I've been puzzling about something for a few weeks.
There seems to be something about the notion of hell not lasting forever that trips people up and I'm not sure what that something is. Let me try to illustrate this to flush the problem out into the open.
First, let's imagine hell as extreme conscious torment and pain. Basically, imagine hell as bad as any hellfire and brimstone Christian wants to make it.
Second, let's imagine two different visions regarding the duration of hell, the traditional vision where hell is eternal and another vision where hell is finite but very, very, very long.
How long? I searched "the largest number" and found this, the Googolplexian. From the site:
Googol: A large number. A "1" followed by one hundred zeros.If you want, you can go to the site and look at all those zeros. There's a lot of them.
Googolplex: The second largest number with a name. A "1" followed by a googol of zeros.
Googolplexian: The worlds largest number with a name. A "1" followed by a googolplex of zeros.
Now I have no idea if the Googolplexian is the largest number with a name. But it doesn't matter, it's a big number that we can work with.
So here's the question, what's the difference--theologically speaking--between an eternal hell and a Googolplexian hell, a hell that lasts for a Googolplexian number of years?
And if a Googolplexian hell seems too short, then how about a Googolplexian x Googolplexian hell? Or a Googolplexian x Googolplexian x Googolplexian hell? Or, if you want, how about a Googolplexian exponent hell, raising a Googolplexian to a Googolplexian power?
You get the idea. We can keep going and going and going. Making larger and larger numbers. All the while imagining extreme conscious torment and pain.
And yet, the number is finite. There would be a moment of ending. And that's what I'm interested in.
What's the difference, theologically, between an eternal hell and this vision of a Googolplexian hell?
Let me ask the question this way.
When people debate about hell it seems that a lot of people who endorse eternal conscious torment worry that sinners (Hitler comes up a lot) might be getting off easy. But it seems to me that we could imagine some Googolplexian hell that would address that concern. That is, if you are worried about people getting off easy we can take care of that. We can dial up a Googolplexian hell of any size to satisfy that demand. In fact, we can double it, just to give us some wiggle room. We don't want anyone getting off too easy...
And yet, I wonder if all this talk about justice is really the issue. Doesn't the notion of a Googolplexian hell expose this? Because if punishment and justice or getting off too easy is a worry we can posit some Googolplexian number where those questions start to seem, well, a bit silly. So there is something else going on.
So I'm wondering: What might that something else be? What's the scandal about someone, even a Hitler, getting free after a Googolplexian number of years (and if you want more we can add more, just ask) of conscious torment and pain, the worst pain we can imagine?