Stop for a moment, close your eyes, and picture someone you love in flames. Picture their skin bubbling and bursting through waves of intense heat, picture it blackening and shrinking as they fall to their knees, their screams gurgling up from scorched lungs through their blistered throat, bursting from their charred lips to pierce the fetid air.
Now, imagine yourself picking fresh fruit in an abundant field, a joyous smile upon your face, cool grass beneath your feet, the air thick with floral scents and laughter. Sweet nectar clinging to your lips, you stop to run your fingers through the mane of a majestic lion before setting upon the golden path to your personal mansion, the lilting sounds of abundant water and generous praise wafting on the gentle breeze.
Now, imagine what kind of person you would have to be to happily flit about picking fruit and petting lions KNOWING that your loved one was burning in agony; KNOWING that their torture would last for all of eternity, without even momentary relief. Imagine that the powerful being responsible for both the realm of torment and the realm of pleasure is accessible to you, seated on a golden throne in the center of a perfect city. What kind of monster would you have to be to choose living blissfully through that eternity over exhausting yourself at the base of that golden throne, day and night, begging that your loved one be set free from their torment?
We’re not done yet – “narrow is the path of righteousness“, so up the scale. The idealic world you inhabit is populated with, perhaps, several thousand other individuals who enjoy the favor of that powerful being, while BILLIONS of others suffer his wrath. What possible justification could free your conscience of their torment? What conceivable distraction could force their pain from your mind? What unconscionable madness could be imposed that would twist your sobs of grief into songs of worship for the being that holds court over such an insane perversion of justice?
This is the essence of the doctrine of heaven and hell – that compassionate, loving human beings can exist for all of eternity in peaceful bliss knowing without doubt that people they know and love, compassionate and loving human beings themselves, are spending that same eternity in insufferable torment. For heaven to be a place of unending joy, the individuals inhabiting it would have to be wiped clean of every last trace of their humanity.
Somehow, I fail to find the message of hope in that vision.
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