Thursday, August 30, 2007

On Hell

"Hell: I don't believe in it, Father. If there is a loving God there can't be hell, Father. God would send anyone to Hell, Father".

Not uncommon, my argument is that if there is a loving God there must be a hell. God does not force us to do anything. The Catholic doctrine of Grace is centred on our ability to accept or reject God's gifts, hence for us the importance of Our Lady, and her response to the Archangel at the Annunciation. For Protestants and those who believe God's grace is overpowering or irresistible she is of little importance. For us she is vital. For us, God loves us so much that we are free to choose either to accept or reject him, accept or reject his grace, that as far as our ultimate Salvation we are absolutely free.

Demons with red hot pokers are not quite helpful and perhaps those who reject the doctrine tend to see Hell in these terms.

It really does amaze me that so many Catholics, even clergy, seem to reject a doctrine that is so obviously taught by Jesus himself. We might find it difficult, but then it could be that that points to a problem with us and our openness to the Gospel and not with the doctrine.
Jesus comes to change us, indeed to move us from absorption in our self, towards being centred on God and our neighbour, to choose to reject God or to move towards him, is to be left in the prison of our own selves.
My image of Hell is total self absorption, it could be that many have already placed themselves there. Christ alone can liberate us.


Anonymous said...

From Fr Gabriel Amorth's book on his experiences Tales of an Exorcist:

One day Father Candido asked a possessed thirteen-year-old girl, "Two enemies, who hated each other all their lives, hated each other to death, and both ended up in hell. What is the relationship that they will share now, since they will be with each other for all eternity?" And this was the answer: "How stupid you are! Down there everyone lives folded within himself and torn apart by his regrets. There is no relationship with anyone; everyone finds himself in the most profound solitude and desperately weeps for the evil that he has committed. It is like a cemetery."

I wonder whether that is the reason why the use of contraception is a mortal sin: that in that most fundamental act of union we, instead, turn away from the other person and focus on our own pleasure. That is, a profound turning away from God and towards ourselves.

Cathy said...

Great quote - thanks!

I think contraception is a sin because you make yourself God - YOU say when you are open to life and when you are not. You break the 1st and 5th commandments when you contracept.

What you described, however, is exactly why breaking the 6th commandment while alone is a mortal sin - it is complete self-absorption. You break the 6th AND 1st commandments with that one.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Ah, a very interesting subject.
And a very relevant subject.
I am often told by people (including Catholics) that even if (note their use of the word "if") Hell exists, then an all-loving God would never send people there.

This seems to me completely to misunderstand the nature of Hell, and how people get there.

Hell is the necessary counterpart to Heaven, just as Evil is the necessary counterpart to Good.
Otherwise, these terms are meaningless.

It seems to me that to deny the existence of Hell is to deny the existence of Heaven.
You are then on the slippery slope towards denying the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.

Shorn of the semi-biblical imagery of demons, pitchforks and eternal fire, I have always understood Hell to be a place, or a state, of permanent loss of God, or permanent estrangement from God, where all hope has been abandoned, and only self-reproach and self-loathing remain.
The "pain" of hell is chiefly the knowledge of our permanent loss of the beatific vision.

But I have never been quite comfortable with the idea that God "sends people to Hell".

Through the exercise of their Free Will, people choose to live without God, and embrace Evil rather than Good.
If they choose to die impenitent, then they are sentenced to Hell.
God's judgement is then a ratification of that.

The references to Hell made by Christ himself are quite explicit, and, in my opinion, not open to interpretation.
You must decide for yourself :
Was he lying ?
Was he mistaken ?
Or was he telling the Truth ?

There is no doubt in my mind as to the correct answer.
And to people who question the existence of Hell, I can only say :
Do you realise just how many other things you are are questioning ?

Fr Ray Blake said...

The whole area of sexual fantasy is a dreadful imprisonment of mind and heart, in something that leads one away from God.
In my parish where so many people live on their own, it is often a sign of deep loneliness. The only way of fighting against it is by strenuous acts of charity.

Charity covers a thousand sins, because it is about directing our minds and hearts away from self.

Anonymous said...

Yes this absorbtion with self is a difficult one..some mentally ill people i've met cannot see past themselves being locked in a sick mind..i'm sure God wouldn't add to their agony by chucking them in hell..but a well person being purely selfish..yes that's hell for them & others..& they wouldn't want heaven anyway..

Anonymous said...

A good God allows no Hell is like saying a good King allows no prisons. An expectation of justice puts fear in the guilty and gives relief to the innocent.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I am not sure I would share you understanding of "fear", in that sense.
I am not sure I find that interpretation in respected modern authorities, including the last 6/7 Popes.
I think you might be saying more than the Church does here.

Anonymous said...

Fr. What's holy fear then.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Ray,

Dr. Wright has made a number of very wise observations, as usual.

I always used to wonder about hell, but I got a sudden insight into it about 15 years ago when I was reading Joachim Fest’s biography of Hitler. In the chapter which deals with the run-up to the Second World War, Fest mentions a speech made by Hitler in 1937 to leading figures in the Nazi propaganda machine. In it, Hitler made a very candid and revealing admission which for me summed up what hell is all about.

A member of the audience was taking notes and recorded what Hitler said – and I have the German text in front of me, so please bear with me as I translate – “He (Hitler) had liberated himself, after a most painful inner struggle, from what still remained of the religious ideas of his childhood.” Now, Hitler went on to explain, he was ready for war, and ready to do literally anything, unimpeded by any promptings of grace or any Christian pangs of conscience. I still vividly remember the jolt I got when I read that.

At that point everything fell into place – hell results from the radical and definitive decision made by a human being to divorce himself permanently from God. The effects of such a disposition can be entirely invisible to a person throughout their earthly life. But at the point of death, the soul enters a different dimension and the decision is fixed for all eternity, not because God condemns, but because God respects people’s choices. I think people send themselves to hell, not God.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Holy fear, I would understand as awe.

or even

The same type of fear that a mother has when holding her child, that absolute dread of causing pain to the beloved or damage to the relationship.

Anonymous said...

Fr Ray

I have huge problems with sexual fantasy and though a Catholic fear going to hell because of my selfishness.

My pride has caused me to get into so many disputes and arguments with often decent people, I fear God will turn me away on judgement day.

I honestly do despair.


Fr Ray Blake said...

That is not unusual in todays society.
If you are married try to make your wife the object of your thoughts.
Try and centre you life on Christ and follow the Gospel's teaching. Acts of charity really do cover a multitude of sins, store up as much treasure as you can in heaven.

Do everything you can to avoid anything that might lead to depression, that always leads to self absorbtion and self centredness.

Ultimately it is love of God and trust in him, that will quieten your fantasies, what our fallen nature, or Old Nick, wants to do is cause you to despair of the simple fact that GOD LOVES YOU, AND NOTHING CAN SEPERATE US FROM THE LOVE OF GOD.
Even if our acts are objectively mortal sins, God actually judges our hearts not our actions, so keep your heart close to him, even if your actions seperate you from him.
So often in sexual matters our actions and habits are formed before we have come to understand anything much of his love and although aour hearts are directed to him our actions are not.

Find a kind and gentle confessor who will encourage you to be loving and kind to your neighbour as well as God, use him frequently.

Joseph, never despair!!! That is precisely what Satan wants.

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