For the last week I've been battling Dante. I had to read the Divine Comedy for Humanities class. It wasn't horrid to read, and in the context of the time period it is interesting to consider. I also had to write a paper on it, that was hard. Specifically how Dante used Aristotle's theories to structure the different levels of hell - Those in 'regular hell' were those who committed sins against reason - fraud, deceit, and treachery. Those in the worst hell were those who committed sins against reason and against the community - Brutus, Judas Iscariot, and Cassius. Interesting ideas, none of which I subscribe to.
It did get me thinking though, about The Judgement, and what hell really is.
A week or two ago in Sunday School we were discussing the children of Israel. They did many things that we modern religious people look back on and laugh, "God just parted the Red Sea but they couldn't wait for Moses, they had to make a golden calf?" or "They were getting manna from heaven, why criticize it?" It's not so easy to laugh when you apply those thoughts to modern day situations though.
We were talking about the miracle of the quails. Here's the shortened Jen version - The children of Israel were sick of eating just manna all the time. They wanted meat to eat. They complained to Moses and Moses passed along the complaint to God. God said, 'If they want flesh, I'll give em' flesh' and rained quail down on the children of Israel. The people ate this quail, they ate a lot of it. Then the story gets interesting (I know, like food falling from the sky wasn't interesting enough).
"And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague." Numbers 11:33
Some of the people who ate the quail were killed by this plague. A plague that happened because of God's wrath.
I've been to innumerable Sunday School classes but it is only now that I'm scratching my head over this type of occurrence that happens very frequently in the Old Testament. There is a lot of writing about God's wrath in there. In some ways it isn't syncing up with my personal view of God, my Heavenly Father.
I feel that God is loving, he is literally our spirit father and cares for us in a similar way to how I care for my children. I believe that God allows us to suffer the consequences of our choices so that we can learn good from evil. I can't see that same God inflicting something horrible, like a plague, upon the children that he loves purely out of wrath. There must be purpose there, it isn't wrath purely for wrath's sake.
So in Sunday School I raised my hand to comment about the plague suffered by the people when they ate all that quail. "Maybe the plague wasn't necessarily God's vengeance or anger, maybe it was God allowing them to suffer the consequences of their actions. They ate too much quail meat when their bodies were only used to eating manna so they got sick and a few died."
The Sunday School teacher responded, "Well what do you think the plague was then?"
My response, "Maybe they died of sudden onset heart disease."
Everyone chuckled and we moved on. All joking aside, there is a connection there for me, on several levels. We are no different from the children of Israel. We complain when we are surrounded with bounty, so God gives us what we ask for so we can see for ourselves that it isn't good. Perhaps our modern day plague resulting from getting what we've asked for is obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.
The deeper issue, the one I'm really struggling with is the idea that God wouldn't only allow consequences to run their course, and thus school us in eternal laws, but would heap on an additional amount of pain and suffering.
This relates to my ideas about what hell is. I think we as sinners create our own personal hell. Have you ever watched one of those addiction recovery TV programs? Watching an addict recover from drug addiction looks like hell to me. God didn't have to throw in any wrath, the pure consequences of the drug addiction were powerful enough on their own. Is that what hell will be like? Not just drug addicts, but those of us who didn't resolve our issues in this life will be trying to work them out in the next?
Religious people can be very self-righteous when talking about judgement and what hell will be like. Some even revel in the belief that they will be enjoying heaven while their fellow men suffer in hell. Christ teaches us to love one another, to care for our brother. I would think if we reach that kind of love then watching that brother we love suffer in hell would be no heaven for a true Christian. Along those same lines, I believe that the love we as humans are capable of feeling is only a small portion of how much God loves us. If God loves us so much more, how can he stand to inflict more pain upon us than is absolutely needed for our learning and progression. (Pain is a great teacher.)
Anyone have a thought about this that might help me?