||The Hell It Is|
A brief discussion of that more undesirable of final destinations
Have you ever noticed how politically incorrect it is to talk about Hell
Don’t get me wrong, you’re still perfectly free, in polite society, to
use “hell” as a swear word, or to add it to a sentence for emphasis. But try
actually discussing the theological concept, and people will look as you as
if you’ve just asked to borrow their underwear.
The topic has come up a lot recently with my friends. It actually
started when one friend told me she’d read a Catholic book which said there’s
a Hell, but there’s no one there. I thought this sounded a little suspect,
so I asked her to show me the book. She did. I won’t mention the title, but
I will say it reminded me once again to avoid buying serious theology books
with color illustrations.
The impression my friend got from this book (and I have to admit that, in
skimming it, I got the same impression) was that yes, there must be a Hell if
God says there is, but that since he’s a loving God, He would never actually
send anyone there. So whatever pain we experience on earth because of our
sins is “hell” for us, but in the end we all end up in the same place, and
it’s on the right side of the tracks.
Gee, doesn’t that sound nice?
Unfortunately, it has no basis whatsoever in Catholic teaching. The
Catechism clearly states that “To die in mortal sin without repenting and
accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by
our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion
with God and the blessed is called ‘Hell’.”
So what’s the deal? Does a vengeful, hateful God sit in Heaven waiting
for us to “blow it” so that He can condemn us forever? Of course not. God
loves us. He wants all of us to be saved -- to be with Him. But he won’t
override our free will. We’re placed on earth, and given the choice to
follow Him or not to follow Him. If we choose Him, we’ll have Him for all
eternity. If we don’t choose Him… well, He’ll respect our choice.
I don’t believe that Hell is literally a burning fire. The catechism
calls Hell a “state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God .”
Remember, God is absolutely everything good. He is truth. He is beauty. He
is freedom. Without Him, we have none of that. Without Him, we have nothing
good. Hell is the absolute absence of God. Ergo, it is the absolute
absence of any and all good. And that, my friend, is worse than fire.
So what does this mean for us? Do we, as Catholic Christians, wake up
every morning shaking in our boots because we might go to Hell? Of course
not. Remember, God loves you and wants you to be saved. If you want to be
saved, too, then the two of you are off to a very good start. You’re working
together. It’s His grace that saves us, but we have to respond to that
grace, to incorporate it into our lives. So pray and receive the sacraments.
Know what the Church teaches. Avoid mortal sin like the plague. Strive to
uproot even venial sin from your life. And, when you do fall, go back to Him
immediately, confess, repent and get back on the wagon.
And then you’ve got nothing to worry about.
Do you know what scares me? When books like this convince people that
there’s no need for anyone to worry about our eternal salvation. If that
were true, what would be the point of evangelization? If everyone is already
going to heaven, then I’m certainly wasting my life running around telling
them about God. “But,” people say, “it makes us happier in this life to
follow God.” No it doesn’t. Not in the temporal sense. Sometimes we suffer
a lot more because we follow God. But we’re happier because we see the
bigger picture. We see that this life is just a prelude to the next, and we
know that by following Him, we’re preparing for the “eternal banquet.”
Let me tell you, I have one goal in life. My goal is to go to Heaven,
and to drag as many other souls with me as I possibly can. I pray for that.
I work for it. I dedicate a lot of my attention to it. Why so much effort?
‘Cause it ain’t gonna happen automatically.