Hi, I am new here! I was raised as a Roman Catholic but for many reasons I've practically abandoned the Catholic church. One of these reasons was that when I was a child the teachings about Hell at school scared me so much I just could not bear it. At the age of 12 I had the first of many depressive episodes...and the main symptom of that depression was terror about hell. As an adult I've also had depressive episodes in which I cannot banish from my mind the idea of Hell.
Recently, I have decided, albeit in an undramatic way, to surrender to Jesus, to ask Jesus to plant the tiny mustard seed (of which He spoke in His beautiful parable) in my heart and soul. I've been reading the gospels ...and then I want to put them down, because again, and again, Jesus speaks, or seems to speaking, of 'eternal punishment' for unrepentant sinners. And then I feel so confused, as well as frightened and (it sounds blasphemous, but I trust God will forgive me!) even angry with God, if indeed Hell really is eternal torment for sinners. Why must sinners be condemned to ETERNAL torment? Personally, I wouldn't want any human being condemned to ETERNAL absolute agony, regardless of what they had done. I know I'm just a poor human being and have no right to question God's justice. I don't believe I'm better than God - no way! I've committed many, many sins. But all my life, the doctrine of Hell has sometimes...how I hate to say this .. prevented me from feeling like I can love Jesus with my whole heart. On the other hand, there have been times when I've felt absolute love for Jesus. He has helped me through some dreadful times and is no doubt helping me even now, although I continue to sin.
The Jehovah's Witnesses, I believe, hold that Hades or Hell doesn't mean eternal suffering but simply death, as in dead, not conscious, and that's that. I could embrace this idea with less qualms, although I still hate the idea that God would reject anyone without a second chance, i.e., Purgatory or something like it: I can't recall the exact scripture reference on which the Purgatory doctrine is based, but I believe it's in the gospels where Jesus, in another parable, speaks of "debtors" who will be "imprisoned UNTIL [they] have paid the last penny" - the implication here seems to be that there might be some sort of punishment for sinners that is not eternal, or at least that is how I understand it.
I know what I am about to say may offend some readers, but reason tells me that I am indeed reading an English translation of a Greek text, and furthermore, that Jesus almost certainly would have spoken and taught in Aramaic (although I believe some scholars have suggested that Jesus may have spoken in Greek as well as Aramaic). How I wish I could read the original Greek scripture! Perhaps some of you here can. If so, perhaps you could help me...
Because while I so much want to nurture my mustard seed, the doctrine of Hell is such a stumbling block for me. For example, five years ago my beautiful,loving mother committed suicide. Strict Catholic doctrine would maintain that my mother is certainly in hell, since in the Catholic church suicide is the gravest of sins. After her death I went to confession several times and the priests with whom I spoke reassured me. I don't believe she is in Hell. But if she were ... I am at a loss for words when I contemplate this. Another example: recently my teen-aged daughter told me she is bisexual. I told her I loved her and wished her nothing but happiness, however her "bisexuality" works out in the long term. Privately, I think it might just be a phase: she's so young, and at her schooI it seems "fashionable" to be gay or bi...but even if she did end up living as a gay woman, I wouldn't love her one iota less!). But if it's true that being gay is a sin, then if my daughter were to die suddenly, she'd go straight to Hell, or at least that's what some Christians would hold. How can I live with that? ( by the way, I have no definite opinion myself about whether being gay is a sin. I don't think Jesus ever spoke of homosexuality in the Gospels, but of course St Paul and the other early Christians in the New Testament say, unequivocally, that homosexuality is a sin. So does the Old Testament, of course. My personal view is that any sex that's devoid of love or respect, or any sexual activity in which one person uses or abuses another person, must surely be a sin, whether it's straight or gay people we're talking about).
The other day, I got talking with a fundamentalist Christian in the street. He was distributing leaflets which said things like "How Do I Get to Heaven?" - in other words, How Can I Avoid Hell? I asked him whether it was a good thing for people to become born again Christians just because they were scared of Hell. He replied that there was no getting around the fact that Hell awaited those who were not saved, and that it wasn't our place to question God's will or Jesus's teaching, but to accept it. I asked him if he had ever seriously tried to imagine Hell, and he said no. I asked why not, and again he said that Hell was beyond his imaginings, so he wouldn't attempt to imagine it. I told him I'd imagined it, or tried to, and it had made me feel very frightened and a long way from God. He didn't have much to say to that, but - nice fellow that he was - he said he'd pray for me.
I am not judging him, or people who share his particular views ... but to sum up, how can I live with the doctrine of Hell? Do other posters have any helpful advice for me? And, I hope, prayers! I so want to live and love again, as God would will, not as I would, and I know I can't without Jesus's help and love. But the doctrine of Hell haunts me and makes me just want to give up sometimes.