The Catechism of the Catholic church says: 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. 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.” CCC 1035
That is frightening so it is little wonder that, throughout history, attempts have been made to water down this aspect of Christ’s message that it no longer represents such a serious threat. Some like to suggest the wicked will simply be annihilated. Others vote for universalism- arguing hell exists but that it will be empty because all will eventually accept God’s love. Even the devil! Nice idea but sadly at odds with what Jesus revealed. And we must surely listen to him not to those attempting to spin bad news into something palatable.
Understand, if it were up to me, I would choose a soft version of hell. A temporal place not an eternal one. One of annihilation not eternal suffering. Not least because I could end up there!! But were I to support such theory you could accuse me of the worst hubris. Of teaching the Gospel of me, not the Gospel of Christ. And there would be a high chance that, in my limited wisdom, I messed up. Perhaps souls really are immortal and cannot be annihilated? What if I led you to false comfort- how you would hate me on the way to hell. So we really do need to look at what has been revealed.
So open the scriptures and consider how often the eternal nature of hell is stressed. Jesus warns, “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” And in Revelation 14:11, “And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” I wish the teaching was vague. But really it isn’t. Read every reference yourself if you doubt me. So either we accept Christian teaching or reject it all.
Jesus had an awful lot to say about Hell and, whenever he did, he ensured people understood that it was not just a theoretical possibility but a real place where people will be sent if they reject God’s offer of salvation. “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” (Matt. 7:13–14).
We begin to see how integral to the Gospel the reality of hell is. Little wonder those who have historically believed in it have been passionate about mission and evangelisation. They want nothing more than to save souls. One of these was Pope John Paul II who, in his book ‘Crossing the Threshold of Hope’ wrote that too often “preachers, catechists, teachers . . . no longer have the courage to preach the threat of hell” He goes on to say “The ancient councils rejected the theory . . . that every creature would be saved; a theory which abolished hell. . . . the words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew’s Gospel he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Matt. 25:46). Who will these be? The Church has never made any pronouncement in this regard”
Thus we know for certain that some souls go to hell, but the issue of who is undecided. Certainly no person is predestined. If that is where we end up it will only be because we opted to live separated from God and he, with profound sorrow, honours that decision. It will be a place for the wicked, a place for those who hate God and who, despite hearing his Word, chose to reject it.
Finally take comfort in this fact. If you do what you were created for -by building a relationship with God and remaining in his grace, loving yourself and other people, and caring for the world in which you live- then you need not fear. A far better destination is available and entry is free.
“O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Your Mercy”.