I’ve had a number of conversations as of late around the idea of heaven and hell, one of the more recent on a long drive home as we talked about the recent “Great” (read sarcasm) George Pell & Dawkins #QandA where George copped some flack for suggesting that he doesn’t have any control over who gets to heaven, but instead it’s God’s call. George was ridiculed for this as the host and Dawkins chuckled with the suggestion that even atheists can get to heaven…
When, during these conversations I’ve been asked about my understanding on heaven and hell I’ve responded “it’s not my call, it’s God’s,” and it’s here where (on 2 different occasions) I’ve been asked if I thought Hitler could get to heaven, the insinuation being that surely there’s some evil that just cannot be allowed in, and we need to know where the line is. What interests me is that it’s not the first time that the same question has been asked of me, it’s a fairly standard response.
Let me ponder my own beliefs for a bit and see where I land, forgive me if this seems a little self-serving, actually, forget that, no forgiveness necessary, I write what I write, you read what you read, feel free to wander off.
I believe God is Love, that’s with a capital L, it’s the all encompassing, all embracing Love. In fact, when you think of Love, where it came from, the very source of the word and the source of the thought behind the word… that’d be God. All that is love and all that is in love.. God.
I want to thank Rob Bell for his book Love Wins, it’s one of the more poetic, beautiful, simple, inescapably exciting and honest reflections on Heaven and Hell offered up in the last couple of years, and from which I wish to steal the title.
In everything I believe that Love Wins.
In saying this I would suggest that our definitions, images, ideas and conversations of Hell as a physical place have not come from a point of understanding and position of Love.
Perhaps it may be a pastorally sensitive approach to sufferers of torture, violence, extreme poverty and warfare to suggest that those that have performed, ordered, carried out these evil acts would be punished in some way or other, but is it one that’s theologically sensitive?
Perhaps it may be comforting to think one has a choice, that there may be a place where one can choose to be in a place without love, I’m not sure who would find this comforting, but perhaps some people may find this a helpful idea, but would it be theologically credible?
It’s my belief that all our concepts of hell have been developed, thought through, delivered and discussed from a standing point of people who fall short of love, not that we’re without love, just that we fall short of it. We want to be able to tell those that grieve that people who have carried out grievous deeds will be punished, some of us have even spoken about various torments that may be performed on such people, so hell takes shape.
Hell becomes the space in us that doubts Love’s power, that doubts Love’s ability to win over all. Hell’s our fallback scenario for when we, in our deepest and darkest moments really cannot believe, cannot fathom a universe where Love wins & it’s here that we create hell, as a place where our own doubts to fester…
And it’s here i’ll return to the stock standard response I’ve had to my concept of heaven…
So, what about Hitler, surely Hitler cannot be in heaven, surely he has had to be punished, surely he cannot exist in a place where Love lives, rules, breathes, births and hopes?
Perhaps it may not be pastorally sensitive to say this, but I will, and I’ll say goodbye to many people on my reader list who will think I’ve gone too far, but maybe, perhaps, if Love does win, Hitler is in Heaven.
Perhaps Love can conquer all…
Perhaps heaven is the place where Hitler had to confront the evil that he had put power behind, not through torture (that would be our way) but through being confronted by Love. Perhaps Hitler finds himself in heaven, and that heaven is a place where he is embraced by Love and all that is evil in him is faced with the reality that it holds no power here…
What does evil do when it’s embraced in the Love that is all of Love? Can it survive? Does it shrink and hide for the opportune moment? or does it dissolve in the reality that it has no power at all in this place, that it’s the most insignificant thing in all the world and that in the light of Love all it can do is fade away into nothingness?
What does Love do with this kind of space? This kind of evil? Not torture (torture and hell being a statement on our own lack of faith in God rather than God’s reality of Love). Perhaps, just perhaps Love embraces Hitler in Love’s arms, perhaps Love embraces Hitler in the arms of all of those that were killed as a part of his genocide, one by one, group by group, family, by family he is faced by those who were killed, not as a murderous mob but forgiving, loved, peace-full and complete. What does evil do to this space? What can it do but run, die, leave… Surely it cannot exist in this place, (it could have existed in a torturous hell, even ruled a space like that, but not in this place). No, in this space Evil (all that is Evil) comes face to face with all that is Love and realises it’s insignificance and turns tail an runs, or it dies there on the spot.
And what of Hate and Fear? Let that dissolve in Love also, those people who were tortured, who experienced unspeakable evil, each and every one of them find themselves in a place where they know not of these things, all of which having been dealt with by Love, finding themselves not under the power of Fear and Hate but liberated from it, liberated to become a part of Love’s victory over evil, and to, perhaps find themselves, one by one in a space where they can participate in the act of loving evil out of the world as they hold Hitler in their arms, no longer victims but liberated, holders and participants in Love.
For, if Love really is to win, as I believe it will it needs to exist in a realm not created by my inability to believe in it’s power.