Pray Hell Suffers
We should pray that those in hell suffer to the uttermost.
Dante’s Inferno provides a glimpse into the historical theology of hell in a particular medieval iteration. One of Dante’s many points is that God’s judgment precipitates in the idea of contrapasso–the punishment resembles or contrasts with the sin itself. The main idea with contrapasso is the φύσιν (physin), or “natural order” (Rom. 1:26) that is contradicted by sin. Contrapasso contradicts that contradiction.
Although all of God’s attributes are present in his act of levying contradicting consequences, his justice is made clear through this dynamic. Contrapasso follows the rule of divine justice; it itself is not a rule.
Divine judgment, then, is a dynamic and perpetual process. It does not solely occur on the so-called “judgment day.” Then, the question arises: what is the relationship between hell and judgment day?
As the Westminster Confession says, “. . . the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day.” This part of the confession, based on the historical theology of hell, renders hell as a type of holding-cell, where disembodied souls await the final judgment. The confession is not silent on what happens to those souls post-judgment day. It continues, “. . . the wicked who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.” The last clause here is indicative of a continuation of the wicked’s previous hell-bound state.
As the wicked suffer in hell, they suffer in the manner of contrapasso. This glorifies God by revealing his justice to all. Praying for the continuation of the suffering of the wicked, and that they suffer to the uttermost, is of benefit to us in two ways: 1) it praises God for his contrapassonic justice, and 2) it heals us.
Praying for the salvation of the damned contradicts God’s justice, and therefore pits us against him. Praying for the eternal damnation of the wicked, however, places us in a trusting, faith-based relationship with God where we trust that his justice is ever right. It reorients our prayer life from a supplicative one to a relational one.
Part of the effects of sin is the disintegration of relationality between us and God. To countereffect this sin in this life, we must develop practices that reorient us toward the divine relationship: encouraging the suffering of the wicked by God’s hand in hell is one of those practices. Here is a prayer I have developed that we can incorporate into our liturgies:
“Lord, for those in hell: we ask that you would judge them rightly; we praise you for your justice and your true will. May our trust in your will lead us into a deeper relationship with you. In Christ’s name: Amen.”