Syrian, P.G., 34, 5440. Cf. Origen, De Prin., 111, 6, 5; St. Gregory of Nyssa, Catech. Discourse, XXVI, 5, 9: Comm. in Ephes., 111, 10 of Ambrosiaster.
    64 P.L., 15, col. 1502, quoted by O. Clement, Notes sur le Mal, in Contacts, no. 31, p. 204.
    65 Rene Khawam, Propos d’amour des mystiques musulmans (Paris, 1960).
    66 Quoted by Arch. Sophrony, Messager de I’Ex. du Patr. Russe, no. 26, P. 96.

    —(The Struggle with God, tr. by Sister Gertrude, SP (Paulist Press, 1966), pp 85-86. For the entire book, see the first item at http://jbburnett.com/theology/theol-faith.html)

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    • Mark says:

      Thank you John for sharing these; they help to fill out my understandings. I have for some time thought that Christ’s warnings against hell should not really be understood as a problem for anyone except myself personally. Afterall he is speaking to his disciples and it is I who must be weary of the things that compete with Christ in my life.
      Otherwise how do we keep from judging others? Which is prohibited.
      -MB

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  6. john burnett says:

    ‘“We must accept hell and we must accept that many go there,” declares Fr Dwight Longenecker.’

    ‘All will be saved, I alone shall be condemned.’

    Isn’t that exactly the difference between the ‘western approach’ and the (genuine) ‘catholic’ one? Westerners are always trying to determine how many other people are going to hell. For the orthodox, hell is utter solitude, and i’m the only one there.

    Isn’t it so?

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    • Karen says:

      John,

      This is precisely the insight that gives me hope and convinces me that only Orthodox Christianity (fully realized) expresses the fullness of true Communion in Christ in the Holy Trinity. It seems to me, though, one might just as well ask isn’t this the difference between the approach of the ideological/philosophical Christian and the person who has come into genuine experiential Communion with the living Christ in His Self-emptying love? In terms of a person’s actual background and the Christian tradition they inherited, this seems to transcend the question of East vs. West (or even Eastern Orthodoxy proper in the East–think Theodore of Mopsuestia). There are also Christians haling from the western traditions like Julian of Norwich, Hans Denck, Peter Boehler, William Law, and George MacDonald, who embraced much more universalist views as well. It seems one thing all universalist-leaning believers have in common is that their experience of God’s love (often an intense, mystical experience and vision) had a greater influence on their interpretation of the Scriptures than other outside arguments or influences. At least, this is how it seems to me.

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    • Virgil T. Morant says:

      I will say two things about some of the more passionate comments, though, since these remarks will come without too great an expense to me. john burnett says (below):

      ‘“We must accept hell and we must accept that many go there,” declares Fr Dwight Longenecker.’

      ‘All will be saved, I alone shall be condemned.’

      Isn’t that exactly the difference between the ‘western approach’ and the (genuine) ‘catholic’ one? Westerners are always trying to determine how many other people are going to hell. For the orthodox, hell is utter solitude, and i’m the only one there.

      I just went back and looked at Fr. Longenecker’s essay again, and that’s just not a fair characterization of it. You may find implicitly in his essay whatever you will, but he explicitly says this: “It seems to me that most men are like me–they spend their lives thinking only of themselves and their pleasure and think very little about God and his Beauty and goodness.” I don’t see Fr. Longenecker declaring that he regards himself as assuredly saved and everyone else as damned, and I don’t think that it is fair to paint the West broadly as having this selfish approach as opposed to the selfless, desert-dwelling East. I can launch a good polemic against this or that Protestant Church or the Roman Catholic Church as good as anyone, perhaps even better than a great many, but I find these sorts of comments (especially when personally misrepresenting a man, as in the case of Fr. Longenecker) also leave a bad taste.

      Consider this as well. Consider one or two of the comments in this thread that passionately go after the one or maybe two (although I’ve received little of it–so far) who express doubt about universal salvation. At the same time that it is said, The true Orthodox only considers his own damnation and thinks that all others will be saved, it is also said, I know how to regard the need for the salvation of all, because I understand the kind of love that one should have for others, and you do not. Am I the only one who finds some contradiction in this?

      Wanting all to be saved, by the way, is not the same as believing with certainty that all will be saved, and neither is the same as proclaiming it a doctrine of the Orthodox Church. The first is righteous, the second is open for debate, the third is wrong.

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  7. JessicaHof says:

    My poor understanding Father is that whilst we might hope for apocatastasis, we cannot hold it as a revealed truth. Was one of the condemnations of Origen not on that issue? I am inclined to be with you and with St Isaac, and pray it is so. Thank you for such an interesting blog.

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  8. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    To those who have read or are just now reading this article: this article should be read in the context of my two previous series on hell and universalism:

    1) “St Isaac the Syrian: The Astonishing Love of God

    2) “What is Orthodox Hell?

    At the bottom of each article you will find a link to the next article in the series.

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  9. john burnett says:

    Nathan Duffy, you wrote, ‘when read as addressing modern Orthodox w/ the temerity to dissent from the universalist view might not be so offensive, but when read as addressing the great number of Saints of the Church who either explicitly or tacitly hold to the opposite view, the tone becomes quite presumptuous and offensive‘. [Emphasis mine.]

    —Um, ‘offensive’??

    Nathan, is there a way to say this gently— what is the source of your taking offense? I want to ask gently because the question is a lot more personal than asking what is the source of the love of hell that so many of us christians— speaking generally— seem to espouse. What is our need for hell— especially for a hell that others go to? I think actually the answer would be the same both for our ‘theologies’ and for ourselves, so it’s convenient as well as useful to look into our own hearts. So that’s why i ask, What is the source of your feeling of offense?

    You want the consensus patrum? Ok try this: It is the universal teaching of all the fathers of the church without exception that, as St Isaac puts it in that quote from Evdokimov above, ‘love acts in two different ways, it becomes suffering in the damned and joy in the blessed’. I used to wonder, when i first began to think that we might understand God’s judgment that way, whether the fathers ever taught it. Then I began to see that some of the fathers taught it. Then it began to dawn on me: in fact, they all teach it. Without exception. And that is ‘Orthodoxy’!

    Hell is only this: The ingratitude and selfishness we insist on, toward the God who created us and sustains us. If we approach him, his light illumines us. If we flee him, it burns us, but only because we’re fleeing the very thing we cannot escape, which is the foundation of our being— his love!

    ‘God does not desire the death of a sinner but that he be converted and live’. That’s in Ezekiel, and it’s in our communion prayers— which, by the way, have a good deal to say about how ‘I’, ‘of all sinners the first’, actually ‘eat and drink condemnation to myself, not discerning thy body and blood’. But you know— the very next word in that prayer is— ‘Nevertheless‘.

    If i were your Zen master i would make you practice that koan for the rest of your life. As your brother in Christ I suggest you meditate on it in every hour of every day, all the same— Nevertheless!

    And if you want another example, look up the Priest’s Prayer at the Great Entrance— the one that starts out, ‘No one who is bound by the desires and pleasures of the flesh is worthy to approach, or to draw near, or to serve…’. Go to the beginning of the second sentence— there it is again: Nevertheless!

    Because that ‘nevertheless’ is how every sinner will be saved, and the only way any sinner will be saved. It is the Mystery of Salvation.

    It is not a question of ‘universalism’ vs… whatever. Those are sheer abstractions, no matter who proposes them, or from what side. And the whole problem with Longenecker, and with the whole of Protestantism, and with the Latin-Scholastic philosophy that all that delusion (let’s not mince words) is based on, is that the whole thing from top to bottom, left to right, front to back, is an abstraction— one that’s based, furthermore, on an abstract notion of ‘law’ and ‘justice’ to which even God himself is made subject!

    If you really want something ‘offensive’, you should try blasphemy— and not expressions of faith in God’s love, and of a desire that all might be saved. After all, that last quality, Ezekiel assures us, is God’s own!

    But the abstract approach reads of hell in the scriptures, surveys the evil in the world (but never very deeply the evil in itself), calculates the rules, and thinks thereby to pry into judgments that belong to God alone.

    Well, but God lets us pry a little. We may go and read the prophets, or Matthew 23. It seems he has some ‘issues’ with the rich and powerful— but not with people who didn’t ‘believe in Jesus’, or with teenagers who committed suicide because they were gay.

    Nathan, at no point does a physician— especially one with infinite power— ever decide, this patient is too sick, I think I will hurt him some more.

    At no point does a mother— especially one with infinite love— ever decide, this child is undesirable and unredeemable.

    At no point does the Father— ‘who gave his only-begotten Son’— ever say, these ones, but not those ones.

    And if he reserves all judgment to himself, he bestows on each of us (only!) that part of it that pertains to ourselves— just so that he might spend eternity pursuing us and seducing us and ‘beguiling us with apples’, as the Song says, that we might spend eternity with him. Because, you see, God not only loves us, he likes us.

    To be sure, hell is real— and I shall indeed find myself there. But—

    Nevertheless!

    ————————

    Fr Aidan, i agree with you: wisdom sometimes comes only through suffering. And it is theologically significant. In fact, it is the only significant theology.

    Memory eternal. And forgive me.

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  10. Rhonda says:

    Kim,
    “… How can I convince my friend to follow Christ if that means her Buddhist mother is in hell?…Very early as a missionary’s child, you start to ask yourself questions about what happens to people who never have the opportunity to hear about Christ, or who devoutly seek to love God and others in their own tradition, or who are born and suffer greatly and die too soon….”

    I hear what you are saying. These dichotomies can only arise when one bases their evangelizing efforts around hell rather than around Christ. Most of us fail to realize that we do not know nearly as much as we think we know (myself included). My answer has been “God is fair, He always has been fair & He always will be fair.” We should never judge anyone as being destined for or in hell. We cannot even judge ourselves as destined for either heaven or hell because we do not have perfect knowledge of what we will think, do or say for the rest of our lives until our death. By condemning another to hell we only condemn ourselves to that very same hell. All we can do is devote ourselves to Christ by attending to our own salvation & living in accordance with the law of love (love God, love your neighbor…your enemy is your neighbor so love him/her too)…God Himself will take care of the rest.

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  11. Rhonda says:

    “Hell represents the defeat of love. It cannot stand. God will see to that.”

    Thank you, Fr. Aidan! Well said!

    In your previous posting you asked “So why the pessimism?” Good question! Perhaps the answer lies somewhere deep down inside of us. I just embarked up on career change for (hopefully) a new career in marriage & family counseling. I have had to go back to college for psychology classes. As I have been studying the proponents of various theories, I have noticed a strong correlation between their theory & their views of humanity overall (& thus of themselves if they are honest). Some were very pessimistic about humanity while others were very optimistic. One even started out optimistic but turned pessimistic as he aged. Fr. Stephen once commented that he noticed that the strongest proponents of the forensic punitive approach to God’s wrath & hell are very often angry people. They are also usually the ones to emphasize the wickedness of men that inevitably conclude in utter or total depravity. So perhaps their pessimism is but the reflection of the views they harbor of themselves?

    Just random thoughts as I take a break from studying & research papers…

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  12. Karen says:

    If anyone is familiar with Elaine Pagels and her book(s) advocating for the Gnostic Gospels, I think it was in an article in CT magazine that I read that she was raised as an Evangelical Christian. The turning point into Gnostic heresy came for her when a fellow Evangelical told her that a beloved Jewish friend of hers that had just died was in hell.

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  13. annikamira says:

    Reblogged this on annikahalvari and commented:
    Incredible post and comments over at Eclectic Orthodoxy…in a nutshell in could by my manifesto on why I am Orthodox and not Roman Catholic.

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  14. Pingback: Hell | All Along the Watchtower

  15. duanemiller says:

    Well, maybe this is why the Orthodox are dying out–there is no impetus for mission and evangelism. Or perhaps I am missing something…

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    • john burnett says:

      Impetus for mission and evangelism is— a desire that others know they’re going to hell, unless they be ‘born again’? excitement about the ‘good news’ that God plans to burn them forever unless (etc)? need to insist that God is as angry and mean as they are? fear that one might be going to hell oneself, unless one evangelizes with the good news about hell? or what?

      Do please explain!

      Also what you mean by ‘the Orthodox are dying out’— Orthodox claims of rapid growth are exaggerated, but Pew Forum’s 2013 study shows Orthodox holding steady. However, i suspect under the hood we’re seeing a fairly rapid decline among large ethnic churches and a correspondingly large growth among smaller non-ethnic ones.

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  16. duanemiller says:

    Thank you John for your response. What I mean is this: the conviction that saving souls from damnation has, historically, been a powerful impetus towards mission and evangelism. If universalism obtains, then the very difficult work of foreign mission and evangelism is, ultimately, insignificant. All will be saved. Why leave the USA for Pakistan or India or China? Why leave Russia for Mongolia? There is no need. That is what I mean.

    And the information I have does indeed show Orthodoxy declining steadily through 2050. I also suspect your suspicion about ‘ethnic’ Orthodox is correct.

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    • Nathan Duffy says:

      You have data… from the future? Oh wow, that definitely means something!

      You’re aware, I hope, that whatever model produced such fantasy numbers are only as good as the predictions and assumptions the model makes, yes? And therefore almost certainly of highly dubious and unreliable value, if any.

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      • duanemiller says:

        Nathan, your tone is condescending, which is often what I have found when conversing with Orthodox Christians from the West, I am sad to say. The projections I have are, I think, reliable. They come from ‘The Future of the Global Church’ by Johnstone and the ‘World Christian Encyclopedia’ by Barrrett. Both of these are highly respected and well-researched sources.

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      • Nathan Duffy says:

        Indeed it is condescending. I’m glad you took note. I hope that citing non-evidence as evidence for some thesis would be met with the derision and scorn it deserves, whether by an Orthodox, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Muslim, or atheist, for that matter.

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      • john burnett says:

        Pew Forum’s data, which i mentioned above, is 2013. Not sure about Johnstone’s or Barrett’s data; what’s the basis? A formal study completed in 2010 by Alexei Krindatch for the Orthodox churches in America reported, ‘Are American Orthodox Churches growing? The answer to this question is “Yes.” From 2000-2010, the total number of Orthodox parishes in America increased for 16 percent.’ That’s parishes, of course, not members— BUT, as this is only the second-ever reliable census— the previous one having been done in 1947— neither Krindatch nor Johnstone nor Barrett has much basis at this point for conclusions about membership growth or decline. One may surmise, however, that churches would not build 16% more parishes in ten years if there were not some need and support for them. And in my experience, ethnic parishes are declining, unless they are still receiving immigrants, but non-ethnic parishes are slowly growing. For links to Krindatch’s study and some comparison with the 1947 and earlier data, see http://orthodoxhistory.org/2010/10/11/historical-census-data-for-orthodoxy-in-america/.

        But back to your point. It may be that, as you say, ‘the conviction that saving souls from damnation has, historically, been a powerful impetus towards mission and evangelism’— for Protestants, at least.

        That actually was not so true of RC missions, who historically were more interested in speading the RC Church institutionally, as a new kind of society to which, it was thought, native peoples would be improved by joining. Of course it was colonialist, but nobody thought that was bad at the time. (With a little effort i could find a resource for this, if you’re interested, because i went to a lecture by the author in Pretoria a couple of years ago)

        In any case, though, ‘saving souls from hell’ was never a major aim of Orthodox evangelism. I invite you to read the accounts of St Herman of Alaska, St Innocent of Moscow, St Innocent of Japan, and the present-day Greek and American missions in Africa— to name just some modern examples— or accounts of the missions to the Slavs etc a thousand years ago; or, for that matter, the accounts of the missions in the Acts of the Apostles (yes, we are that church, and quite consciously so). I can vouch for the accuracy of the modern accounts (as well as the others), because i used to be the dean of one seminary in Uganda and director of studies at another in Johannesburg. At our worst, we’re trying to spread Hellenism, but we never rely on threats of hell, either within the church or towards non-believers.

        Truth be told, the ‘joyous message of the resurrection’ (as one of our common hymns puts it) was quite enough for the women to announce to the apostles ‘very early in the morning on Day One of the week’, and it is still joyous enough to announce to the baTooro and the Japanese, and even to unchurched Americans right here in Marin County.

        Wouldn’t you agree that the resurrection is stunning enough news, without having to sour it with irrelevant threats of eternal torture? I suspect people resort to such threats only when they’ve replaced the Good News with what they think is good advice (‘Christian ethics’ and all that), and then discover, to their shame and consternation, that people just aren’t all that interested.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Gentlemen: I am terminating this debate on Orthodox growth and evangelism right now. Thank you.

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  17. john burnett says:

    Fr Aidan, why? The discussion is really about the nature of mission. Do we threaten with hell, or offer Good News?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Because I said so. I know exactly where this thread is likely to go and I know it ain’t pretty. It has nothing to do with a discussion of mission or the nature of the gospel.

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      • john burnett says:

        i understand your concern. No point in getting into ‘my church is better than your church’. But seriously— let’s discuss mission and the nature of the ‘good news’ we are sent to announce. Those areas are directly related to your initial questions about hell and universality.

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    • duanemiller says:

      By the way, do you have a link for the Pew data? I was not aware of its existence.

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  18. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Gentlemen: If you wish to pursue a discussion of the mission of the gospel and the place of hell in its proclamation, by all means proceed. I was simply concerned to stop from the beginning what appeared to be a “my church is better than your church” thread.

    My apologies if I acted too quickly or sounded authoritarian.

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  19. jrj1701 says:

    Father bless.
    I have been reading your blog and commend you for the courage to present your private struggle with the enemy to the world. I struggle constantly with my perception of the truth and in my limited capacity am struggling with the same issues. I believe that God’s Love and Grace is INFINITE and can not be diminished by the actions of those that he loves, yet there is one who fears this and he has tried to sabotage our belief in this and thus separate us from God, Every individual has had this fight and it is waged every second. I know that my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has defeated him and that alone I will never be able to defeat him, the enemy continues to fight, never realizing that he is already defeated. The Church argues among itself and confuses those that are struggling with this unseen enemy, whose weapons are despair, confusion, pride and most of all fear, he projects these fears and feeds these fears and I am guilty of playing into them. The enemy fears his ultimate destruction and seems to be too prideful to accept God’s INFINITE Love. There is undeniably pain in this vale of tears, this is from the growing pains in achieving theosis and the enemy wishes to keep us from theosis, from union with God, and as I struggle to overcome my fears, I am saddened by those that I have perceived to have fallen in this struggle and the enemy whispers more doubt and, what I am starting to realize, his very own fears. I am, like others, constantly falling for the fears of the enemy. He wants me to fear that those that have fallen to his lies will spend eternity in hell, and like you, I refuse to believe that. Those that have fallen to suicide are just as deserving of God’s INFINITE Love and Grace just as the thief was deserving from his place of punishment, and here is where most will call me a heretic, yet I believe that God’s INFINITE Love and Grace is extended even to the enemy. God created something that is INFINITE and we are all a part of it, including our enemy, When I strive to do what I feel is right by myself I fall for another lie of the enemy. When I refuse to love my neighbor, I fall for another lie of the enemy, when I argue the nit picking details with others, I fall another lie of the enemy. When I do as God has commanded me and obey Him I stop falling for the enemy’s lies, when I help others in any way without desire for personal gain, I break the power of the enemy’s lies. Yet this I can not do alone, and I can not take pride in doing what is right, because that leads me into yet again falling for another lie of the enemy. I am sorry that I have dumped this on your thread, it is just what has been building up in me and I had to set it out there for those wiser and more knowledgeable than I to look at.

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  20. john burnett says:

    Duane, the Pew Forum info is at http://www.pewforum.org/. They have many interesting studies there.

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