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Question 138

Πάτερ, will non-believers truly be tormented in Hell for all eternity? The Christian doctrine of Hell has always been very problematic for me.           

 

Answer to Question 138

 

The teaching of hell has been very problematic to me also especially as we teach that God is love and compassionate and loves all men. 

What happens to the soul after its departure from the body depends entirely on its spiritual state while it was still in this life. It is led it to a place of rest which we call Paradise or Hades, but we should not think of these as physical places but rather as a state of the soul. We use the terms Paradise and Hades to indicate a particular way of life, since the righteous partake of the glory of God, while the sinners receive the caustic energy of God. In the patristic tradition it is clear that there are not two ways, but God Himself is Paradise for the saints and God Himself is Hades for the sinners. God sends His grace to all men, since “He makes His sun rise on the just and the unjust and sends His rain on the evil and the good”. If God gives us a command to love all people, even our enemies, He does the same Himself. It is impossible for him not to love sinners as well. But each person feels God's love differently, according to his spiritual condition. God is light and light has two properties, illuminating and caustic. If one person has good vision, he benefits from the illuminating property of the sun, and he enjoys the whole creation. But if another person is deprived of his eye, if he is without sight, then he feels the caustic property of light. This is how it will be also for the life of the soul after it leaves the body. God will also love the sinners, but they will be unable to perceive this love as light. They will perceive it as fire, since they will not have a spiritual eye and spiritual vision. Therefore the same love of God, the same energy will fall upon all men, but it will work differently. Therefore Paradise and Hell exist not in the form of a threat and a punishment on the part of God, but in the form of an illness and a cure. Those who are cured and those who are purified experience the illuminating energy of divine grace, while the uncured and ill experience the caustic energy of God.