In the recent Candide episode we saw how Voltaire satirized Leibniz’s solution to the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil is still a popular topic in contemporary philosophy of religion. One twist on the traditional problem of evil comes from philosopher and theologian, Marilyn McCord Adams, who suggests that for Christians the principal problem of evil is the compatibility of God and hell (especially if hell is understood as a place where people suffer forever).
While this question may be particularly pointed for Christians or adherents of other faiths which teach the existence of both an all-loving, all-powerful being and the existence of a place of eternal punishment, a careful examination of the logical compatibility of God and hell can be used more generally as a way of addressing questions about the nature of love, justice, and the human condition. From St. Augustine’s City of God to Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, many influential thinkers have claimed not only that the existence of God and the existence of hell are compatible but that they rationally go hand in hand. This view has, unsurprisingly, been rejected by many religious and nonreligious individuals alike. Adams, for example, rejects that God and eternal punishment are compatible and instead holds to the doctrine of universal salvation—the view that eventually everybody will be reconciled to God and forgiven of any past wrongs done.
The topic of universal salvation has also made an impact on literature. Particularly within the last two hundred years there have been several powerful literary expressions of this conviction that if a truly all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing creator exists, then universal salvation will obtain in the end. Several prominent examples are George MacDonald’s Lilith, A Romance, C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce and Madeleine L‘Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
Recently this question has also moved into the genre of popular nonfiction, starting with Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Bell’s argument for universal salvation quickly generated a mass of responses from Evangelical Christians, one example being Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle’s Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up. A reoccurring question in response to Bell is the Pascalian-style question of "what if you’re wrong?" What if there is some kind of eternal punishment out there that we need to avoid? For those that see hell as a live possibility, it does seem like a pretty big gamble to assume its non-existence. Here, perhaps, is where more rigorous philosophical examination about the Problem of Hell, as I’ll call it, as well as efforts to make the arguments concerning the compatibility of the existence of God and hell easily digestible for a popular audience seems like potentially worthwhile endeavors.