The Evangelical Universalist Forum

A Googolplexian Hell

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 universalism it seems that a lot of people who endorse ECT 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?

It is in human nature to desire a penalty for injustice, it is also human nature to feel superior to those they feel are less deserving of mercy. Why ? I have no idea, it is predictable, in the same way a day is 24 hrs.

It might be more simply expressed as the feeling (and I’m calling it a feeling on purpose) that those who gave no mercy should get no mercy.

That’s a Biblical precept, too. Even Jesus says so several times in several ways, including explicitly that way!

But then comes the catch–and it’s a typically Synoptic unexpected turnaround: if we interpret such saying in an ultimately unmerciful way, then we’re the ones showing no mercy.


This used to bother me back when I wasn’t a universalist. :wink:

I love the question, but I think the real fear may not be that sinners won’t be properly punished but that the Bible may be wrong. We want so badly for the Bible to be true and when it says forever well by cracky it means forever. That settles if for most evangelicals.

Why should a bunch of Johnny-come-latelys get in when everyone else bore the heat of the day?

Good point, Rob. I’ve seen that attitude, too. :slight_smile:

What is the scandal about God being able to make all things new by taking the cost of that completely on himself?

What is the “something else going on” that prevents people seeing that God, in Jesus, heals the creation in the same way that he healed people when he walked the earth – imposing no trauma, no pain, no condemnation or shame?

To me, what is scandalous is the idea that, when Jesus has suffered the ultimate to give us his abundant life, and said that “it is finished” and that at his decision to go to the cross “now are the powers of this world cast down”, somehow that is not enough.

He, the exact image of God, forgave the pagan soldiers and the hypocritical religious leaders for his torture and death when they were not repenting, not asking for forgiveness. He told Pilate that he was not responsible for his death. He gave a special sign of affection to Judas when he knew Judas was about to betray him. He spoke of himself as the doctor who had come to heal the sick, and demonstrated that it was not just talk. Those he healed were made completely whole as he gently touched them or spoke to them.

He did only what he saw his Father do. He did everything he saw his Father do.

It seems to me that the “something else” that’s “going on” is the religious instinct – whatever manifests itself as the western work ethic, self-flagellation as penance, strict adherence to the Torah, and all its other forms. In other words, an inability to accept and enjoy what is freely given without somehow having to “deserve” it;

Jesus healed, fed, and liberated people because they needed it, not because they deserved it.

**The only person who gets what he really deserves is him. He deserves to have the whole creation healed: he was born for it, prayed for it, worked for it, lost sleep for it, was too hot and too cold and hungry and thirsty for it, suffered for it, and died for it.

And he WILL get what he deserves.**

Different issue here, but I think the notion of a Googolplexian hell is useful in other ways as well. Specifically, as a conceptual tool it helps expose the pointlessness of eternal conscious torment. It makes you wonder, what is accomplished by adding another Googolplexian years of pain after a Googolplexian has already been suffered? What is the point of keeping all that pain going and going and going?

That is, I don’t think a lot of people really think about what eternal conscious torment implies. Eternity is such an abstraction that I don’t think people appreciate it as a measure of time. But when you start working with functional eternities–like a Googolplexian hell–the horror, pointlessness and waste of an eternal torment is brought more quickly into focus.

No googleplexes, please! No! As long as it takes and not a farthing more. I’m not worried about Hitler (Father will take care of him), but by modern evangelical standards, loads of his victims get the same punishment – unless he gets it hotter. Everyone basically gets the same punishment from the teenager who said no to Jesus and crashed his car on the way home, on down to Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Stalin, Mao, Nero, Genghis Khan, Alexander, Xerxes, Nimrod, Grandma (who was so very sweet but never said the prayer), . . . .

Hi Richard
I have to say that when I was arminian, your argument would not have made the slightest impact on me.
I’ll try to explain and when I talk about my past beliefs, I am confident that I was not special and so I imagine that there are countless others who would think in a similar vein.

Consequences do not need points, they can be entirely pointless and I saw ECT as a consequence:
God bestowed on humankind the gift of immortality. That was a done deal.
A spirit of rebellion against God inevitably creates pain and suffering for the individual concerned.
Physical death is the point at which the ‘die is cast’ - there is no further opportunity for the individual to change.

-And that’s it! God isn’t wanting to extract vengeance, right wrongs, balance the scales of justice, or any other such thing. The omnipotent God is simply limited by logical impossibilities (or eternal/spiritual impossibilities).

That was the way my mind worked and I can still see the above as a valid possibility. I now just happen to believe that the bible (and my personal experience of God) tells me something else.

May God continue to bless your ministry

Ruth said

I have often wondered this. Why, though Jesus said it (on the cross, no less!!), do we not believe it. It is finished! He did what he came for, to seek and save the lost (which was ALL of us). It is enough! It has to be enough! If it is not enough for all, why would it be enough for some?

And if is was enough for only the elect, then let’s not talk about justice. The Reformed position is that he is merciful to those whom he has chosen, and the rest will get their just deserts. If this is so, then his justice isn’t fully just. Mercy triumphs, but not all the way. So, his mercy isn’t fully merciful.

Kelli; I honestly believe that a lot of our issues, theological and otherwise, stem from the fact that we simply do not believe some of the plainest statements of scripture that God has made concerning us.

Good observations!