Every civilized mind realizes at some point that a just God would not torture people eternally for any crime committed during our relatively brief life span on earth. The effort to frighten people with hell at some point becomes pathetic. Tales of horned demons with pitchforks eventually becomes a charade that even children find transparently absurd. It might be helpful to think what the symbol of hell might mean to those who seek a religion of love.
The images of scripture are not false, they are symbolic. They give us a vocabulary to speak about all aspects of our human journey. We need a vocabulary that speaks of our fears as well as our hopes. Here are few unorthodox musings on the infernal realm by one has spent a little time in nether regions:
Because “God” is a symbol of something that is everywhere, “hell” cannot be a place. Instead, “hell” would symbolize the experience of a heart closed to the sacred. The doors of hell are always unlocked, but we ourselves are imprisoned in the incurable pain of self-concern like a flower bulb refusing to open to the sun’s light.
Hell would not be so much a place of pain, but of numbness. Hell is that place where you can touch everything and feel nothing. Here you are unencumbered by any commitments. Hell is the unraveling of meaning itself. Hell is that crowded hall where no one has a face. Hell is that sickness of stomach when a person cries in the night for help, and every neighbor closes the shade. The “torture” of hell is the torque of ten thousand contradictory desires with no higher principle to organize them. The “smoke” in hell is the incessant noise and talk without any effort to communicate.
And the way out? Even in the deepest recesses of hell, if we love any single being however faintly, he or she will be our door to remembering the sacredness in which we live and breathe and have our being. “Hell” is the symbol of our deepest despair, and “heaven” a reminder that love is always our true home.