The question of “hell” is really, in other words, the question, “Is God good?” and what is the nature of His goodness. It is the question that strikes at the very heart of God’s motivation and need in His saving work — the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. In two of my recent posts I have offered reflections on this question. Here is another by Thomas Merton.
Hell was where no one has anything in common with anyone else except the fact that they all hate one other and cannot get away from each other and from themselves.
They are all thrown together in their fire and each one tries to thrust the others away from him with a huge impotent hatred. And the reason why they want to be free of one another is not so much that they hate what they see in others, as that they know others hate what they see in them: and all recognize in one another what they detest in themselves, selfishness and impotence, agony, terror, and despair…
Our God also is a consuming fire. and if we, by love, become transformed into Him and burn as He burns, His fire will be our everlasting joy. But if we refuse His love and remain in the coldness of sin and opposition to Him and to other men then will His fire (by our own choice rather than His) become our everlasting enemy, and Love, instead of being our joy, will become our torment and our destruction.
When we love God’s will we find Him and own His joy in all things. But when we are against God, that is, when we love ourselves more than Him, all things become our enemies. New Seeds of Contemplation, pg. 123-124, by Thomas Merton
It seems to me that the great tragedy that makes hell hell, is that those who inhabit that “place” are convinced that they are infinitely distant from the presence of God. That, in fact, they have been “transported” (“bused” to use C.S. Lewis’ word) away from God when, in fact, they are, and shall always be, in the presence of God and His love and shall never know (how could they) that that is the case. They are obsessed with the delusional conviction that God hates them and distances Himself from them which could not be “farther/further” from the truth.