God’s Not Mean So Hell’s Not Possible
I had a conversation recently with a good and intelligent person who began by saying he didn’t believe in hell or the devil. The upshot of it was this: that God is good and forgiving and would never condemn anyone to unending suffering. He just wouldn’t do that. That would be mean and God can’t be mean.
What he expressed, on one hand, was actually a beautiful statement of faith in God’s goodness. God certainly does not want any of His children to go to hell. That would never be His choice. But for those who wind up in hell, His choice is not really their highest priority, is it? Their problem is it’s their choice that comes first and always. If indeed their whole life has been spent putting their will above His (and in all likelihood anyone else’s) why in that moment, when they stand before Him in judgment, would they change that? For those who cannot abide anyone thwarting their will, heaven would actually be more of a hell for them than hell would be. Even God’s justice is a manifestation of His mercy.
God’s love and heaven don’t make sense without also believing in the reality and possibility of hell. It’s about freedom to choose Him and to choose love or not. When you contemplate heaven (and I hope you do from time to time) do you imagine having everything your way? If so, you may want to rethink things. It won’t be about you but about God and His glory. And, if you can get on board with that even a little here, then God can fan the flame of that desire into a fire unto eternal life.
Most of us have a more vague idea of heaven…of being reunited with loved ones, with being at peace, and being happy in a place of beauty and awe. But do we ever stop to think about how we will act and react to others there? Will there be a difference from how we may act and react here? Please God, I hope so.
There’s a saying that sin is its own punishment. Very true. The Church teaches us right from wrong for our good and our protection. Holy Mother Church, like any good mother, wants to help her children avoid falling into snares that will hurt or destroy them. If a parent warns a child against using heroin, it’s not because they’re trying to spoil their fun, but because they know there’s a good chance they will die from such an addiction…and hurt others as well in the process.
Believing in hell, far from negating God’s goodness, illustrates it. If, in order to live in peace eternally, only one Will can hold sway, aligning ourselves with that Will is the obvious option. Introducing even one strong will to stand against that would open the floodgates of hell – making heaven impossible. Just look at our society these days as more and more people disconnect from God and His Church and live according to their free will, demanding that their needs and desires be met at all costs. We all know people like that…those who demand happiness on their own terms and make everyone around them miserable. We see it all the time, those that will stop at nothing, destroying anyone who gets in the way of their ambitions. Should we believe that at the moment of death that magically changes, that we lose our personalities and our free will and become robots in heaven, toeing the line, and making no waves? Wouldn’t that mean we cease to be who we are? Wouldn’t that mean eternal death?
As more and more people separate themselves from God and turn the moral order upside down, we are seeing an ever-degenerating picture on Earth and a foreshadowing of what will be as that behavior becomes magnified over eternity. We are literally seeing a hell on Earth. Just look at what’s going on with ISIS in the Middle East. Now, of course, anyone can turn from this behavior (and some do) but many do not. At death these choices become permanent. A good and just God will not only not force goodness on those so vehemently opposed to it, but He certainly wouldn’t subject their depraved wills on others for all eternity. That simply makes no sense. Either God takes away our free will (that which makes us human) and lets everyone into heaven, regardless of their behavior and desire to be there, hence we cease to actually be who we are, or respecting our free will He allows us to choose hell and protects those who do choose goodness from more of the misery this Earth has provided.
Ironic, isn’t it? Believing in hell makes heaven possible and not believing in hell makes heaven impossible. Which way would you have it?
Art: Temptation on the Mount, Duccio di Buoninsegna, between 1308 and 1311, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Mirror of Praying Angel Statue, Dylan Cuddy, The Mercy Run, March 10, 2016, all rights reserved, used with permission. Fallen angels in Hell, John Martin, circa 1841, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.