My speculations of the other day about apokatastasis don’t strike me as heretical, although I suppose they might seem that way, to some. I would emphasize that my conclusion that there is no contradiction between the doctrines of Hell and of apokatastasis does not mean there is no such thing as Hell, or torment; nor does it mean that residence in Hell is not permanent for some, or even most.
God’s ubiquity entails that Hell is a region of his domains. But if the torment of Hell is what it is like to be alienated from God, then this Fallen, busted world is a department of Hell, and our life here below in Midgard is what it is like to be in Hell, or at least in its outer circles. Yet worldly life can seem awfully nice, and much to be preferred to ascesis and mortification of the flesh – this fun, pleasant aspect of sinful life being an indication of why the damned might prefer Hell to the alternative. But it could seem that way only to those who have enjoyed no foretaste of Heaven.
St. Augustine says that the fires of Hell are to the fires of Earth as the fires of Earth are to paintings of fire; likewise, St. Paul says we cannot begin to imagine the ecstasy of Heavenly life. I take these two statements to mean that we are so accustomed to the fires of Earth, to the disease of alienated, Fallen life, that we think it normal and pretty much OK, except in its most acute moments of agony. Presumably the damned who live closer to the central districts of Hell feel the same way about their lives. Meanwhile, if we were once in Heaven, we would instantly see that the pleasures of sin are really horribly painful, by comparison with the beauties of Heaven, which constitute true normality for our natures.
None of this so far really worries me that much, qua theological problem. What really worries me is the problem that Arakawa raised in his comment to my post Sex Matters: if anyone remains in Hell, mustn’t the perfect compassion of the saints and angels result in their torment?