A Googolplexian Hell

I posted this a couple of weeks ago over at the Evangelical Universalist Forum. Here now for your theological and mathematical consideration:

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.

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.
If you want, you can go to the site and look at all those zeros. There's a lot of them.

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?

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54 thoughts on “A Googolplexian Hell”

  1. Exactly. The way I'm coming to look at it more and more is that the traditional notion of Hell as ECT has less to do with any notion of justice, but is more born out of our desire for vengeance, and ultimately out of our desire to *never* allow certain people to come across our boundary of clean/unclean. Yet there are a lot of people who will simply shrug their shoulders and dismiss any problems of Jeffery Dahmer being punished for his crimes, simply because he repented and was baptized before he was killed in prison. 

    I think one of the biggest sticking points in the minds of many people is that if everyone gets redeemed at some point (a true equality), then we might all have to endure some punishment, no matter how good we think we are, or if we've followed the "formula" to salvation. The notion of a non-permanent Hell wreaks havoc with our clean/unclean boundary.

  2. I hope that no one has to suffer eternally, or even for a Googolplexian period of time.

    My God.  Isn't this life hellish and long enough for most people?

    I do not understand why we need to create a god who needs to torture his creation beyond the hardships of this life.

    Really?

    Is it that too many people have not had a rough enough time of it here and now?

    I would say that if one has suffered, even minimally, in this life, then it is much more difficult to believe (or wish) for anyone else to suffer in like manner (even temporally, let alone "eternally").

    Hitler did a lot of bad during his lifetime.  No argument there.  Is there no redemption or love for Hitler from God, in Christ, unless and until Hitler has been sufficiently punished?

    To me, that seems like we're imagining a god who is too small.  The intellect might concoct "googolplexian" to quantify that god's wrath meted out.  My heart tells me the One True God is more compassionate and able to save than my limited imagination can comprehend.

    ~Peace~

  3. Thanks for posting this again. It's helped to clarify some things for me that I've been thinking about for a while too. Why do we, as a people, love the idea of ECT so much? I'm thinking that it's a way for us to hold on to and possibly even nurture our un-forgiveness in our hearts, leaving God to take the blame for our hardness of heart. It seems to me that this concept of Hell and redemption is a manifestation of the fundamental "failure to love", as you put it so well before.

  4. I think good and appropriate punishment for Hitler might be to let him live freely in the afterlife with no ECT.  Hang with God if he wants, or hang somewhere else if he can't bear it.  But let him see the truth of his actions.  Wouldn't that be unbearable enough?  Surely God speaks only truth and would not hide the pain that Hitler caused from being seen clearly.

    When we talk about heaven and hell we are talking about the spiritual domain - where God is fully in charge, not the Earthly domain where God has given much of this control to our care.  With God truly in charge, how would the place be run?  God can only act consistent with his/her nature - so ECT means that God would act out of unquenchable vengeance.  If you had unlimited power and unlimited goodness is that how you would plan eternity?  Would you allow people to suffer on your watch?  Especially if you love those people - then God would be in as much pain as they were.  Torturing him/herself for eternity.  Bummer.

  5. Eric, I think you are exactly right.  Vengeance, retributive justice, unforgiveness...  All make hell a very attractive thought -- for our "enemies."

    Personally, I have found it easier to forgive the longer I live (and recognize my own stupidity and shortcomings).  Knowing how to reconcile and restore a situation or a relationship that's broken -- now, that's a different matter.  I grieve big-time over my inability to "fix" some things.  I pray for a way, which often doesn't become clear to me.  I still keep hoping that God, being smarter and generally "bigger" than me, *will* make all things perfect in the end.

    God, enough suffering already.  I say "yes" to ~Peace~.  (Thanks, Eric.  Very good thoughts.)

  6. If all are invited to eternal life in God's presence, then that means eventually we'll have to learn to get along with "those" people. I think this is one of the biggest reasons folks like to keep a timeless hell tucked away in their theological toolbox.

  7. As an avid evangelical right wing Christian, I appreciate this post Dr. Beck; you've pointed out a real shortcoming to us. All this time we've been focused so much on Hell's quantitative aspects, and we've lost sight of Hell's qualitative ones. Consider the ball dropped by us.

    Even so, your pointing out how long a googolplex of Hell might last provides a modicum of comfort because this seems like enough time for us to work out with God Almighty what we could create Hell into- its qualitative aspects- before all them evildoers get a chance to slip out.

    Until that time when Families finally get the Focus they deserve, and marriage is free from attacks;

    Blessings

    Brother Mike 

  8. I love your idea of an underlying fear of one's own punishment being masked by an externalizing and others-focused vengeance.  Great thought! I'd agree. The ideas of vengeance and "fairness" seem to be active in our processing of hell. It's almost as if we want to make sure that no one gets away with doing wrong. And by so doing we justify ourselves following the letter of the law out of fear of some eventual punishment if we do not. I think this exposes our less than noble motivations for doing what is right and it also brings out our slavery to comparison and judgment.

    So I think a lot of times when people talk about the necessity of hell, they are talking about the necessity of punishing everyone  for all their sins. But as Christians, good things Jesus is our "get-out-of-jail-free" card, right?

    I still really like Lewis' notion of hell as being a reality that we construct and choose for ourselves rather than something God chooses for us out of some odd desire for "justice" - whatever that is supposed to mean in that context.

  9. Another point I also made at the forum:

    My sense is that a lot Christians throw around the word "eternal" pretty casually and thoughtlessly. They don't know what they are talking about, or at least they aren't paying attention. But when you start thinking of Googolplexian hells the full weight of what an eternal hell looks like starts coming into focus, making it, for me at least, harder to tack on the word "eternal" to any vision of pain or torment.

  10. An early-20th-century mathematician called Georg Cantor did some work on numbers. He discovered that certain sorts of things, like hairs on my child's head, stars in the sky, integers, rational numbers, years, and bits on all the disk drives on all Google's computers, are countable, even if they are potentially infinite. Cantor gave this infinite but countable number the name aleph null. Dr. Beck's idea that eternity might last for a countable number (if large) number of years is to say that eternity's duration is countable.

    But let's turn this around.  Cantor also discovered and proved that what we call "real" numbers, that is, the sizes and shapes of things in the world: the length of the hairs on my child's head, the position of the stars in the sky, the glint of sunlight off water, are not countable. There are so many ways to divide one inch of distance that they cannot be counted, even if you keep counting until you count up to a googolplexian (or whatever name you wish to assign to an arbitrarily large integer).  Cantor named that uncountable number aleph one. There are more than a googolplexian ways for a mother to hold her infant. In fact, even to try to count those ways is to commit a category error.  (Some real numbers, like π, are known as transcendental numbers; those numbers are the ones that aren't countable.)

    Amazing, eh?  Thanks to Cantor, this idea of infinite beyond infinite is within human understanding.  Could there be an even greater sort of infinity that lies beyond human understanding?  Could that infinity be present in every grain of sand and the heart of every living creature?

  11. Hell (or the avoidance of) has been Christianity's most effective marketing tool. How are we going to fill those pews without it? 

  12. My conception of afterlife (good or bad or indifferent) is not temporal in any way. That is to say, all categories of time become meaningless. Whatever it is, it isn't this. Peace.

  13. People want Hell to be eternal and infinite because they believe they will not be in it… and they want some definitive way to separate US (the saved) from THEM (the irredeemable evil damned). I believe it to be yet another in a series of tribal constructs that allows one group to establish its superiority over another—in this case of course, theologically, which is the most gratifying of all, right?

    If there is ultimately no universal forgiveness and reconciliation, I want no part of Christianity. I will not worship a God who condemns his creation to perpetual torment.

  14. Here's another issue with the ol' Hitler scenario, and it might help surface what you are searching for. A good majority of the people who would insist on eternal conscious torment also believe that the mechanism to escape that fate is to believe in Jesus, have a genuine conversion, say the sinner's prayer, get baptized or something similar. It is based on a simple act of faith. So, hypothetically, how would people react if Hitler would have engaged in all the same atrocities but, right before he died, had a genuine conversion? He would have been saved without being punished for his atrocities. It seems he would "get off too easy." Shouldn't they be furious about that hypothetical situation? And yet, that situation is reality for many "sinners." They got off easy, at least in the framework of many people's soteriology. So, it seems odd that the only too options that sit well with so many people are eternal punishment or no punishment. I guess that's what justice looks like--two sizes fit all. 

  15. As an agnostic on this issue, do you mind if I try to explain what I think the "big deal" is?

    I think it has to do with the grand, mythic narrative. One I find in Scripture, in hundreds of Jewish and Christian sources. One that I find many progressive Christians simply jettisoning--and then wondering what the big deal is.

    The grand mythic narrative is a narrative of two alternative fates. Two alternative types of people. Two alternative roads. Two alternative destinies. The "googleplex" hell seems to keep the one thing that conservatives don't care about (lots and lots of suffering for bad guys) but to lose the thing that conservatives do care about--a grand choice between alternative epic destinations.

    This grand narrative may, of course, be worth jettisoning. But I doubt math will get there.

    One might as well use math to attack the grand mythic narrative of progressives--the narrative that a good God won't make people suffer forever. If God would be cruel to make/ let people suffer forever, would God be cruel to let/ make people suffer for a googleplex years? Surely so. Would God be cruel to let/ make people suffer for a million years? Surely so. What about a thousand? A hundred? What about one year? One day? One minute? Isn't God cruel if he makes/ lets people suffer for one second?

  16.  See my post above--would you really feel any better about a million-year hell? A thousand-year hell? Is it the word "eternal" that is unsettling--or is it the "vision of pain or torment" itself.

  17.  We'd also have to face anyone we did wrong to. Including "those" people. The more people you hurt, the more people you have to face and eventually explain just what you were thinking when you did that.

    Which in Hitler's case would include every single Holocaust victim, every single Holocaust survivor, the family members of every single person who went through the Holocaust, a significant majority of the WWII population of Europe, all but a minor portion of post-war East Germans, everyone harmed with support of his writings and speeches (a number that continues to increase)....

    It gets into the differences between retributive and reparative justice justice - the difference between sticking someone like Hitler in eternal physical torment or making him know exactly what he did, and to who, in incredibly intimate detail with full opportunity to beg forgiveness of everyone individually for eternity. Because in an ECT hell, there will never be an apology from Hitler to anyone but God - he'll have no access to make any other. Even with a Googleplexian hell, that access will one day come.

    But then that also works down to lesser - much lesser - offenses. Harm someone you classified as a damned sinner, even if only with words? If you believe in ECT, you don't think you'll be seeing them again, ever. If you don't, you believe you will, repeatedly, for all eternity, and you just might have to explain yourself or find out that yes, that one moment of harm snowballed into damage you didn't think one little statement could bring.

  18. Thanks for this post.

    It seems to come down to Jesus' command to 'love your enemies' and to forgive '70 times seven.' 

    That means, as Christians, we have to want Hitler to avoid eternally conscious torment, because we love Hitler in spite of the horrific evil he perpetrated.

  19. I like any theological conversation where Cantor set theory comes into play! I actually pondering going off in this direction but decided not to.

  20. I'm seeing a lot of the story of Jonah in your comment - isn't it pretty much the same scenario? Ninevah, the ultimate bad guys of the day, got off scot free when they repented and the man of God wasn't too pleased about it....

  21. This point reminds me of Dr Beck's book Unclean which points out that an attribution of uncleanliness is ordinarily permanent. To use his example - if I put a cockroach in your lemonade the lemonade is ruined. Even if I remove the cockroach it is still ruined. Even if I then filter the lemonade in front of you, it is still ruined. For most people there is no amount of filtering that lemonade can go through that would make them willing to drink the lemonade that once had a cockroach in it. Perhaps Hell is thought eternal because there is no amount of purifying fire we can imagine which would remove the evil from some people's soul. It's irrational.

    A second possible psychological explanation: people take delight in the suffering of others. For some people, heaven just wouldn't be heaven unless they knew that there was an alternative which was much worse. Part of what makes heaven good is that it is not hell. This only works though if hell is populated. If it is a live option. The day that a finite hell is empty and closed for business is the day that a lot of people in heaven suddenly feel less bliss because everyone is now getting the same reward - like the early workers in the vineyard, they're angry that the ones who showed up late got the same wages even though their own wages were fair. This isn't a very pretty picture to paint of us humans, I'll grant, but I think it has some truth to it.

    Of course, as I understand the Kingdom of Heaven, it would seem that the people who are only happy so long as others are suffering would actually be the ones in hell. While Jesus would be found with the ones suffering, but still rejoicing. Maybe we should flip our understanding. Maybe Heaven is actually the place where our sin is purged from us and where the beatitudes are true - the poor, the weeping, the persecuted etc... are blessed. While Hell is the place where sin goes unpunished and happiness depends on the suffering of your neighbor. Maybe God is in the hot place full of sinners and the Devil is in the comfortable place full of the arrogant and self-righteous.

  22. The "infinite hell" idea can, as far as I know, only be defended from one passage of Revelation (if you take it very literally). And there are so many good reasons not to believe in it. How many have been turned away from Christianity because it believes such a monstrous thing, with no parallel in other religions?

  23. I hope that all this crap "is" eventually burned out of me. If punishment does the trick, bring on the punishment. I sure do hope for much grace though.

  24. I think that hell, by definition, is eternal.  I think there's a name for a finite hell - purgatory.  We often say that God's mercy is infinite, which would imply that His mercy is sufficient to forgive even souls that are late in recognizing their sinfulness and expressing remorse.

  25.  "So, hypothetically, how would people react if Hitler would have engaged
    in all the same atrocities but, right before he died, had a genuine
    conversion? He would have been saved without being punished for his
    atrocities. It seems he would "get off too easy.""

    Why would he be getting off too easy? In a real sense after a genuine conversion he would no longer be the same person - in just the same way that all of us sinners are no longer the same people after a genuine conversion.

  26. I think that's the problem. We all know we're not that much different after "being saved". When you read all those surveys of what non-Christians think of Christianity, it's clear that Christians are still the same people we've always been only we get to go to heaven.

  27. I was playing with Richard's issue of people not relenting on an eternal
    hell because, if it was temporal (the point of him using the
    Googolplexian idea), then people in hell would be "getting off too
    easy." If we are okay with Hitler's conversion before death, why are we
    so worried about a conversion after death? I was just attempting to take
    on Richard's point from another angle. What you quoted from me above is
    the idea I was trying to critique, not my own belief.

  28. I buy your first explanation especially; at least, insofar as I am tempted to propose an eternal hell, those are the emotions that I can detect working in me. (But I'll point out that I'm not really very tempted at all.) In fact, could I add that we can only imagine Hitler as evil (because dehumanized)? If we imagine sinners, we imagine thorough, unrepentent sinners, not philanthropists who lied once or twice. Those sinners we imagine, if burned free of sin, would have nothing left. Of course, those sinners we imagine cannot exist.

  29. It's relatively easy, and scary, to hold Hitler exponentionally accountable for his sin but we should also consider those responsible for the fire bombings of Dresdin and other German cities, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the far-reaching consequences of those events.  Furthermore, we all have our own sin and its consequences.  ALL of us need God's infinite grace and forgiveness.  I think if anyone one of us had to face all of the consequences of all of our sin after death, that indeed would be more than enough hell.  

  30. Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos that a Googolplex is so large that if one were to try to write it out on a strip of paper that you would run out of room in the universe before you finished it.  That might as well be eternity.

  31. Whether Hell is eternal or temporal, I do not know. What I do know, is that I've tasted a little spiritual death in my life as the result of sin and I would rather die physically than to go through that again. If I ever truly grasp the severity of spiritual death (either temporal, or eternal) I could not wish that even on Hitler. Maybe a suffering on par with the thousands who suffered under him, but eternal? Wishing eternal suffering on someone, forever and ever with no end is not a desire for justice but rather a sadistic reflection on the soul of one wishing for that. I haven't heard a minister or any Christian ever side in with Paul in his wishing that he himself were cut off from Christ so that his Jewish brothers/sisters would be saved. I think he understood the severity of hell (eternal or temporal) much better than any of our pulpit-fillers today do.

  32. "Imagine" is a subtle instrument used to super impose man's ideas over God's declaration.  The same words that are used for the duration of hell are also used for the duration of heaven.  Talking about one year or a "googolplexian of years in eternity is a misnomer.  Time will not be counted in eternity.  If it ends then it is not eternal. Will the blessings of salvation and the eternal inheritance only be a googolplexian of years for the saved?  Can we ask God for more years?  Why did Jesus die on the cross?  Heaven and hell are linked in eternity by the God of heaven and earth.  Man has no say in the duration of one or the other. It is interesting to know that the same Greek word used for the eternal nature of heaven and hell is also used in Romans 16:26: "But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the EVERLASTING GOD, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith."  Either accept God's declaration or say plainly that you believe that your imagination is more accurate than the revelation of God.  See Matthew 25:46.

  33. The problem with this is that it is not we who set the  boundaries.  God set the boundaries in a language we can understand.  In order to reset the boundaries we have to redefine the words or we have to deny God's revelation on the subject.  As for me and my house, we'll stick with God.

  34. You are a religious person, aren't you Steve -- accepting the "traditions of men" over faith in the power and goodness of God -- "making the word of God of no effect."

    "Why did Jesus die on the cross?"

    To be resurrected... to prove that the last enemy to be defeated will be death... which is quite contrary to the traditions of the religion of Christianity which teach that most of mankind (all those "evil" unbelievers) will be subjected to the "second death" - hell - for "eternity." It's hard to be dead when death is no more, of course, but if that's what your tradition teaches then by all means go with it.

    Oh yeah, please forgive my sarcasm. I'm just tired of Christians who claim to have faith in God, but who don't actually believe that He will succeed. Apparently "all things are *possible* with God," but just not likely... as in the salvation of the world.

  35. Jesus Himself, who is the resurrection, has declared, "...and few there be that find it" (Mat. 7:14).  Are there any goats in Matthew 25? 

    If we choose to imagine that there is no hell, then it would be wise to also remember the words of John Lennon who said, "Imagine there's no heaven.  It's easy if you try." Both of these have their origin in the mind of men, not God.  God's word teaches that there is an eternal hell, a second death.  Shall we instruct God? (1 Corinthians 2:16 says, "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him. But we have the mind of Christ."  The only way we know the mind of Christ is by what has been revealed to us in the word of God.)  God has given to us His instruction on this subject.  Shall we hear Him? (Matthew 17:5.)

  36. My mind cant rap the understanding of the mathematical monument this is... and I don't think anyone can really. The reason I say this is because there are so many different elements and chemicals and patterns and equations and so much time to multiply by infinity that if living forever, you
    would think you would find an answer to something but you have to be from a different dimension to even fathom the complexity of of anything greater than a googol... but maybe not because who knows the possibilities are infinite.

  37. Eric, that is called transference.  But does it go too far.  Does everyone who believes in an eternal hell have an unforgiving/hardness of heart?  

    This also deflects from the main argument.  It assumes that man is the source of the idea of an eternal hell.  Hell is eternal because God has declared it to be so, not by man's declaration.  God has paved the way to eternal life in heaven with the most precious blood of His Son.  Those who reject this way choose for themselves eternal condemnation, and, in so doing arouse the wrath of God who, in His terms of justice, has declared that such should be cast into the the fiery pit where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (2 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 21:8; Mark 9:43-44).  Your argument is with God, not with men whom you assume have a hard and unforgiving heart.  Even is men have such a heart, it still does not remove God's declaration on the subject.  You see my point?

  38. You will hear what you want to hear. 

    The problem is not that most Christians don't believe in universal salvation - that Christ is actually the savior of the world (all people) - but that too many Christians don't want universal salvation. I am sorry that you are one of them.

  39.  Does everyone who believes in an eternal hell have an unforgiving/hardness of heart?
    Yep, they do every one of them. The good news is that every single believer of Universal Reconciliation has the same. Think hard before you dismiss that out of had, as you would be refuting the Biblical Literalism that your reply seems to indicate.

     Your argument is with God, not with men whom you assume have a hard and unforgiving heart.

    Nope, my argument isn't with God, but with your conception of God and His message to us. 

     You see my point?

    I saw your point long ago, and have summarily dismissed it as unthinking, illogical nonsense. The only way ECT proponents can defend that position is by the escape via relativism of "God said it, so that's the way it is!" or "God's love is completely different that our love. The former of those positions is unthinking nonsense, and the latter is illogical nonsense. 

    Before you accuse me of having a speck of transference in my eye, you'd better offer up some real proof of having taken the logs out of your own eye.

  40. And for future reference to others, I don't care one whit what literalists and fundamentalists think, so any that want to reply to me are welcome to do so, but I won't waste any of my time trying to engage them

  41. You speak as if you have the final and complete understanding of God's revelation to humans. 

    As far as your judgement of whom me and my house will stick with, your condescending attitude is why I walked away from the general self-righteousness of the CoC denomination. Just who exactly do you think you are to shove your self-righteous judgement onto someone else that is struggling, doubting, and seeking earnestly? And "good church-going people" are wondering why people are walking away from Christianity in massive numbers. Please, let me know what church you attend, just so that I know where a doubtful seeker like myself isn't welcome.

  42. Whether or not hell is eternal, it DOES seem that everyone, even in this comments section, comes at the issue with the understanding that hell is primarily meant to "punish bad people", while it's always been my understanding that hell is more about rejecting God (meaning that yes, if Hitler had a genuine "deathbed conversion", he'll be in heaven).

  43. The thing is, that we don't actually understand the language. You think you do, but you don't.

    Your understanding is based on a translation, or perhaps you read Greek, I don't know. Even then, your understanding is influenced by general cultural understandings, your denomination's doctrines, and your own Pastor's particular interpretations. Lots of folks think they are "pure Bible" or "sola scriptura" but I could prove otherwise for all of them.Eternal can mean more than one thing. It means either forever or a very long amount of time, or it means outside of time altogether. Time is part of the fabric of creation. It's called space-time for a reason. Hell could be called eternal because it does not exist within the confines of this universe, it is outside of creation - in eternity - where there is no "time". This is basically impossible for humans to wrap their heads around.

  44. Speculations about the nature and length of hell seems like a flaming red herring to me. One might as well ask 'what is the weight of a guilty conscience?' We inevitably try to conflate too many realities, and end up with these reductionstic absurdities (Goog-hells?) that are easily deployed as strawmen in arguments.

    As Christians, we are saddled with the concept of hell that Jesus interacted with, an eclectically expanded view of 'sheol'. The worst fate you could assign someone in that worldview would have been 'unresurrected', but it was equally dreaded by the faithful like a child fears separation from its mother. Jesus effectively banishes any spiritual anxiety about the spectre of death, in all its guises, by eternal assurance (and evidence) of God's faithful promises. 

    But the truth is, not everyone imagines hell the same way (nor for the same reasons) as the ancient Hebrews did. And "hell" can only be as fearsome as the worst place someone's worldview allows for. Like conscience, it doesn't necessarily need a saviour - guilt can also be purged by moving the goalposts (or changing the 'game').

    The Christian concern, as I understand it, is that this shift - and all Christians agree that such a shift is needed (in the form of forgiveness and reconciliation) - is not a mere rationalisation, a mental escape through a metaphysical loophole, but a reality of substance rooted in logos and reason.For if the Kingdom of Heaven was inevitable, and first Adam's return to Eden unavoidable, does second Adam's appearance and resurrection achieve anything more substantial and trustworthy than hope? Is that really what Abraham possessed by faith? Luke, for one, wasn't convinced that such saving hope was automatically destined to be universal: 'when the Son of Man returns, will he even find faith on earth?' Faith in faith just wouldn't be enough - it doesn't possess the power required for shaping a new heaven and earth out of chaos, or clothing the dust of creation with immortality.So is the separation of wheat from chaff and sheep from goats only a mirror image of the monstrosity of eternal separation: a metaphysical slight of hand that allows us to cast off existential fears and, thus purged, approach heaven as soon as we have suffered enough in this life or the next?

    It is not Christ's suffering that allowed Him to rise after three days, nor was his suffering penitence. That suffering extended beyond his bodily existence and into the domain of death, and it is from there that He set captives free. So the question is not how far down the road we can see, but how long we will walk the via Dolorosa before we recognise the Life and the Resurrection.

  45. the only number bigger than googolplexian is ghram's number. Somebody tell me what the first digit is.

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