Hell, Divine Love, and Divine Justice, Michael Stoeber

Interesting article on the role of compassion and love towards those in hell. Interacts with many church fathers, but ultimately misses much of the Bible’s teaching on wrath and God’s hatred.





I argue that a morally acceptable view of hell is not to be understood in terms of a hard-line scheme of retributive punishment. It should rather be conceived as the stark contrast to a vision of spiritual integration and fulfillment in love. Hell is the possibility of a permanent contraction or constriction from one’s spiritual expansion in love.


The sadistic tenor of this passage is remarkable. Notice how in Hugh’s view compassion is displaced by an attitude of self-righteous and self-oriented satifaction and even pleasure at the sight of the eternally damned. Augustine’s perspective is, perhaps, not quite as extreme. He insists on an awareness of the elect of “the eternal misery of the damned,”17 but only as part of a more general awareness of evil as a contrast to the good, and without suggesting that their suffering is specially designed to enhance the beatific vision. Still, he too suggests quite explicitly and adamantly that compassion is not an appropriate attitude toward the damned. He seems to tend more toward a stance of apathy.


The only appropriate stance towards the sufferer is the divine, compassionate love, within which one has identified and which one exudes.


The state of affairs is a negation of human potential. It is a lack of participation in divine Being — rather an inner emptiness than an externally imposed positive affliction, a denial of one’s spiritual potential and possibilities.


But with regard to the view of hell I am clarifying here, one can acknowledge in such extended soul-making contexts the sufferer’s own ultimate choice and responsibility for his or her existential condition, which, perhaps, he or she might choose to maintain indefinitely, eternally languishing in his or her own immersion in self-isolationism. That is the possibility of hell.

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