Casual Thoughts on a Hot Topic
The Bible is God’s word. Christian theology uses Scripture as its primary text, with tradition and reason. Discussing Hell as a Christian isn’t a purely speculative debate, except for doing natural theology and comparative religions. My brief comments below assume this. If one places one’s reason over God’s revelation in Scripture, seriously study the Bible’s authenticity, through external and internal disciplines (sciences, history, literature) to get a sense of its authority and veracity.
Hell is separation from God, Who is our source of true and complete rest, happiness, fulfillment. No one parties with their friends in Hell. Jesus’ talking about Gehenna, the burning garbage dump outside Jerusalem, is an apt metaphor.
Scripture doesn’t teach annihilationism or universalism. One doesn’t simply cease to exist at death. We do not have a reasonable expectation that practically everyone goes to Heaven. Only very selectively reading the Bible and contorting many passages leads one to these views.
Why would a God of love force one to worship him forever? If he did, the one in Heaven who rejected God on earth would feel he’s in Hell–reciprocating God’s love, reverencing Him, lying prostrate in worship–no way, forget it! One chooses his future each day. God doesn’t force one’s will. He created us with free will. Today, we refuse to say to God “thy will be done,” so after death God says to us, “thy will be done” (paraphrase of C.S. Lewis). His Great Divorce is insightful and enjoyable fictional writing on this topic.
Our sin is against All-Holy God. God’s wrath is just. We will answer for our sins if we don’t first receive His forgiveness for them. He has prepared Hell, sustains it, and condemns people to it. Do not allow a Micky Mouse view the Heavenly Father or a smiley purple Barney view of Jesus to confuse you. While the Trinity is all loving and most merciful, God isn’t a Disney character. He is just and all-powerful, as Scripture reveals; Jehovah of the Old Testament is the same Triune God as Jesus in the New Testament. Our sin is against our omnipresent Creator and Sustainer; we owe a crushing debt we can’t possibly pay. If you think you’re a pretty good person or pretty much on the same moral and intellectual level as The-One-With-Whom-You-Have-to-Do, time to get a sense of perspective. Study Scripture to know God. His love, justice, wisdom, and power far exceed one’s comprehension.
Only God knows the heart, only he can judge. We can’t know who’s in Heaven or Hell. He knows those who have consciously and deliberately rejected his love and holiness. He knows those who have lived up to the light they had and those who turned away from that light. The Holy Spirit lovingly beckons us–everyone–to repentance and forgiveness. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart.” If one chooses to harden one’s heart against Christ, that one makes him/herself an enemy of God. His wrath is on that one, though He still desires their salvation. One’s chosen father, then, is Satan–with whom one shares eternal damnation, Hell.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” 612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. 613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self- exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. 614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,” 615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!” 616
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” 617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” 618
Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.” 619
1037 God predestines no one to go to hell; 620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”: 621
Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen. 622