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The Hell of Awakening

Growing up in religion, I was terrified of hell. Even though I was baptized, attended church regularly, said the sinner's prayer (many times), repented daily and spent countless hours reading scripture, there was still that thought in the back of my mind: “What if?”

What if I was a part of the wrong denomination? Or the wrong religion? Or what if I were to commit some sin and then die without repenting for that sin? Or what if I were to backside, become lukewarm, or lose my faith entirely? These were the thoughts that consumed me as a young Christian.

Years later, after having my spiritual awakening, my fear of hell dissipated. Not because I had become confident in my “eternal security” of going to a place called “heaven” in the afterlife, but because through my spiritual awakening, I went through hell, and I realized that the “hell” (suffering) we experience here on this earth is the only “hell” that exists. Richard Rohr said, “Religion is lived by people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is lived by people who have been through hell.”

My spiritual awakening occurred during the most challenging season of my life, and it lasted about a year. I've yet to experience suffering like I had experienced during that time. The season of suffering that occurs before, during, or even after a spiritual awakening is known as the “Dark Night of the Soul.”

Generally, during a Dark Night of the Soul, we discover and experience that who we think we are is not who we really are, and that is what a spiritual awakening is all about. In my case, my Dark Night of the Soul also consisted of realizing that all of the religious indoctrination that I had received through the years and had believed to be absolutes of reality was utterly false. Including the scare tactic doctrine of a literal place of eternal torment for unbelievers called “hell.” Learning that the beliefs you once held to be fundamental truths are false can be a horrifying experience.

After going through a Dark Night of the Soul season (there can be many in one lifetime), I was miraculously transformed by my pain and began to experience the kingdom of heaven within me and all around me, which was something religion told me could only be experienced in the future after death.

Now, I don't fear hell anymore because I know three truths:

1. Hell is not a potential eternal afterlife destination for me (or anyone else).

2. Hell doesn't last forever.

3. Hell leads to transformation, not retribution.


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