This post is much harder to write than I thought. I've started and stopped. Thrown out drafts and avoided composing new ones. I don't feel I've arrived at a definite answer to my questions about hell, so I don't have firm conclusions, just tentative ideas.
I appreciate all the comments on the last post I wrote on hell. Reflecting on them has been helpful in shaping how I think about this topic. I've also reflected on a few posts found here here and here by HeIsSailing on his rejection of hell, which I highly recommend. I have ordered 2 books on the history of hell, which I will certainly discuss here when I finish them.
Based on comments several of you left on the last post as well as conversations I've had with friends at church, it's clear we handle the concept of eternal punishment very differently. For some of us, we have been plagued and tormented. For the majority, though, it's been just one of many doctrines they accept without a great deal of discomfort. Several have asked why. One of my friends noted that most just don't take their faith that seriously. I would concur. I also think that we tend to protect ourselves from unpleasantness. Our minds have terrific defense mechanisms that prevent us from "tragic news" overload. Another friend of mine noted that she couldn't handle considering every terrible outcome that could occur. And that is true of most, if not all of us. We grow desensitized to reports of shootings, we justify murders or find ways to hold victims responsible, because we'd like to think we can control our fate and prevent terrible things from happening to us. We flat out deny allegations of sexual misconduct in churches. I'm certainly an example of what happens when those defense mechanisms don't work, when one faces head on the terror that is before you. I was miserable and terrified. Of course, there came a point when I finally chose to take advantage of some defense mechanisms, and for most of my adulthood, I've done my best to just not think about hell. After my trip to Hungary, I was simply emotionally worn out. As a consequence, I stopped being quite as evangelistic. I didn't feel quite the drive. Also, in evangelizing, you are forced to confront your belief that people are unsaved. That became increasingly uncomfortable. Of course, I felt guilt for my lackadaisical ways, but I tried to rationalize my behavior. I tried to tell myself I was "leading by example." I opened my mind to the possibility that there might be other Christians saved besides those in the church of Christ. I tried to convince myself of a final fair outcome by woodenly repeating "God will do what is right." At some point I stopped considering being re baptized. I now realize why. It was because I wasn't sure I wanted to repeat a ritual in which I was accepting a God that mercilessly sent the majority of people to hell. Did I really believe that such a God existed? Of course, all my worries of hell and doubts about God finally broke through my defenses, and here I am. Examining and evaluating them at the risk of hell itself. Through this process, I have lost most, (though not all) of my fear. For two years I have been questioning God in a way that before would have left me certain of my doom. I think this has desensitized me in large part to the fear. I haven't been avoiding hell through perfect Christian behavior, prayer, or continual evangelizing. In coming close to hell, really evaluating the doctrine and examining my beliefs and feelings about it as well as those of others, it's starting to lose its grip on me. I think I'm starting to see that it's nothing to fear.
In this evaluation process of mine, I realize part of my difficulty with hell is that it has put my religious beliefs in conflict with my moral beliefs about justice and love, my conscience, and my emotional responses to others. For my entire childhood, I assumed that my heart was out of line with my religious beliefs. Being angry or horrified that most of the world was going to hell was wrong because whatever God decrees is somehow right and holy, even if it makes no earthly sense. I am now beginning to turn the tables on this problem. Why can't it be that my doctrine is out of line with my heart? Maybe it feels unjust and unloving, because sending almost all humanity to hell, for all eternity, when they did not believe the right things and did not behave in the right way for 100 or fewer years, is not just or loving. I use to discount my emotions where understanding God is concerned, believing only the Bible should guide my beliefs. However, the truth is that emotions are an important information source and help guide our behavior and relationships with others. Our sense of compassion motivates us to care for others, our anger helps us defend ourselves, our fear causes us to flee danger, and our worry causes us to be cautious and make prudent plans. I have even been cautious in the past about using my conscience and moral beliefs to pass judgement on beliefs about God and the Bible. After all, my conscience can be "seared as with a hot iron" rendering it useless. And my moral nature is fallen, so how can I trust my revulsion at the genocide described in the Bible or in God sending the Hindu from 200 AD to hell for not believing in Jesus? "God's ways are not our ways." Maybe that's true, but in a different way. Maybe God's ways are not our ways because there is no hell. Maybe it's a figment of human imagination that God finds revolting. Maybe He wishes we'd listen to the consciences he gave us. Several of you voiced similar beliefs in your comments on the last blog post. I appreciate your collective input as it has opened me up to valuing more than just my intellect in resolving the dilemma of the doctrine of hell. That being said, I still plan to do more reading on the topic!:)