Mercifully Damned

Christian views on Hell

Christian views on Hell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was nine or ten I asked my Sabbath school teacher about the people who go to hell. Adventists are annihilationists, meaning that we believe that those who go to hell are eventually burned up and do not suffer eternally. But as a child I still wondered about the people. I thought that if I had been on the ‘wrong side’ and saw Jesus coming in the clouds, I would change my mind and want to be with him, and I wondered if people in the end who realized they were wrong would be able to repent in time to be saved.

“God can save people who have never had the opportunity to know the truth, or who want to be with God but don’t know everything we know,” I was told, “But the people who go to hell wouldn’t be happy in heaven. God leaves them on earth as an act of mercy,” (for clarity’s sake, Adventists believe hell is the fire that cleanses the sinful earth after all righteous living and dead have been taken to heaven). I don’t remember how I reacted to the idea of merciful damnation, but I suspect I was appeased, at least for a few years.

Over a decade later I’m sitting in a coffee shop with two friends saying, “If everything I was raised to believe about god is true, I’m really not interested in being with him.” In that moment I realize the fuller meaning of what I’ve said. If everything I was taught to believe about god is true, I am one of the mercifully damned. I am struck again by the truth of this when I realize I am okay with it. Somewhat.

Like most people who were raised in a faith tradition they later moved away from, I have chosen to embrace as true a more palatable alternative: I was misinformed. Some people decide that the scope of their misinformation extends to the existence of god himself.  I’m not willing to assert that. Perhaps the existence of god is still of one my palatable ‘truths.’

I do wonder, however, how much our acceptance of ‘palatable truths’ is driven by our innate desire to be happy? If, as one school of thought proposes, we feel first and reason second, how much of my worldview is comprised of foma I embrace because I can’t fully bear to accept the alternative?

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