David Bentley Hart raises probing questions about the traditional formulation of hell here : https://bit.ly/3rHLYEg. Anyone holding this suspect doctrine owes it to all thoughtful and spiritually sensitive people to respond to the challenges Hart presents.

As I have thought about Hart’s article, I have found a few questions of my own emerging. Here in no particular order are some questions for what Hart calls the “infernalists” who insist on assigning large portions of the human population to an eternity of intolerable conscious suffering:

If “love” is the best human word to point to the nature of God, what kind of “love” is it that would design a cosmos in which even one, let alone billions, of people are intentionally consigned to eternal torture?

If we use the image of parent/mother/father to describe God’s character, what might it take for me, as a parent, to find my child’s behaviour so objectionable that I could imagine condemning my child to endless punishment with no hope of reform? Is it possible I am more compassionate, kind, forgiving and understanding than the God who I understand to be the source of all goodness, light and truth?

How can I defend a God who behaves in a manner I would find utterly reprehensible in any human being? (Remember, we are talking here about intentionally, or at least permissively, condemning people to suffering from which they have absolutely no hope of recovery, no pardon, no healing, no reconciliation, nothing but a bleak future of unremitting conscious anguish.) What would I think of a person who allowed such a situation to exist if they had the power to prevent it? Why would I excuse in God behaviour that is vastly more egregious than anything any human being has ever inflicted on another sentient being?

Why would anyone ever be tempted to convert to a God who condemns many people I know and love to an eternity of pain?

If heaven is a place of eternal bliss and endless happiness, what kind of happiness am I likely to enjoy while looking down from my privileged blissful place of peace upon people who are condemned to everlasting anguish?

What criteria can I possibly conceive of that could make me feel justified in condemning any human being to never-ending punishment? Who do I know who I might place in this category?

If true justice means taking into consideration all the circumstances that have contributed to a person becoming the person they have become, do I believe that knowing all these details, I would still find a suitable candidate for hell?

Who is well-served by this abhorrent doctrine? Is it intended to protect God’s honour? or to preserve some abstract concept of human free-will that can only be truly free if we are free to damn ourselves to being eternally lost?

This last question leads me to one suggestion:

The doctrine of hell emerged from a carrot and stick paradigm of child-rearing. Heaven is the carrot coaxing people to good behaviour; hell is the stick warning them to avoid behaviour that will lead to condemnation. It is all about crowd control. Hell is an instrument of domination, intended to enforce a standard of morality deemed good for an orderly society in general and church communities in particular.

The primary motivator that lies coiled at the base of hell-teaching is fear, which makes John’s statement in I John 4:18 difficult to reconcile with such a damnable doctrine:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

If God created the truly terrifying reality to which people point when they speak of hell, or even just authorized its existence, how can God be love? At the very least, the onus of proof that this hell-doctrine is a legitimate expression of God’s loving kindness, rests upon the “infernalists” who continue to hold such a suspect and troubling doctrine.