Thursday, March 19, 2009

(5) Understanding hell, demons and sin

Back to the Qur’an inventory of mentions and explanations or descriptions of hell:

17:97 And whomsoever Allah guides, he is the follower of the right way, and whomsoever He causes to err, you shall not find for him guardians besides Him; and We will gather them together on the day of resurrection on their faces, blind and dumb and deaf; their abode is hell; whenever it becomes allayed We will add to their burning.

This is an example of Gabriel speaking about God in the first half of the sentence, and then shifting into being God’s voice (we can identify that when the imperial we is used) in the second half. Gabriel is explaining that God is the guide of both those who believe and are righteous, and that he is the defacto guide of those who disbelieve and err, simply because there is no one else but God. So those who believe in false gods still have not found any other “guardians besides” God. God remains the guardian and guide of those who err, sending them opportunities to convert and repent, and eventually guiding them to fall into chastisement through their own consequences of their unrighteous actions.

Then in the shift to hearing God’s own words God states that incorrigible unrighteous, unjust and unbelieving sinners will be gathered as a group on the final day, where they lose their earthly senses as the reality that what they have ignored from God they will now lose in truth in all ways, and then they are cast into hell. God understands how bluntly that humans need to be spoke to, which is why he adds that even if it feels like the pain of hell lessens or is even imagined to be bearable, he will turn up the heat. This does not mean that hell is ever bearable, even though of course it must be since one is stuck there and must endure the unendurable forever. God is using an imagery that he knows will drive home the point that one can never “adjust” to being in hell.

I want to show you the next sentence even though it is not another mention of hell because it is very informative about God.

17:98 This is their retribution because they disbelieved in Our communications and said: What! When we shall have become bones and decayed particles, shall we then indeed be raised up into a new creation!

See, God is explaining that those people who go to hell are punished because they do not believe in the good news of God’s realm of heaven, of the resurrection of the dead at the end of time, and the new life that believers receive after death and after the end of time. Disbelievers do not believe in God, in his power to judge, and thus by implication, they therefore do not believe the good news either, of life in paradise for the righteous. So God is voicing here with some sarcasm but lots of experience how such pagan, sinning or unbelieving humans scoff at God’s delivery into paradise from death the righteous and instead believe in their own nihilistic or fantasy cosmos, or just that death is the end and that is that, and there is no judgment, accounting, new life for the righteous, or punishment for the unjust.

18:29 And say: the truth is from your Lord, so let him who please believe, and let him who please disbelieve, surely We have prepared for the iniquitous a fire, the curtains of which shall encompass them about; and if they cry for water, they shall be given water like molten brass which will scald their faces; evil the drink and ill the resting-place.

The Qur’an explains, as we have seen previously, that the liquid of hell is molten rock with no water in it. The Bible agrees because St. John the Apostle and Evangelist saw the “lake of fire” into which hell is cast in his heavenly vision of the end of times in Revelation. This passage reiterates that humans have “free choice” to do what they “please,” but that they must be aware that hell is already in existence, and the disbelieving and unrighteous will be cast into it, and that very graphic description follows, in God’s voice.

20:74 Whoever comes to his Lord (being) guilty, for him is surely hell; he shall not die therein, nor shall he live.

Gabriel explains that the guilty in hell are neither completely dead, and thus at peace, nor are they fully alive, as then they would be in eternal life in heaven. Instead they retain enough awareness to be eternally punished.

Whenever there is one of these grim mentions of hell, the Qur’an almost always has a contrast of what the righteous can expect, and this is no exception, as the next passage is this, as an example.

20:75-76 And whoever comes to Him a believer (and) he has done good deeds indeed, these it is who shall have the high ranks. The gardens of perpetuity, beneath which rivers flow, to abide therein; and this is the reward of him who has purified himself.

Notice the just and the true believers who achieve the gardens of heaven are described as being “purified.” This is another example where the Bible, most closely followed by Catholics in this regard, and the Qur’an describe those in God’s presence as having been purified (even though they are already righteous) in some way. Catholics view it as a process performed by God called purgatory as they interpret scripture in that regard. Muslims understand purification as something that is a result of following God’s instructions in certain things such as the washing of the hands and feet before prayer (and the Qur’an says that if no water is available that sand will do, that it will also purify.) I point this out so you can see that there is enormous agreement in scriptures in concepts such as a process, even if that process differs in method and interpretation, of purification.

21:29 And whoever of them should say: Surely I am a god besides Him, such a one do We recompense with hell; thus do We recompense the unjust.

That one speaks specifically of those who equate themselves with God by being idolaters or claiming that they have some divinity, power sharing or equivalence with God.

21:98, 100 Surely you and what you worship besides Allah are the firewood of hell; to it you shall come. For them therein shall be groaning and therein they shall not hear.

22:19-21 These are two adversaries who dispute about their Lord; then (as to) those who disbelieve, for them are cut out garments of fire; boiling water shall be poured over their heads. With it shall be melted what is in their bellies and (their) skins as well. And for them are whips of iron. Whenever they will desire to go forth from it, from grief, they shall be turned back into it, and taste the chastisement of burning.

Remember this is not prophecy but a chilling (no pun intended) reporting of what occurs for those already in hell. The demonic forces contained in hell are pretty much free to do whatever horror they wish upon the damned who reside there.

23:103-108 And as for him whose good deeds are light, these are they who shall have lost their souls, abiding in hell. [By “light” here means few in number or of little real generosity]. The fire shall scorch their faces, and they therein shall be in severe affliction. Were not My communications recited to you? But you used to reject them. They shall say: O our Lord! our adversity overcame us and we were an erring people: O our Lord! Take us out of it; then if we return (to evil) surely we shall be unjust. He shall say: Go away into it and speak not to Me.

25:11-12 But they reject the hour, and We have prepared a burning fire for him who rejects the hour. When it comes into their sight from a distant place, they shall hear its vehement raging and roaring.

Obedience and belief in God cannot be “delayed” or scheduled at the time that the person “feels like” finally acknowledging God: those who reject the “now” of God’s rightful respect will see for themselves hell.

25:65-66 And they who say: O our Lord! turn away from us the punishment of hell, surely the punishment thereof is a lasting evil. Surely it is an evil abode and (evil) place to stay.

This is part of a passage that explains that those whose goodness and worship of God match their ardor in asking to be spared hell will be saved, however those who continue evil, particularly also calling upon other gods to save them, will be cast into hell.

29:54-55 They ask you to hasten on the chastisement, and most surely hell encompasses the unbelievers. On the day when the chastisement shall cover them from above them, and from beneath their feet; and He shall say: Taste what you did.

This is about unbelievers who demand from the prophets before Mohammed (such as Moses), “proof” of God’s punishment before they will repent and believe; this is why they are in a way “asking for chastisement,” which then they will not like when they receive it.

32:13-144 And if We had pleased we would have given to every soul its guidance, but the word (which had gone forth) from Me was just: I will certainly fill hell with the jinn and men together. So taste, because you neglected the meeting of this day of yours; surely We forsake you; and taste the abiding chastisement for what you did.

This passage means that God could have forced every soul to believe by imposing “guidance” upon everyone, but his justice is to give free choice to humans (his “word,” to give free choice, is “just”). Thus those who choose to be against God will be in hell with the demons.

32:20 And as for those who transgress, their abode is the fire, whenever they desire to go forth from it they shall be brought back into it, and it will be said to them: Taste the chastisement of the fire which you called a lie.

Those who deny the existence of hell and of the deeds that will place them there will taste the chastisement of the fire of hell in person, and each time they try to evade punishment in hell they will be reminded that they did not believe in hell.

Many more citations about hell in the Qur’an!