The River of Fire – (Does Hell exist?)

Centrists / Religion

I’ve been thinking a great deal this past week about how the various views and positions in the Church today are being informed by our understandings of what it is to be Human (and sinful) and whether or not all of God’s creation is or will be saved from destruction.

I’ve been told again and again by my friends in the Orthodox Church that the problem we in the West have with such ideas comes from our Western understanding of God’s Justice and Love. This short quote, from a long Orthodox theological treatise gives just a sense of how radically different the Eastern view is from the Western view. It’s a small section describing why some people will experience the presence of God in the Kingdom as Paradise and some as Hell:

“God is a loving fire, and He is a loving fire for all: good or bad. There is, however, a great difference in the way people receive this loving fire of God. Saint Basil says that ‘the sword of fire was placed at the gate of paradise to guard the approach to the tree of life; it was terrible and burning toward infidels, but kindly accessible toward the faithful, bringing to them the light of day.’ The same loving fire brings the day to those who respond to love with love, and burns those who respond to love with hatred.

    Paradise and hell are one and the same River of God, a loving fire which embraces and covers all with the same beneficial will, without any difference or discrimination. The same vivifying water is life eternal for the faithful and death eternal for the infidels; for the first it is their element of life, for the second it is the instrument of their eternal suffocation; paradise for the one is hell for the other. Do not consider this strange. The son who loves his father will feel happy in his father’s arms, but if he does not love him, his father’s loving embrace will be a torment to him. This also is why when we love the man who hates us, it is likened to pouring lighted coals and hot embers on his head.

    ‘I say,’ writes Saint Isaac the Syrian, ‘that those who are suffering in hell, are suffering in being scourged by love…. It is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is a child of the knowledge of truth, and is unquestionably given commonly to all. But love’s power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it’ (Homily 84).”

Go get a cup of coffee and read the rest here: River of Fire

I’m still digesting the teaching, but it is definitely giving me a new set of lenses with which to view our present conflicted denominational life.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Nick,
    Thanks so much for this post. I have only worked through section 7, but find it very informative to our current situation. I have a family who have left the parish to take RCIA classes because they believe we are not being true to the justice of God in our actions at the national level. I’ll continue to read and reflect.

  2. I might also add we must all be careful in assuming we are the faithful and not the infidels. In fact, I’d say we’re all both, and the greatest saints are those first to admit it.

  3. God’s love is the ‘refiner’s fire’ which purges sin and purifies us – and, yes, we are all both ‘infidel’ and ‘faithful.’ Many Western mystics and saints have said the same, so perhaps it’s not that we’re not Eastern enough, but that we’ve forgotten our own heritage, Temple and Lewis being only some of the best and most recent examples. See Teresa of Avila, St. Francis & St. Clare, John of the Cross, etc, etc, etc.
    Thanks for the post, Nick, I’ll be mulling it over for days!

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