Deconstruction Worries: What if I go to hell?
A recent exchange on a deconstruction discussion group centered around the worry that setting aside various tenets of faith as it was taught could lead people to hell. The post below addresses this fear. It's the entry for Day 17 of my Sleeper, Awake devotional.
Fear of Losing Eternity
Christians hold varying views of what comes after our time roaming the earth. Visions of heaven include gold-bricked roads with winged singing figures, life-flowing rivers with shorelines covered in fruit and medicinal plants, and lions and lambs frolicking together. Hell might be a place of burning torment, a banquet table with seven-foot-long forks, or simply a continuation of humanity’s lack of compassion. But most of us believe something happens after death. We’re taught that our faith, our actions, or some combination of both will decide our final destination.
Fear of death has been a tool of control from humanity’s early days. The concept of simply ending is terrifying for many (perhaps most) of us, and so the people and institutions seen as holding the keys to what happens after death wield power. Those who provide a set of rules for ensuring eternal pleasures are magnetic, and we circle them seeking assurance that our ideas of good and bad are correct, and that there are achievable formulas for ensuring we end up in paradise.
But what if our concepts of righteousness-based damnation or reward are wrong? How do we endure the idea that there may not be an eternity in the way church has proclaimed it?
It helps to acknowledge that each cell in our body is built from atoms which are spinning particles of energy, because energy can’t be created or destroyed; it’s merely transferred or changes forms. This means our existence continues, even after our hearts stop beating and our brains stop processing signals. In a very tangible way, our life force carries on after death. Our transformation into pure energy removes all the filters to perception that our bodies inflict, and all the barriers to union with other things that our bound molecules enforce.
Maybe some essential us-ness will remain at that point and we’ll be permitted to explore the universe in a sentient way, investigating mysteries we wondered about on earth. Or maybe our very essence will be freed to interact with different parts of the universe in new ways, perhaps scattering so we become one with the grasses, insects, and trees. Perhaps eventually burning, our heat rising, pushing particles high into the air, then drawing moisture to become rain drops, eventually watering the earth. Maybe we’ll be like the divine, knowing and experiencing all these things as they happen, all at once.
We can’t know what comes after our existence in the glorious burden of our bodies. But we know that existence does continue in some manner. We can believe there is a throbbing power of love beating at the center of all things, and hope that the design for what comes next is equally glorious. We can let go of the fear and angst of hellfire and damnation, and the idea that any of us is good enough for a good-boy-based heaven or bad enough for an eternity of fire.
And we can ponder the wonder of dissolving into oneness with the Creator and creation.
You can’t lose eternity. You’re already in it.
Human beings need not despair and go on an eternal search for the Eternal, for the Eternal has come to the temporal.