Post 266

Even He: Reflections on Hell

Are you for Trump or against him?

It seems like a reasonable question, but the simplistic yes-or-no, all-or-nothing, heaven-or-hell approach, which is necessary to make a decision for voting (choose candidate A or candidate B), is a dangerous way to think about people the rest of the time.

A politician, is, after all, a person.

People are complicated.

People are multifaceted, torn between doing the right thing and the wrong thing, always. Choosing the right thing when well-rested, in a good mood and under close supervision, and choosing the wrong thing when hungry, irritated or in Las Vegas — that’s people for you, God have mercy.

While alive, people are constantly changing; they make new choices and decisions all the time. These variations in intention, both minor and major, have consequences. All of your changes in intention, both slight and significant, have the effect of reshaping the future — both your own and that of others.

People so often wish they could know the future. The thing about this is that the future is constantly changing. So even if you could see the future right now, in all likelihood, you would be seeing merely the future as it currently stands, and the future is very much contingent upon what happens between now and the future that you’ve been permitted to see.

What’s the advantage of seeing the future if it comes with fine print: “Subject to change without notice”?

God is very careful about not revealing the future, as a general rule, for the reason that most people would make worse choices by knowing it. If you knew you’d win the race, would you continue to train? If you knew you’d lose the election, would you continue to campaign?

Besides, as I said, visions of the future are unreliable because they are not guaranteed. This is what Jonah found out, according to Scripture. He could see the destruction coming for Nineveh, and he ultimately did deliver the warning to the people of Nineveh, that they must repent, or else. Being inspired, his words had an authority and weight that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Jonah’s words struck fire into the hearts of the Ninevites, and they did the unthinkable: they repented.

So then what?

So then the future changed. Nineveh wasn’t destroyed, and the prophesy wasn’t fulfilled.

Jonah was bummed. He had chosen a spot, a good long way away, from which to eat popcorn and watch the destruction of Nineveh. He wasn’t happy that people had heeded his message; he would have preferred to have been right.

The point is that even a revelation from God can turn out to be ‘wrong,’ in the sense that it can be replaced by a new plan. God always has a plan, and within it, there are an almost infinite number of sub-plans, in the same way that white light contains a rainbow of colours.

This means that if you fall out of one plan that God has for your life, he’ll adjust everything so that he can ‘catch’ you on the next go round. If Sidney rejects God’s first plan for Sidney’s benefit, which consisted of early exposure to good values, then God will be waiting around the corner with a good friend who will show Sidney how to reform his life. If Sidney rejects that, God will arrange it so that an inspiring and transformative book falls across Sidney’s path. If Sidney rejects that, he’ll arrange it so that a TV evangelist is on air just when Sidney is laid up with two broken legs and the remote control batteries are dead.

I simplify, because I just don’t have the space to write about the lengths to which God will go.

You see, God’s real smart. He’s also resourceful, and he has as many ideas about how to captivate your heart as there are grains of sands on the beaches.

For this reason, an atheist has only himself to blame. Don’t tell me that God hasn’t reached out to him. Don’t tell me that God hasn’t tried.

I won’t believe you.

Why not?

I won’t because I know that God is good, and he’s not going to leave anyone behind. Anyone who chooses to remain as an agnostic or an atheist is making a choice. Such a person makes, in fact, a series of choices to continue in ‘doubt.’ The atheist makes a choice to ignore that “stupid coincidence” and makes a choice to reason away anyone who speaks well or poorly about such issues; indeed, believe me when I say that an atheist looks for reasons not to believe. Christians are cautioned about being a good example, and this is well and good, but it must be borne in mind that personal choice requires one to not be a ‘victim’ of the bad examples that are out there. In other words, at the end of the day, don’t imagine that it will be impressive or admirable or manly to say, at the end of your life, “The Christians I met were really dreadful, and no better than anyone else, so I decided to reject Christ.” Choose what is best, regardless of the examples around you. Blaming the poor example of those who should know better will only get you so far. When an atheist chooses to ignore the voice of conscience, and to mentally argue against those who make a case for Christianity, and to mentally argue against, in fact, every single thing that might be persuasive, from the beauty of nature to the writing of hundreds of intelligent and reasonable men and women, then that atheist makes a choice for himself.

And that’s my whole point — it’s a choice, not a random situation where some people are born with a genetic predisposition to believe while others are not. It’s true that the world has changed, but God presents himself as an option to everyone. He presents himself as an option to everyone every day. For this reason, the Catholic Church recognizes that there is such a thing as ‘baptism of desire.’ Even someone not exposed to Christianity can choose to live a righteous life, obviously. The Church knows this.

God’s methods, nevertheless, are often subtle, and he is, as C.S. Lewis said, “unscrupulous,” meaning that he’ll not limit himself to the usual and ‘legitimate’ methods of winning your heart. His methods are poetic and often humorous.

The dog winks at you, and you wonder whether there’s more to this than meets the eye.


So I’ll check back on you later, without worrying in the meantime about your soul. You may be stubborn, but God has time (more than you), and he hasn’t given up. He’ll bring about a change in the most unexpected and unpredictable of ways. He’s the indefatigable suitor, the persistent, witty and resourceful lover, the long-suffering and patient Father.

Did I say he was efficient? He is, and there is, in the end, no waste. His efforts are not wasted because everyone eventually comes home. The father of the prodigal son is not waiting for nothing. I’ll return to this point, but for now, let me continue with the theme I raised initially.

God knows the inner workings of every person. Every person is complex.

Nobody, not even Trump, is a caricature, or a symbol for something else.

Even Hitler, so often used as a symbol of evil, is not without some spark of goodness. People are complicated, and this is especially the case over the trajectory of an entire life. Was Adolf not, at one point, a toddler? Was he not, later, a boy, and then a young man of 12? Take the most evil ruler from Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and North America, and consider every aspect of his life. Will you fail to find one scrap of goodness? Will you fail to find one kind deed, one kind word? Will you find selfishness from birth until death?

Give me anyone, even the one with the bloodiest hands, say, Morgentaler or his type. Give me even someone like Margaret Atwood, who is, to my mind, in a worse class than many who destroy the unborn. Give me the most arrogant of archbishops or atheists or atheistic archbishops, and I will show you that even he is complex. Even he has a spark of good.

Even Judas.

Even Judas was not all bad.

And yes, I did just go and say that.

And I heard you just go and ask about the doctrine of hell.

Hell exists, sure. It’s not necessarily a physical place, but Christ didn’t lie when he referred to fires that burn forever.

As for the people, are there any who will burn forevermore?

Here’s Pope Benedict, in a Catholic News Agency article from February 11, 2008:

“Perhaps there are not so many who have destroyed themselves so completely, who are irreparable forever, who no longer have any element upon which the love of God can rest, who no longer have the slightest capacity to love within themselves. This would be hell.”

In other words, don’t get your hopes up, people at LifeSite News, that all of the ‘bad guys’ are going to hell. There are so many ‘good’ and ‘holy’ people who have been gnashing their teeth at the thought of people not going to hell. Ever since they heard or read that the 2016 Amoris Laetitia says, “No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel,” they have been convinced that Pope Francis is Wrecking Everything.

They are like Jonah, entirely pissed off that Peter’s successor says God might not run hell the way they expect, the way they have understood the afterlife works. They make sweeping statements that Pope Francis has made sweeping statements. They’re not paying close attention, because, like atheists, they have made up their mind.

But I say to those who are scandalized at the words of Pope Francis, be thankful, for your own sake, at the wording used by Pope Francis’ predecessor, who is accepted by those who attack Pope Francis. Be thankful for the wording here. Notice how Pope Benedict writes that it’s pretty damn hard to be damned forever. It’s presented in many ways, and here I’ll ask you to note certain words:

1) “destroyed themselves SO completely”
2) “who are irreparable FOREVER”
3) “who no longer have ANY element upon which the love of God can rest”
4) “who no longer have the SLIGHTEST capacity to love”

Do you see? Most telling is the third phrase above. It’s saying that yes, if God can’t find anything about the person to love, then sure, hell would be the answer.

So you see.

Without saying it in an ultra-obvious way, Pope Benedict described the conditions for eternal damnation very strictly. Impossibly strict, as a matter of fact.

When you look more closely at passages such as Matthew 25:41, (‘Then He shall say to them also that shall be on His left hand: Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels’) you’ll see that it refers to the fire itself being eternal, but not the punishment.

And it makes sense that Pope Francis would say that annihilation would follow death, rather than an eternal hell, because it is God’s love that keeps everything in existence. God’s love for Bob keeps Bob in existence; without it, Bob wouldn’t be anywhere — not even in hell. God’s love for Lucifer keeps Lucifer in existence; without it, Lucifer would go poof. Not existing is worse than hell.

So I believe in purgatory, heaven and hell.

It’s the tally, kept by Those In the Know, that I question. And just for a moment, let’s stop and think about what kind of person would be aghast at the thought of people not being tortured forever. Does this mindset not bring to mind the leaders of empires and -isms who ordered the imprisonment or torture or deaths of scores of people?

The words that God delivered to Jonah are worth seeing again:

And the Lord God appointed a plant, and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm which attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a sultry east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he was faint; and he asked that he might die, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”

And he said, “I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”

And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nin′eveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

– Jonah 4: 6-11

It is good news that we will all, ultimately, be together. It’s the fairy-tale ending that every good person wants. Yes, it can be confusing, because we thought we understood everything that there was to understand about the mysteries of heaven, hell and purgatory.

However, the words of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict remind us that these things are mysteries, and that what we knew before might not be complete. These words remind us that the future can change. God’s mercy extends further than you can imagine; it extends even to the depths of hell.

God can change the future.

Hell is a lot emptier than people think, especially nowadays. As a matter of fact, I said so in a post that predated the publication of Amoris Laetitia.

Indeed, I think hell is empty of human souls.

Satan is still there, of course, as are his support staff. He’s the administrator of the bonfire called hell, and he continues to spread his lies on earth, which are embraced by some.

One day, however, even Satan will be welcomed back into the flock. He’ll be last, of course, but he’ll be there.

As for the fire, it’ll never be extinguished, thank God.

We’ll roast marshmallows in heaven, together.

See you there.