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What do you believe about hell?



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The confusion and sorrow never end. Regret never ends, self-justification never ends. And the body somehow shares in all of the madness, just as the bodies of the saved share in joy.

Possibly heretical, but I do not believe in a Hell of eternal torments, psychic or bodily. Hell is when your soul has become starved through neglect and self-indulgence, without regard for the succor and salvation you owe to the Body of Christ of which you are a part. Hell is where your soul dies such that there is nothing to Resurrect. Hell is nothingness and meaninglessness. I've always been bothered by the old addage, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." I hope God looks at our intentions and efforts, and does not measure us by "successes."

The Catholic conception of Hell seems to be largely about eternal punishment, no matter how many people claim that the damned freely choose Hell. It is difficult for me to accept God would punish infinitely such limited, finite creatures as human beings based on things we do based on what we can "see through a glass, darkly." And why choices made in life should be irrevocably fixed at the moment of death is a mystery to me, especially because the moment of death can be such a randomly timed event. Not to sidetrack the discussion with my unconventional theories, but the saying, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul" makes me think that if people really go to Hell, and if unbaptized babies are saved, then it is better to die before the age of reason (including by abortion) than it is to live to adulthood and risk Hell. I would like to say I don't believe in Hell, which would be largely (thought not totally) true. The frightening things we are taught as children leave their marks. I once knew a Jew who said the idea of Hell was so powerful that as a child he was convinced he was terrified he was going to Catholic Hell. It seems to me an infinitely loving Supreme Being can bring confusion and sorrow to an end in anybody. And if not, there is always annihilation.

Wasn't it Karl Rahner who said that Catholic tradition asks us to believe that Hell exists, but does not require that we believe that anyone is actually there? Von Balthasaar likewise posited an empty hell. And when Rahner and von Balthasaar AGREE...

We know that "the mercies of the Lord endure forever." We also know that those who walked away from the wounded men on the highway, unless they changed their ways, will be punished. We know that the "rich will go away empty." Selfishness is its own reward, with its own consequent hell. The sermon on the mount or the beatitudes will always be the barometer in entering the promised land. One thing is for sure there will be no shrine that will save anyone. Those who hope in the Lord will enter. Other than that we really do not know the details.

One thing I believe is that Hell should be next on the list for review by the International Theological Commission. In 2007, the International Theological Commission, which acts as an advisory body to the Vatican, studied the concept of limbo, surely one of the most unjust human creations ever attributed to God. It "critiqued the traditional understanding of limbo, arguing instead that there was good reason to hope unbaptized babies who die go to heaven." They drew on many sources, old and modern, because "when the question of infants who die without baptism was first taken up in the history of Christian thought, it is possible that the doctrinal nature of the question or its implications were not fully understood. . . . More specifically, the commission said the theological tradition of the past, specifically the Augustinian tradition, seems to have a 'restricted conception of the universality of God's saving will.'" While unbaptized infants unquestionably deserve first consideration, it may be time for a review of Hell and its potential inhabitants for reasons similar to those that sparked the limbo review. A new path to Hell was announced just this week by Bp. Thomas Tobin, RI - participation in a civil union ceremony as legalized in RI. "To do so is a very grave violation of the moral law and, thus, seriously sinful," he said.

If Hell is a state and not a place, how can we speak of a Hell that is empty? Does the concept of a state that someone might theoretically be in even make sense if no one was or ever will be in it?

Isn't the prior question what do you think of purgatory??

If not for Jesus, we'd all be headed there.

This article by Avery Dulles is pretty useful, istm. I think it's available to non-subscribers?

Jim (3:07 pm), thanks for the Dulles piece. Excellent resource.

It's not on my list of places to visit because I have never hand any interest in going there or plans to do so.

Pardon me if I don't give Tobin's commentary much consideration. His warning and $2.45 won't get me a tall one splenda latte @ Bib Bux, either.(Out here it is $2.55 with no extra credit for any Catholic bishops' statements, warnings or other dyspetic utterances.)

As the Catechism makes clear, the Catholic understanding of Hell is the state of eternal separation from God. And being separated from He who is Love and Truth itself, He who is Life itself, is by its very nature a torment. Anyone who has ever known the pain and anxiety of losing a worldly love -- spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, parent, child, etc. -- has gotten a taste of Hell. And the literary devices in scripture to describe that torment really do pale in comparison to the real thing.God does not separate us from Himself. He does not send us to Hell. We send ourselves by necessarily choosing not to be with Him, by choosing against Love, by choosing against Truth.Love, by its very nature, is freely chosen. Forced love is not love at all, but a form of violence. God, being Love, does not, will not, and by His nature, cannot force someone to be with Him for eternity. To force someone to be with Him would not be an act of love, but an act of violence, a form of divine rape. God is not a rapist.Still, nevertheless, some people do not want to be with Him in eternity. They would prefer to be with themselves. Love is an outward act, but they are so selfishly turned inward that they refuse all entreaties that God makes toward them. They refuse His Love, they refuse His forgiveness, they refuse His redemption. And, to be effective, such forgiveness of sin must be accepted. If one does not or will not accept forgiveness, then such forgiveness cannot happen. As such, to refuse or otherwise fail to seek and accept forgiveness is an unforgiveable sin.Yet, people do choose to go down that path. And since the ability to make such moral choices, or any choices at all, terminates upon worldly death, since that is when the body terminates, upon such death, the choice one has made becomes irrevocable.But it is quite simple. Or at least, it is quite simple to say, even if more difficult to do, given that we are flawed and fallen beings. You have to want to be with God. If you don't want to be, fine, He's not going to force you to be with Him and you can instead spend eternity in your self-made "paradise" that is actually Hell. But if you really do want to be with Him, and do what you can to be with Him, then He will do what He can to make that happen.

I was tempted to say hell is like listening to Bender blog eternally with "no exit."

Bender,Why should the suffering of those who are separated from God be any more of a torment in the next life than it is in this life? Is God more present in this life for those who reject him than he will be in the next life? And if the answer to that is that in the next life, they will know what they are missing, then how can we blame them in this life for rejecting what they didn't know they would be missing. It would seem to me that if Hell is separation from God, then it should be no worse in the next life than this life.

Hans Urs von Balthasar thought that though hell existed, we can hope no one goes there ... Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell ... There were a number of articles about Balthasr on this at First Things a while ago. Here's one of them ... Responses to Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy ... want to believe there is no hell at all - it's just too inconsistant with a loving God. I especially hate the idea that people decide of their own free will to go to hell, instead of God sending them there (CS Lewis?). I think that's just a way to get God off the hook and I don't think anyone has the necessary free will to make such a choice anyway. Those who beieve this seem to want to keep hell because it's in the NT, but the hell of the NT is a horible place where people are sent to suffer *against their will* (The Rich man and Lazarus).

"It would seem to me that if Hell is separation from God, then it should be no worse in the next life than this life."For many people, it is indeed "hell on earth" for that very reason. But at least while here, there is still hope.

And Bob, is the hostility really necessary?And Crystal -- God can't separate us from Himself. Even in Hell, there is some measure of God present because all things depend upon God for He who Is, and if one still exists, then a spark of God is still present in him or her. If there wasn't that spark, then the person would cease to be altogether (as Augustine pointed out). So God cannot separate Himself from us, but we can, by our definitive choices, turn so far inward that it is no longer possible for us to know Him, to no longer know what truth is, to no longer know what love is.Moreover, consider the militant atheist who says that he wants nothing to do with any "God," even if He existed. Heaven is not some party of earthly delights, like 72 virgins, etc., which would get pretty boring after a while. Rather, Heaven is being with God. Will God force that militant atheist to be with Him in eternity? Should God do that? And if God did (could) force that person to be with Him against his will, would that be "Heaven" to that person who hates God, or would that, in effect, be a kind of Hell?One cannot go to Heaven against his will.

Bender,Though an atheist may say now that he wouldn't want to be with God, I'd like to think that after death and a face-to-face meeting with God, that person's feelings on the matter would change, be tranformed by that experience. I'm not sure where the idea comes from that God lets us decide if we want to go to hell or not. God gives us no choice about hwether we exist or not or what state we're born into, God intervenes often in the OT and NT and usually doesn't ask fisrst for anyone's permission, and according to the NT he does send people to hell who don't want to go.But saying we do have free will, I don't hink it's really sufficient when we're dealing with God. There's a good post on this at Experimental Theology ... Marilyn McCord Adams giveds a pretty good example of the weekness of human free will in thsi talk at Philosophy Bites .... Marilyn McCord Adams on Evil ...

The idea of eternity with/out God isn't a big selling point. No one knows what that means. We can speculate until Jesus comes, but who knows? It's too hard for the human mind to grasp the totality of what that means.Hell, like heaven, are vague promises that won't be fully realized until the time that they are experienced.That is a good argument for living one's life to the best extent possible here and now because we only have very vague ideas of the existence and reality of the next.Catechism answers are as much speculation as anyone else's speculation.

Bender - You seem to know a puny God, given all you say that He cannot do. ( He will do what He can ?). What happened to the Omniscience and Omnipotence combined with the Love and Truth it took to create the universe you can see out the window? The notion that your will can override God's Will, whatever That may be, sounds like a fairly anthropomorphic school of theology.

This is not the first time Peter Nixon, on this very blog, wanted us to talk about Hell. don't want to call two blog posts in five years a "preoccupation," but wonder whence this interest in what people think about Hell, Mr. Nixon?One of the things that makes me hinky about this conversation is that I strongly suspect that the specifics various individuals envision for hell (me included) says more about us than it does about anything else.Interesting, so far only three of us has really answered the question, so you have Kathy Hell, Jean Raber Hell, and Bender Hell. Everyone else is talking about theologians or Splenda Lattes at Bib Bux (no idea), which I'm guessing won't be offered in Hell. I presume the ubiquitous Starbucks has that franchise. But they probably won't give out the little sleeves to keep your fingers from burning. Because, really, what would be the point?I appreciate Jack Barry's suggestion that the notion of hell for unbaptized, stillborn, and miscarried infants be revised. What if I get to heaven (by some miracle) and my two aren't there? I lose them again? How is that heaven?

Jean (8:43 pm):

Interesting, so far only three of us has really answered the question

There are ways of answering the question other than tossing out knee-jerk reactions. For example, Jim gave a URL to a substantial piece by Avery Dulles: presume that was his way of saying that he deferred to someone who'd given it a lot more serious study and thought than he. Works for me. It's not, I think, an issue we can brush aside as outdated superstition. It seems to be embedded ineradicably in scripture and the teaching of the Church. It may be out of sync with much modern spirituality, but I presume it's not going to go away because of that.

Those who order people to be gassed and cremated alive should be punished as should all those who abuse children and engage in human trafficking. There has to be a day of reckoning because man's inhumanity to man is terrible. The rich will go away empty and those who passed by the wounded man will surely be compensated unless they repent. Hell is not loving and forgiving one's enemies and trying to dominate others. The results of selfishness is hell. I believe there is hell on earth for those who neglect and take advantage of others. In that sense hell is chosen. The beatitudes are the way to find peace which is the opposite of hell.

What I believe about hell is nothing, because I just don't know what will happen after death, but I do hope there is no such thing as hell. Maybe what we believe about hell is really what we believe about the character of God?

The notion that your will can override Gods Will, whatever That may be, sounds like a fairly anthropomorphic school of theology.Well, yes. Our freedom is God's will, so our will is God's will; we do not override God by choosing, but fulfill what God has chosen for us. God is merciful, and it would not be merciful to override my will, even when my will has chosen separation from God. Such an override would be a fundamental betrayal of God's most gracious gift of freedom, and God will not deny himself. Will God allow us to be what we have chosen to be? Or will God force us to be what would be "best" for us if we were to choose it?So ultimately, hell is a sign of God's gracious giving, a sign of mercy.

I believe that hell is when instead of us saying, 'Thy Will Be Done', God says to us, 'Thy Will be done'. Eternity is then spent in the 'absence' of God. What greater hell can there be than that: to spend eternity alone, knowing what we chose. I cannot imagine any flames (physical sensations) being any worse than to be wrapped up solely in ourselves forever.

"There are ways of answering the question other than tossing out knee-jerk reactions."I apologize for my knee-jerk response. I thought Peter Nixon's question was "What do YOU believe about hell," (emphasis mine), as in "How do regular Catholics think about Hell," not "Who are some scholars you can dittohead about hell?" (Though I realize "dittohead" oughtn't to be used as a verb and I run the risk of responding to snark by being snarkily flip with this type of usage.) The purpose of my post (the second one that seemed to provoke irritation) was merely to see if Peter Nixon would tell us more about why he posed this question so, believe it or not, I could better understand what the conversation was about.

Jean (7/05 11:02 pm), sorry to offend. What I was trying to say was that my response to Peter's question was that my belief about hell was that I had no idea what it was - and that I was willing to listen and learn. That's a belief - that one's ignorance is total and that all one can do - and the best one can do - is to try to understand.It seems to me that it's an unfortunate burden in this society that in order to speak everyone must have specific beliefs about everything under the sun. It's apparently shameful not to know. I don't understand that. Does it seem natural and sensible to you? Maybe it's a byproduct of watching too much television, where, apparently, nothing is uncertain.

Did Jesus preach Hell, historically? It is not mentioned in Mark, the oldest Gospel. I am not sure how much of Q would refer to Hell. Matthew is the one who goes on about Hell most and Luke unfortunately introduces it into some of his own parables such as Dives and Lazarus; John spiritualizes it.Even if all these writers talk about hell, it is just part of the furniture of Jewish apocalyptic of the time. A demythologized, existential interpretation, such as Rahner's is appropriate.Catholics need to stop obsessing about limbo, purgatory and hell. Join our Protestant brothers and sisters:

Fr. O'Leary, one of my favorite hymns, but if you think Protestants in a Calvinist vein don't obsess about hell, you're sadly misinformed. I invite you to the next church shindig my Baptist relatives throw, and I guarantee you'll feel the heat 50 feet from the church door.

"It seems to me that its an unfortunate burden in this society that in order to speak everyone must have specific beliefs about everything under the sun."Interesting statement. I read a piece by Norman Mailer (!) years ago, after he wrote "Executioner's Song," in which he said he waffled about capital punishment. He suggested that perhaps on the "big questions" we ought to waffle more; it shows we're struggling to come to some larger understanding of the meaning of life and death and not just blowing it off with platitudes.Reading that piece was a little push on my road to Catholicism from Unitarianism. Unitarians feel they MUST have things figured out, or at least some working theory about everything. Mailer's piece opened up a whole new idea--may some things can't be figured out. Hence mysteries that must be accepted.FWIW, my views of hell were formed by no particular theologian, but I have inculcated St. Julian of Norwich's notions about the nature of God, who can only love. Since I don't believe God would send anyone to hell and would try to reclaim all of our souls, in fact works tirelessly to offer occasions of salvation, I conclude that those who "go to hell" must have to have rejected God such that there is simply nothing left to save. Jesus told those who made a show of piety that they had their reward by everyone noticing how pious they were. In the same way, perhaps those of us who live in complete hedonism and denial of our obligations to each other, have had their reward here, and there will be nothing left to resurrect on the last day.Hope that sounds less "knee jerk" and glib.

Jack, God is indeed all-powerful, but He is all-powerful consistent with His Being.God's Omniscience and Omnipotence does not mean that He can act in a manner contrary to Himself. This is what differentiates God from Allah.God cannot act contrary to Love, He cannot act contrary to Truth. To act contrary to love or truth would be to act contrary to Himself. He would then be God and not-God simultaneously, which is a logical absurdity.God, being Love, cannot act contrary to love, He cannot force or impose love upon someone unwilling to receive it because that would be contrary to love, which is a free act.God is not going to force someone to spend eternity with Him against that person's will.

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