Journal Entry: On Heaven and Hell
Posted by Jerry on September 7, 2007
[Below is one of the entries from the philosophy journal I used to keep while I was in college. I do not, anymore, necessarily subscribe to any/all of the views mentioned in it; it would be inaccurate to even say that I subscribed to all of these views at the time of writing—about five years ago. You may notice several glaring logical fallacies and inconsistencies in them. Feel free to point them out in the comments.]
“Heaven is not a place where all your desires are fulfilled, where there is joy forever, where there are lots of food, great tasting wine, riches, and gold,” I heard a student say this during one of the Christian prayer group meetings on campus. The student went on to say what heaven actually is like; he quoted some verses from the New Testament. He said that heaven is finding eternal joy in the worship and glory of God.
I just happened to be passing by the hallway when I heard all of this. And the first thing that struck me was, if heaven really was that, then it surely must be the most boring place ever! I mean, I just can’t see myself doing something for eternity—the same something forever! I don’t see how there can be eternal happiness in praising God, boosting His ego, telling Him things He should already be aware of—and doing it forever!
Nevertheless, now as I think more of it, I remember my mom saying something like this when I was a kid. She said that the soul will be sooo overjoyed at being in the presence of an almighty God, that all its praises and worship would seem inadequate—and therefore, the soul would basically spend all eternity trying to overcome the inadequacy. I guess it’s something like a struggle forever. The awesomeness of God will highly overwhelm the soul that the only basic endeavor left within the soul—its basic desire—would be to unceasingly glorify the awesome, mighty God. And in doing that, the soul would find all joy.
This innocent and devoutly religious view held by my mother seems to have much emotional appeal. I’m sure there are many other Christians in the world who believe similarly in terms of what it means to be in heaven. However, upon closely scrutinizing a belief like that, one can come up with some interesting questions and reveal some inherent problems.
First, and the most basic problem I have with this view, is—what is the ultimate purpose of all this? What is the goal? Does God merely play this whole stunt of watching us live, suffer, enjoy, die, and then either take us to heaven or throw us in hell for a sadistic or ego-bolstering purpose? So that when the good guys go to heaven, all they do is inflate His ego for eternity? What is the reason for doing this? As a child, I had no probs with this belief, but now I need more reason and clarification. What is the purpose of a heaven and hell? If you say that they serve to administer justice, well then fine. Those that go to hell suffer for their wrong-doings, and those in heaven enjoy the fruits of a good life. But why have it for eternity? How just is it for God to punish human souls for eternity for finite crimes committed in a spatio-temporally finite world?
Among the many responses the apologetics give us in answer to the above problem is that Hell is eternal but not infinite. They say that there are limits or levels in hell. All of this seems absurd to me! First, how do they know all this? Second, so what difference does it make? The soul will still have to spend an eternity of suffering in hell, no matter what “level” of hell they’re in! Another response to the same question, they say that Hell is privation of God—a no-God situation that causes immense torture to the soul. They say that physical pain comes in intensities, but the privation of God is total. There is a clear contradiction between their first and second responses. They say that Hell has levels, then they say Hell is total privation of God. So what is it?—Different levels within a total privation of God? What does that even mean? So, in a totally “no-God” Hell, I can be at a level of low suffering, where I don’t really really suffer too much from the absence of God—or I could be in a moderate intensity level hell, wherein I kinda sorta miss having God around and it troubles me slightly—or I could be damned to the worst level of Hell, where I TERRIBLY miss God, and His privation is total upon me that tortures me immensely. Does all of this actually sound sane? This is like believing in really crazy stuff! And what about the problem of omniscience?—Since God is supposed to be omniscient, He can’t really be missing in Hell; but if He is missing, then you have a God that is not entirely in all places at all times. And in the opposite case, you have a God who is in Hell, along with the Devil and the rest of the sinners!
Anyway, going back to the problems with believing in heavenly joy the way I explained before—it seems like once you are in heaven, all you do is praise God. However, if one’s praises of God can never still be adequate enough, then basically the soul is engaged in a futile endeavor of trying to give God all the praises that He is worth by doing it for eternity. But the very idea of doing something for eternity means you never stop doing it or never reach a point where you have given enough praise. If this is so, then how compatible is this view with the notion that heaven is a place of fulfillment and satisfaction and rest and peace and no more desires? If the soul is never satisfied with the amount of praises it can give, then technically, heaven is not a place of total satisfaction. In other words, there is desire and lacking in heaven, too.
Also, does this view of souls praising God unendingly fit with the idea that there is happiness in doing that? I mean, if there is happiness in praising God, then there should also be avenues for sadness or neutrality or other feelings while NOT praising God and while doing other activities in heaven (whatever they may be), assuming that souls in heaven have the free will to praise God or not. So, if a soul chooses not to praise God, it will not be happy; but then would it be okay for the soul to remain in heaven in that case? I mean, can a soul experience sadness, anger, fear, frustration, boredom, etc. in a place like heaven? I would think that it should be able to experience other emotions just like it can experience the emotion of happiness. Why not, if it is a free soul?
Anyway, another question on my mind right now is, what does it mean for a soul to “experience” temporal feeling and emotions like happiness in heaven and pain or anger in hell? What are its “tools” or “organs” of experiencing these sensations and emotions? Can there be any logical way we can think of to explain how a soul could experience feelings—or whether it is even possible for it to do so? How can we associate the experiences of a soul as consequences of the actions of its body? I mean, like if I am a sinner and I die—how do I exactly get punished for it?—By having my soul get thrown into hell. But how can one associate that soul suffering in hell as “MY” soul suffering the consequences of “MY” actions? These seem to be very complicated questions, and I would have to probably write another journal entry focusing only on these issues.
However, just as a superficial and quick explanation, I’m going to tackle some of those questions now. I think we can take the analogy of dreams. In our dreams, we live out strange and fantastic worlds where many of our known natural laws don’t seem to exist or function. Nevertheless, in such fantastic dream worlds, we are able to use our physical and natural five senses to experience our dream worlds. For example, in our dreams, we can experience smell, the taste of great food, feel the touch of an angel, see the flight of an elephant, hear the songs of the ducks, etc. All of our senses work as well as if in the real world to make our dreams so believable and actual to us. This is how we experience a strange world in our nights, which does not really exist. Similarly, the after-life, heaven, and hell are like dream worlds and out souls move into those worlds and experience those worlds in a similar fashion with our five senses even though the physical is absent. Similarly, also, the soul is experiencing the consequences of the actions of the human being and can be associated in a relationship analogous to the physical person asleep on the bed with the active dream character alive in the person’s mind. Just as the dreamer is also the ‘dreamee’ or the character experiencing the different dream world, so is the soul the same thing as the human being who preceded it.