People are free in this world to live for themselves alone if they want to and let the rest go hang, and they are free to live out the dismal consequences as long as they can stand it. The doctrine of hell proclaims that they retain this same freedom in whatever world comes next. Thus the possibility of making damned fools of ourselves would appear to be limitless.

Or maybe hell is the limit. Since the damned are said to suffer as dismally in the next world as they do in this one, they must still have enough life left in them to suffer with, which means that in their flight from Love, God apparently stops them just this side ofextinguishing themselves utterly. Thus the bottomless pit is not really bottomless. Hell is the bottom beyond which the terrible mercy of God will not let them go.

Dante saw written over the gates of hell the words "Abandon all hope ye who enter here," but he must have seen wrong. If there is suffering life in hell, there must also be hope in hell, because where there is life there is the Lord and giver of life; and where there is suffering he is there too, because the suffering of the ones he loves is also his suffering.

"He descended into hell," the Apostles' Creed says, and "If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there," says the Psalmist (139:8). It seems there is no depth to which he will not sink. Maybe not even Old Scratch will be able to hold out against him forever.

~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

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