19Dec

The Four Last Things: Hell

hell

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little  wonder that, throughout history, attempts have been made to water down this aspect of Christ’s message that it no longer represents such a serious threat.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”.

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8 thoughts on “The Four Last Things: Hell

  1. Thank you, Father. I needed that. In fact, we all need to hear about Hell; not incessantly, but often enough that we don’t forget about its reality. How would we feel about a doctor who refused to tell his patients that if they don’t lead a more healthy lifestyle, they will kill themselves?

  2. Dear Ed,

    There are some pretty smart people who read your blog and I suspect most of them will agree with your analysis that Hell is real and judgement is real and must be a part of the gospel truth, but like me I suspect they will find your definition of Hell somewhat lacking…

    Firstly you set this up rather badly. The fact that the church teaches something and the Catechism happens to say it isn’t good enough…unless you’re believing every teaching is infallible? It really comes down to scripture…of which you only quote 3… Rev 14:11, Matt 7:13-14 and Matt 25:46.

    The only thing eternal in the first is the ‘smoke’ or the symbolic consequences of rejection of Christ, destruction. The problem is you’re coming to scripture with your bias not looking at it objectively. Also, your lack of theological reflection is quite baffling as is your somewhat surprising inference that other views on Hell held by Bible believing Christians are inferior, liberal or incomplete..…I can only suspect you did this one quickly.

    Even so, your second scripture (Matt 7:13-14) adds weight to the argument you’re trying to disparage. It’s like most of the verses regarding Hell, it talks about destruction, not eternal torment. Take another look and see.

    But the ends of your argument don’t meet theologically in light of Rev 21:1-4 which tell us at the end the old order will pass away with no more tears. How does this sit with people remaining in torment? Even if this verse is talking about those who are saved, how can they rejoice while their loved ones are in the torture of fire?

    It’s then we need to bear in mind the words used to describe hell, apollumi (to destroy) noun, apoleia (destruction), Gehena, a place of destruction…and your argument begins to look holy in the wrong sense of the word.

    Furthermore, much imagery talks about judgement as ‘burning up the Chaff’ – Matt 3:12, Luke 3:17. So is the purpose of fire to cause pain or to consume and destroy?

    There are 4 New Testament verses that are used as an argument against this view and if you respond I’m sure you’ll quote them, but they don’t do much to back up an eternal torment view when they’re properly examined.

    Finally, I wonder how a place can continue to exist that contains the devil, rebellion against God and torment in light of the other Biblical end time images that talk about God’s victory over ALL evil, God uniting ALL things, EVERY knee bowing, EVERY tongue confessing Christ is Lord? – John 12:32, Eph 1:10, Col 1:20, Phil 2:10-11, 1 Cor 15:28

    The usual response to this is to argue this view of Hell acts as a missiological contraception, but that doesn’t seem right to me either. Hell’s destruction (as many of our hymns say) or life eternal with Jesus is a better and more Godly image than threat of burning in torture forever more.

    Rev Dr John Stott was great on this subject btw, as are many other orthodox people I know you respect. But I respectfully agree with your emphasis on Hell’s reality but your definition both theological and Biblical needs more work in my opinion.

    1. Paul. I suggest you ponder the parable of Lazarus in hell and the fixed chasm that denied him salvation. In a classically Anglican way- it seems to me- you use many words to essentially wiggle away from the plain meaning of certain scriptural texts. Rev 21 makes explicit reference to the second death and states it will lead to permanent hell fire. The passage about no more tears refers to the saved only, sorry to say. As to you pitching the notion of destruction against that of eternal suffering. I quote you St. Paul “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”

      1. Well I suggested you might respond with the classic 4 texts and you respond with 2. Ed, take an objective look at those texts with a Greek New Testament in hand and think carefully. Your arguments do not add up, don’t make sense and you’ve missed most of my points.

  3. Two questions from me: what can the atheist dying in good conscience expect to happen when they realise they were wrong?
    Secondly, what do you make of the C S Lewis idea that the cell doors in hell have a key on the inside?

    1. C S Lewis arrives at a charming idea. But it has no backing in scripture. So it remains just that. A nice thought of his. Let us hope it is true!

      The atheist who dies in good conscience is an interesting question. Fortunately it will be down to God and not me to decide. I guess much would depend on that person’s attempts to live by virtue and if they had shut God out or genuninely failed to find him. But who knows? Ours is not the judging.

      1. When thinking about the judgement of other people, it is always best to leave it to God’s own balance of justice and mercy. We ourselves need to note the alternatives of heaven and hell and choose and act accordingly.

  4. See George MacDonald, inspirer of C S Lewis and unabashed universalist : ” Every soul ultimately lost is a defeat for the love of God”. God’s love is infinite and so was our remaking on the cross.

    It is not that Love forces itself upon us, rather that its infinity means that we will ultimately exercise our free will in favour of it. Otherwise we give death its dominion which would be an arbitrary surrender surely, a temporal defeat?

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