I have written here before on the reality of Hell, as revealed in Scripture. And though many dismiss Hell as either non-existent or a very remote possibility, no Biblical figure spoke more of Hell than Jesus, who also taught that “many” go there. It is a sober and straight-forward teaching of Scripture that there is a Hell and that many mysteriously choose to live apart from God and the values of God’s Kingdom.

Yet, while fully asserting all this, I do wonder why the teaching on Hell is so unambiguously “hellish” and why  the focus of the Lord’s teaching is almost entirely on physical torments. There is very little subtlety  in what the Lord teaches. Hell is described as a fiery furnace (e.g. Matt 13:42), an outer darkness (e.g. Mt 8:12), where there is wailing and grinding of teeth (e.g. Mt 13:42), where the worm dies not, and the fire is never quenched (e.g. Mark 9:48; Matt 25:41, inter al).

Let me be clear, the Lord is the Master teacher, and for reasons of his own he seems to have decided that speaking of Hell in more subtle terms was unnecessary. Yet we live in times when even many believers, consider the teaching on Hell as set forth in the scriptures to be cartoonishly excessive and hardly worthy of a God who is Love.

Thus many of us, pastors and teachers,  who seek to reestablish the teaching on hell as both reasonable and necessary (in light of human freedom and our capacity to choose for or  against God and his Kingdom values), also look for other ways to teach on Hell. We use these methods out of no disrespect for Scripture and our Master teacher Jesus. But these are “dainty” times and even many believers are easily offended and lack the spiritual strength and courage necessary to hear Jesus’ undiluted words and accept their straight-forward admonition. Both believers and unbelievers, just get stuck on the images and miss the teaching.

To my mind, no modern metaphor for Hell is better than the “Golf story” told by the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. It is remarkable for its subtle yet clear teaching that the heart of Hell is ultimately to be lacking in the “one thing necessary.” It is from his book,  Three to Get Married. Sheen repeats the following joke in his Book:

There is not a golfer in America who has not heard the story, which is theologically sound, about the golfer who went to hell and asked to play golf. The Devil showed him a 36-hole course with a beautiful clubhouse, long fairways, perfectly placed hazards, rolling hills, and velvety greens. Next the Devil gave him a set of clubs so well balanced that the golfer felt he had been swinging them all his life. Out to the first tee they stepped, ready for a game. The golfer said: “What a course! Give me the ball.” The Devil answered: “Sorry….we have no golf balls. That’s the hell of it!” (Three to Get Married, Kindle Edition, Loc. 851-57).

Wow! Ouch!  That IS the hell of it! To have all that, and lack the one thing necessary! Nothing else really works, or matters much, without the one thing necessary. In the joke, everything is in place and wonderfully set forth on the golf course, except the one thing necessary, the ball!  The golf course becomes a golf curse.

In my last parish I lived in a rectory with a long hall. I used to putt a golf ball up and down the hall. I had an executive putt-putt set with obstacles, and golf goals with automatic returns, etc. But in the end, all I really needed was a ball to have fun. I didn’t even need a club, I could use a long umbrella if I had to, or even just kick the ball. My cat would also love to chase the ball up the hall and pounce. But all the other gizmos and gadgets I had meant nothing without the ball, they were useless.  Without the ball even the cat wouldn’t show up.

The heart of Heaven is to be with God. Scripture says, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be added unto you. (Matt 6:33)

The heart of Hell is to lack God, to lack the one thing necessary. God is the sine qua non, the absolute requirement for every other joy or pleasure to make any sense or be operative. The heart of Hell is to have rejected God permanently, and to discover that the absolute and final rejection of Him is to experience the withdrawal of every other pleasure. Only in God will my soul be at rest! (Ps 62:5)

In fact, like the golf course in Hell, those pleasures look at the denizens of  Hell and mock them, make the suffering more intense. Because, though the pleasures are near at hand, they may as well be ten thousand miles away. They are useless and their nearness only intensifies the pain and the frustration. This is possibly worse than any hell-fire and may well explain the wailing and grinding of teeth by the hell-bound described in Scripture.

In life, don’t miss the one thing necessary, which is not a thing at all, but is God himself. The Father, in the prodigal son parable came out and begged his second son to enter the feast and celebrate with him. The Heavenly Father does the same now….What is your answer?

81 Responses

  1. Sandra Lipari says:

    There is a possible connection with the advent of the “psychology” of parenting. Discipline has left the building! Parents are to be children’s understanding of God’s instructional hand for the earthly journey. The change in the modern parenting image has clouded the true image of God and the true image of what real love is.

    • Interested Agnostic says:

      Sandra, I think you are right on the money. It is not coincidental that God regardless of religion has almost always had the title “Father.” The connection between parents (especially the father figure) and our perception of God is a good one.

      Traditionally, parents once had absolute power over their children, who were considered to owe their parents respect, duty, obedience, and love. In many cultures, departure from this owed obedience subjected the children to suffering at the hands of their parents – some, to the point of death. For example, striking one’s parents merited a death sentence in ancient Judaism, and the Pater Familia in Rome had the power of life and death over his children.

      This can be seen reflected in the wrathful Father, who repaid the disobedience of his children with suffering befitting his status as the Divine Father (indeed, when Thomas Aquinas explains why sinners who have committed even trivial sins deserve eternal, unending punishment, he refers the justice of the situation to the status of the one offended: steal a lollipop, go to Hell, for you have offended the Father). Jesus – often, through the intercession of a more easy-to-approach, motherly figure like Mary – was seen as an intercessor before the angry Father – the child who takes the beating for you or who turns away his Father’s wrath.

      As Sandra points out, our understanding of parenting has changed. Children do not owe their parents ultimate obedience and love – in fact, if there is a debt, it is considered to be reversed. Parents bring children into existence without the consent of their children, and thereby earn the obligation of protecting and caring for these things which are so much weaker than they. It is precisely the weakness of children, their inexperience in the world, the newness of life, and so forth that renders loving parenting so necessary – a love that gives freedom to children and attempts to earn their respect and love through the goodness of action rather than demanding it at the point of a hickory switch.

      It is not surprising to me that a recognition of the malevolence of Hell comes in conjunction with this revolution in parenting.

  2. Peter Wolczuk says:

    Yes, it is a very human tendency to accept the comfortable, minimize that which is less than comfortable and gloss over the very uncomfortable so that; when “the rubber meets the road” we find we are ok on the smoothness of the broad way but ill prepared for the bumps on the straight and narrow.
    This all reminds me of a story in which someone is shown both heaven and hell. In hell there were many bowls of many varieties of delicious soup. Everyone had a very, very long handled spoon with the part of the handle that was furthest from the scooping part of the spoon secured to their wrist so that, no matter how hard one tried he/she couldn’t bring the soup in the scooping part to their mouth.
    Everybody suffered from severe hunger and frustration.
    Then the viewer was show heaven, where everything was the same except ……………………… that the occupants were feeding each other.

  3. Interested Agnostic says:

    If God exists, he is whatever he is. If he is the sort of being who would create beings and then prepare a place for their eternal torment if they do not love and serve him, then that is the way things are. I can hypothetically accept this. I can also accept the notion that there is a good God who is benevolent and genuinely loves the thing he creates. What puzzles me is the attempt to merge the two: to say that the good God and the tormenter God are the same.

    For my perspective, the question is not so much “could such a god exist,” but rather, “is there any sensible way such a god could be considered good?” As someone who has a daughter, I can think of it in terms of my relationship with her: if I demanded her love, and if she refused to grant it freely I prepared torture for her, there is no sensible way I could be called “good.” Even if she offended me directly – let’s say, spit in my face, defaced my property, killed my dog, tried to kill me, what have you, none of that would justify my torturing her. I could not be considered good.

    Yet you seem to propose here, first, that God has indeed prepared a place of torment, and that he indeed will place the things he created there if they do not love and serve. Since I would assume you believe God beyond any harm, none of the offenses those creatures could do would have any effect whatsoever on Him. And yet, you want me to believe that this vision of God is somehow compatible with a notion of a benevolent God. You will forgive me if I must ask: Why does God feel it necessary to torture things that do not obey him, and how does this qualify as good?

    • jess says:

      I think Interested Agnostic made a reasonable attempt at describing what s/he sees as a paradox; how can a being be considered ‘good’ or ‘loving’ if that being allows harm to come to people when said being has the power to prevent it. Just a couple of days ago, someone posted (on another blog) the Epicurean paradox, which might be pertinent?

      * Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
      * Is he able but not willing? Then he is not benevolent.
      * Is he both willing and able? Then whence cometh evil?
      * Is he neither willing nor able? Then why call him God?

      How does this relate to the concept of Hell? Is Hell considered an evil place? Or a place where evil beings reside?

      • Sue Korlan says:

        God created us with free will, and he respects that in us even if his respect for us makes him appear to some to not be benevolent. It’s the difference between a man who loves a woman and continually gives her gifts but accepts her word no if she decides she doesn’t like him no matter what he does, and a rapist who loves a woman and is unwilling to accept her no when she says it. God is a lover not a rapist. If that makes him not benevolent in your eyes so be it.

        • Interested Agnostic says:

          “It’s the difference between a man who loves a woman and continually gives her gifts but accepts her word no if she decides she doesn’t like him no matter what he does, and a rapist who loves a woman and is unwilling to accept her no when she says it. ”

          But in this case, if the woman doesn’t accept him the man sets her on fire – that is, crudely expressed, he puts her in a state of torment. How is the fact that Hell is seen as an intensely painful place – indeed, a place of positive suffering – not contradictory to the analogy of the man who accepts rejection peaceably?

          • Brian says:

            Simply put, there is a tendency for people to accept only the gentleness and love of God, whilst setting aside (with intent) the word of judgement. He gives us a choice, as a previous poster states. Your attempt to compare the choices in this world, as you put it with your example, with the Divine choice and the two cannot be compared together. Anything of this world is fallible while the Divine is infallible. We simply cannot comprehend that which is of the Diety, and we set ourselves up for failure if we try.

            • Interested Agnostic says:

              “Your attempt to compare the choices in this world, as you put it with your example, with the Divine choice and the two cannot be compared together.”

              Sure, but if you go this route you render any discussion of a good God completely meaningless. If God’s choices don’t have anything to do with the ordinary choices that we make, then “God is good” is an example of mere wishful thinking.

              “We simply cannot comprehend that which is of the Diety, and we set ourselves up for failure if we try.”

              For some reason, this is only ever brought up when someone disagrees with what someone else says about God. If you cannot comprehend the Deity, then you cannot claim to know anything about His doings, whether he invented Hell, etc.

              • Brian says:

                “Sure, but if you go this route you render any discussion of a good God completely meaningless. If God’s choices don’t have anything to do with the ordinary choices that we make, then “God is good” is an example of mere wishful thinking.”

                Nothing could be further from the truth. God’s choices and decisions have absolutely everything to do with the ordinary choices we make. That’s the whole point. Our understanding of His choices is where we can get ourselves into trouble. (May I suggest the book “God acts, we React.) Wishful thinking? It would be wishful thinking only if the Crucifixtion did not take place! Discussion of a “good God” is not rendered meaningless, when you consider the “good parent” paradigm; reward and sanction are part of the same fold. It comes down to the choices we make. There will always be consequences for the decisions we make. That goes without saying, my friend. He gives us that choice. To suggest therefore that the “loving God” will dispense salvation to all because of a love incomprehensible, regardless of one’s degree of morality or lack thereof, is illogical. Again, people want to gravitate to the loving aspect of our Creator, but quietly dismiss His judgement. If one follows the first 2 commandments, the rest will follow in place without difficulty. For me, it is a matter of a lifetime of faith and hope derived from faith. A faith that doesn’t need to have absolutely every aspect of it, explained or rationalized. “Blessed is he who has not seen, but believes.” John 20:29

                “For some reason, this is only ever brought up when someone disagrees with what someone else says about God. If you cannot comprehend the Deity, then you cannot claim to know anything about His doings, whether he invented Hell, etc.”

                God didn’t invent Hell…He created it! As for the balance of your statement, I suggest that it is complete fabrication. To suggest that the ONLY time this response surfaces, is when someone disagrees with anothers viewpoint of God is empty and smacks of defensiveness. This is simply an invalid statement.

                I respect your attempt to seek dialogue and your depth of thought. It helps to hone one’s personal relationship with the Creator. Here’s hoping you find the Way, the Truth and the Life, under HIS terms!

                God bless

              • T B says:

                I think the problem is that you’re thinking of the flame as a punishment for willfully separating from God; but the flame is the separation-from-God itself. If somewhat like a fish who decides he’ll be the fish astronaut who recreates the movement of life form the seas to land and so jumps on the beach. The ocean isn’t punishing it by the fact it suffers and flaps around on the shore, the separation form the water is itself the root of its suffering. If the sea says come back and the fish insists that no I’ll make this work, it’s my decision and my goal and I’m going to live out here, the sea may choose to let it exercise it’s free will. The sea is not to blame for the result.

                That being said its not like we believers don’t struggle with the question. Not so much with Jess’s question though, that’s just a word game like: can God create a burritto too hot for Him to eat? It’s based on an overly simplistic understanding of omnipotience. God IS omnipotent and God is NOT able to prevent the evil that we freely choose (because doing so is itself a greater evil). The entire universe from the tinest sub-atomic partical to the hugest super galactic structures exists from instant to instant solely because God so wills, and if He wills there may well be an infinite number of such universes; that’s pretty darn omnipotent, despite His inability to do evil (which we on the other hans are so talented at).

          • Joseph Q Pham says:

            Hello Interested Agnostic,

            I lack evangelistic charisms, but I think I might have an image that talks about Hell. Many things in life are reflections of the greater spiritual realities even if they are quite different. Think of this particular type of car accident. Society at large knows that drinking and driving at 100 MPH is terribly stupid and an almost sure sign to cause great harm. Yet there are drivers each day that does this. The accidents they get are devastating to their body, the environment and often causes tragic casualties. To me, driving down the highway at 100MPH while drunk is a very good image of how many of us rush head long towards Hell without even seeing our destination. No matter how good we are at driving or how durable our car is, alcohol and our collision speed are reality.

            For those that recognize the spiritual realities. God is real. And for those that do not recognize the spiritual realities, they will see that God is real at the end of time. At that point all of reality will be clear and so the pain of being without God will be clear. I would suggest reading CS Lewis’s fine story of life in Hell “The Great Divorce”. It is a work of fiction.

            • Interested Agnostic says:

              “To me, driving down the highway at 100MPH while drunk is a very good image of how many of us rush head long towards Hell without even seeing our destination. ”

              Very well, this makes some sense to me. People do make mistakes. Of course, while choosing to drive while drunk is clearly a mistake, it is not identical to choosing to have an accident and die. Dying may be a natural consequence, but it was not directly chosen. I am going to leave to the side the role an omnipotent God would have in this situation: He could protect the motorist if He wishes. He clearly does not. Additionally, He set up the world in such a way that this event could happen AND foresaw that it would in fact happen if He set up the world the way He did.

              However, with Hell, we have an example of more clearly “constructed consequences.” That is, an agent (God) constructed the situation such that not choosing to love Him results in Hell (which I will assume for now is a place of positive torment or punishment in accordance with traditional Christian teachings). The fact that peoples’ choices result in their individual destinies does not clear up the initial culpability of this construction.

              I have read the Great Divorce, and find it one of the better, more subtle images of Hell. It is also, of course, heretical from a Catholic standpoint, what with Hell and Purgatory being two sides of the same existence. But, regardless of that, it still does not clear up God’s responsibility for setting up the universe the way He did.

              • Lazarus says:

                “The fact that peoples’ choices result in their individual destinies does not clear up the initial culpability of this construction.”

                Who are we to hold God culpable of anything? And yes and no to this. Go back to Genesis. An allegorical reading of it is that humanity once had, to continue the golf analogy, the golf ball and the golf course. We had absolute freedom without realizing it! That was the trick Satan pulled on us – ‘you want to know how to be like God? Limit your freedom.’ So, we look around the world now, our parents failed more and less, culture deceives, we have rape and injustice. It’s ugly, but we buy into comforts to distract us from that, how free we actually are not, because we gave that up to a lie. We play politics, drive a Prius, look at some porn and pretend like we’ll live forever. We keep looking for the golf ball in the golf course, by buying into these distractions and fleeting pleasures. And here’s God, all this time, loving us all along, just waiting for us to respond, and when you do, you begin to experience that freedom. There’s a reason Our Lord told us we’ll find Him in the homeless, the imprisoned, the needy and so on – cause we experience God’s unconditional love by truly sharing it with others. It’s the freedom that built the Church and sustains Her. It’s the freedom that Christ taught us, which was always ours, as children of God. +

    • Steve M says:

      IA:
      I am confused by your presence on this comment box. What are you interested in? You start with assumed ideas about Catholic teaching that assume we are all children with simplistic notion of everything. Are you looking for an education on the Church, someplace to vent your spleen, an argument or just enjoy tossing grenades at other people on the off chance you will offend them? I may be out of turn here but I don’t see you being able to talk Msgr. Pope into leaving the Church with some “clever” wording. Just what do you wish to accomplish? If you are interested wouldn’t be a bit more constructive to ask questions that are not slanted?

      • Interested Agnostic says:

        “I am confused by your presence on this comment box. What are you interested in? You start with assumed ideas about Catholic teaching that assume we are all children with simplistic notion of everything.”

        I try starting with Catholic teaching as I have read and encountered it. Which point do you believe I have wrong?

        “re you looking for an education on the Church, someplace to vent your spleen, an argument or just enjoy tossing grenades at other people on the off chance you will offend them? ”

        Any offense is incidental to my attempt to query your beliefs and see if there is any merit in them. You can feel free to engage or not engage as you wish.

        “I may be out of turn here but I don’t see you being able to talk Msgr. Pope into leaving the Church with some “clever” wording.”

        Msgr. Pope believes as he does. He can explain those beliefs or not according to his own desires. I simply ask questions.

        “If you are interested wouldn’t be a bit more constructive to ask questions that are not slanted?”

        How are my questions slanted?

        Is Hell not a place of torment?
        Is Hell not created by God?
        Is Hell a result of compulsion – that is, did something force God to create Hell?
        Is Hell compatible with a loving, good, benevolent God?

        • Steve M says:

          And Msgr. Pope as well as “Bender” have responded. Hell is a place where people who choose so will be separated from God. It is torment in the eyes of a Christian because we believe that Heaven is the ideal; a place in the presence of God. Someone who chooses not to believe in God I would guess might be happy with it. God did create Hell when he create humans with free will to accept or reject Him. Hell again is a place for those who reject him. He allows people to go there if they so choose. (Sorry probably would be called theology light but it is an engineering version) God would not be forced to do anything so no. Yep. If you choose to love God then he welcomes you to Heaven. If you choose to reject Him then He has created a place where you don’t have to be with Him.

          “I try starting with Catholic teaching as I have read and encountered it” – We need to find you some new sources.

          “How are my questions slanted?” These seem to carry with them a non-Catholic assumption. You begin with “Is Hell not a place of torment?” which seems already to indicate that you did read/understand the original post. Msgr. Pope does not say God tosses those he doesn’t like into a torture chamber which appears to be the slant to your questions.

          • Interested Agnostic says:

            “Hell is a place where people who choose so will be separated from God. It is torment in the eyes of a Christian because we believe that Heaven is the ideal”

            So, Hell has no extrinsic torments, and all the Church fathers and doctors who taught otherwise were wrong about the physical nature of the torments of Hell? Okay, though Hell is starting to look less traditionally Christian. But, then, if you admit that the ONLY thing about Hell is that people don’t have to worry about God, isn’t that really a paradise in the eyes of someone who, say, doesn’t want to have to worry about God? In other words, though it is a torment in the eyes of a Christian, wouldn’t it be paradise in the eyes of the “damned?”

            “Someone who chooses not to believe in God I would guess might be happy with it.”

            I do think you are starting to verge on heresy if you consider yourself a traditional Christian. But I think this makes sense.

            “We need to find you some new sources. ”

            I see you don’t consider St. Thomas Aquinas a good source, as you have departed so far from his and other saints’ and doctors’ teachings. Maybe you should reconsider your own commitment to traditional Catholicism?

            • Steve M says:

              “Maybe you should reconsider your own commitment to traditional Catholicism?”

              Thanks for the suggestion but I am fine. Glad to be a work in progress.

              “if you admit that the ONLY thing about Hell is that people don’t have to worry about God”
              Can’t go that far because I don’t know. I believe that Hell is the absence of God. To say only takes what could be terribly complicated in reality and drops it down the something too simple. What is the effect of the absence of God. What does that mean in practice. As you point out I need to further my education but I suspect that since God is Truth, Beauty and Love that the absence of these might be unpleasant to someone who prefers these things.

              “though it is a torment in the eyes of a Christian, wouldn’t it be paradise in the eyes of the “damned?”
              Ditto my last response. Someone who truly hates God and sees no potential value in his presence might be fine in Hell but I would doubt it. I think humans have an incredible knack for convincing themselves of what they know and don’t know and do not realize how little they really understand.

              • Interested Agnostic says:

                “Someone who truly hates God and sees no potential value in his presence might be fine in Hell but I would doubt it. I think humans have an incredible knack for convincing themselves of what they know and don’t know and do not realize how little they really understand.”

                Let’s say this is correct. Suppose someone did go to Hell because they wanted nothing to do with God. Later on, they come to realize how empty their existence in Hell is without Him and decide they wish to be with Him. Traditionally, Hell excludes this possibility – that is, the damned are damned forever. But if what you are saying is true, then Hell is very much like it is portrayed in the Great Divorce.

                • Steve M says:

                  “But if what you are saying is true, then Hell is very much like it is portrayed in the Great Divorce.”

                  Very big if there and outside my knowledge base. Obviously Lewis was not Catholic and we humans have limits on what we can know but I find much of the Great Divorce helpful in understanding Heaven. I believe the Church teaches that we don’t get second chances in the after life which the story in the Great Divorce allows but it was interesting that many people just went back to the grey city. I also took the grey city to be Purgatory but that is just me.

                  Personally I am all about trusting God’s Mercy about who is where but eternity is really beyond my ability to fully grasp. I did take a second to look this up in the Cathechism. It just talks about the “primary punishment is seperation from God.” so kind of different than Aquinas.

            • workingclass artist says:

              I am a recovering alcoholic and I’ve lived a hellish life full of self centered fear…leading to despair. Fundamentally alcoholics drink to ease the pain of living and the pain of living is self centered fear fueled by resentment and pride. We are human…just extreme humans.

              ” We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures,we were prey to misery and depression,we couldn’t make a living,we had a feeling of uselessness,we were full of fear,we were unhappy,we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people…” – bedevilments, pg. 52 Alcoholics Anonymous

              These bedevilments happen in a chain reaction and for an alcoholic like me the only solution is to find a power greater than myself to relieve them so I can stay sober.

              ” When we became alcoholics,crushed by a self imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or he is nothing. God either is or He isn’t. What was our choice to be? Arrived at this point, we were squarely confronted with the question of faith….” – pg. 53 Alcoholics Anonymous

              ” Save for a few brief moments of temptation the thought of drink has never returned; and at such times a great revulsion has risen up in him. Seemingly he could not drink even if he would. God had restored his sanity. What is this but a miracle of healing? Yet it’s elements are simple. Circumstances made him willing to believe. He humbly offered himself to his maker – then he knew.

              Even so has God restored us all to our right minds. To this man, the revelation was sudden.Some of us grow into it more slowly, But He has come to all who have honestly sought him. When we drew near to Him He disclosed himself to us!” – pg. 57 Alcoholics Anonymous

              I copied these passages because they illustrate the hell of self centered fear and pride. I have to rely on the Grace of God for everything in order to stay sober daily and hope to grow as He would have me grow…The alternative is to be shut off from the Sunlight imprisoned and alone in my torment.

              It has taken me 11 years of sobriety to become willing to overcome my fear and ignorance to re-approach my Catholic Faith and I am grateful for the wisdom and support of blogs like this.

              I don’t doubt for a minute the Facts of Hell as Jesus describes…nor do I belabor the metaphor. I accept these facts because I’ve lived in the fire and ice of chronic alcoholism and when I reached for God, He found me. He restored my sanity. He restored my health. He restored my relationships and taught me to love. He restored my faith in humanity and made me useful. He taught me to live life on Life’s terms…not my own childish terms and to try and grow toward him as he offers up teachers and companions.

              The circumstances of my life humiliated me….But God strengthened me by humbling me through his Grace and he continues to do this daily if I ask.

              Hell is an eternal viscous circle of unending torments with no hope.

    • Sue Korlan says:

      The torment is to be without God forever. Just think, if your daughter did all those things to you, would she want to come spend all eternity loving you? Probably not. So there is a place prepared for those who do not want to love God. They will be there for all eternity due to their own choices, and they will suffer the torment of seeing themselves as they truly are after all they have done and of being aware of God whom they hate and cannot be with for all eternity. That’s the torture, and it’s a direct and natural result of their actions.

      • Interested Agnostic says:

        But if she doesn’t like me, how can being away from me be “torture?” I mean, wouldn’t someone be happy not being forced to stay with someone they don’t like?

        • marie says:

          Interested Agnostic. We are created such that God is necessary for our happiness. Far more than you are necessary for your daughter’s happiness. Did you see the fish analogy above? (Way up at the top) God is as necessary for our happiness as water is for a fish’s happiness. But we are given the freedom and responsibility to choose God. Like a fish who could choose the ocean or choose to flop onto shore and be miserable. Those who go to hell freely choose it and are miserable. As to whether a soul’s place in hell is fixed for eternity or they could change their mind – we’re made for a permanent not a temporary home. But we are expected to freely choose that permanent home. Life on this earth is temporary and gives us a chance to “practice” choosing God as our home, as it were. But in the end we’re each given a chance to give our ‘final answer’ and it is permanent. Shore or sea – what will it be little fish?

  4. Annette Strachan says:

    Hell would be searching for He whom you couldn’t find.

  5. Scott W. says:

    Good point about the torments of Hell are not from God. When one chooses to separate themselves from God, one is essentially depending on mercy from whoever else is not with God. Baaaaaaad choice.

  6. Bender says:

    (1) If he is the sort of being who would create beings and then prepare a place for their eternal torment if they do not love and serve him, then that is the way things are. I can hypothetically accept this. (2) I can also accept the notion that there is a good God who is benevolent and genuinely loves the thing he creates. (3) What puzzles me is the attempt to merge the two: to say that the good God and the tormenter God are the same.

    (1) That is not the way things are, and perhaps you can accept that, but the Catholic Church does not.
    (2) This you got right.
    (3) It would be quite puzzling to attempt to merge the two because they are irreconcilable since the latter is wholly false. There is no “tormenter God.” So to attempt to merge Truth with imagined falsehood would be rather frustrating.

    Your fundamental error is in your premise of what “Hell” is. It is a common error, to be sure, one born of a certain lack of sophistication, or rather, by failing to credit scripture and Jesus and the Church with the sophistication that each possesses. Hell as a place of physical suffering, e.g. burning in fire, is a poor human attempt to describe, in understandable human terms, something that is, for the most part, still beyond human comprehension. That is, it is largely metaphorical, which can readily be seen by the fact that is it described in opposite terms, as both as burning fire and a cold dark night. And it is purposely terrifying because the reality is that Hell is really, really bad, something that is to be avoided at all costs — that is, God wants to scare the hell out of you, literally.

    But whether or not God exists, this much is undeniable, even by agnostics and the most militant of atheists — Hell Does Exist. That Hell could exist with or without the existence of God is due to the true nature of Hell — separation from God, existing as if He does not exist. And, since God is Love and God is Truth, to be eternally separated from Him is to be eternally separated from love and truth, which is a torment, spiritual and mental, that is far greater than mere physical torments.

    And that is your error, mistaking inadequate descriptions of the effects for the real nature of the real thing.

    As you can accept, “there is a good God who is benevolent and genuinely loves the thing he creates.” He loves His creation, especially humanity. But love, to be truly love, is and must be free and voluntary. He will not and does not force His love upon anyone. He does not force anyone to love Him, and He will not and does not force anyone to spend eternity with Him if he or she does not want to. Because, just as the essential nature of Hell is separation from God, the essential nature of Heaven is to be one with Him in eternity.

    So, if you choose not to be with Him, He will respect that choice. He will allow you to go your merry way on your own, to spend eternity, not with Him, but with yourself. Without Him, without Love, without Truth — that is, in Hell, a place prepared by yourself, and consigned to it by you, if that is your will. But it is your choice, not His. His choice and His will, because He is Love, is that everyone be saved from that.

    • Bender says:

      Speaking of things that are irreconcilable –

      To be “in Heaven” is to be eternally in the presence of God. For someone to say “I don’t want God, I don’t need God,” and then go on to insist, but I should be admitted to Heaven, is a bit inconsistent, is it not? To say, “I want nothing to do with God,” and then complain about being “punished” for “not loving Him” by then not having anything to do with Him, is something that cannot be merged.

      It really is not all that hard, as a matter of logic and reason. If you want to be in Heaven, that is, if you want to be with God and in God for eternity, then you must necessarily want to be with Him. There is no force here, there is no compulsion, there is no extortion. God is not a petulent child who has a tantrum if we don’t bow down to Him. If we don’t want Him, then we don’t have to have Him. We have that freedom.

      But don’t complain about not being with Him if you don’t want to be with Him. There have been plenty of warnings and descriptions about how awful it is to be without Him.

      If you cannot yet accept the idea of, and believe in, a “God” as a personal being, then at least take the initial step of believing in truth, of believing in love, and always have a hunger and thirst to discover and know what Truth and Love are, and then be willing to go wherever that road leads you.

      • Interested Agnostic says:

        “To be “in Heaven” is to be eternally in the presence of God. For someone to say “I don’t want God, I don’t need God,” and then go on to insist, but I should be admitted to Heaven, is a bit inconsistent, is it not? To say, “I want nothing to do with God,” and then complain about being “punished” for “not loving Him” by then not having anything to do with Him, is something that cannot be merged.”

        That’s not inconsistent; it is simply assuming that God is good or benevolent. It also undermines the notion of “free love” which is often brought to the front in these discussions. Hell is often explained as a tool of freedom; that is, God wants us to love freely, so he provides a place for those who do not choose to love him. However, that alternative is explicitly created to be unfathomably horrible (either it is, as the traditional teachings go, a place of literal hellfire, or it is as you mentioned above something so horrible that our only good analogy is being burned forever). This undermines the freedom of the choice in the same way that coercion or manipulation in earthly relationships undermines the freedom of love. For example, if I told my wife, “You may love me or leave me, but if you leave me you will suffer a state I have prepared for you as bad as or worse than eternal fire,” I believe it would be immediately clear how this could potentially undermine her freedom. Even if she said “yes,” it may very well be because she doesn’t want to be burned, not so much because she particularly cares to love me (this would be analogous to incomplete contrition, which for some reason is considered acceptable in Catholic teaching, as though God is fine with people being scared into obedience).

        If God is truly benevolent and good He would have to make the choice of loving Him truly free and without coercion. The state of “hell” (not choosing him) would have to be in its particularities free from negative consequences aside from not having to love or obey God.

        Of course, I am not saying that God might not punish the disobedient in this way. I am simply saying that if He does, it begins undermining the notion of God as benevolent.

        “There is no force here, there is no compulsion, there is no extortion.”

        There is, because as you yourself had mentioned the alternative is explicitly designed as something painful. One may ask, if God wishes to honor choices, why he would not allow those who wish to cease to exist to simply cease to exist? It appears that He has chosen a very specific set of possibilities that reduces the choice to: love Me, or burn (or endure something for which burning is the only fitting analogy).

        “But don’t complain about not being with Him if you don’t want to be with Him.”

        If He exists, and He is benevolent, I do wish to be with Him. If He exists, and He is not benevolent, I would prefer not (regardless of the consequences). It is as Marcus Aurelius notes: “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

        I do believe in truth. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t particularly care what Christians say the truth is, would I?

        • Bender says:

          if God wishes to honor choices, why he would not allow those who wish to cease to exist to simply cease to exist?

          Why not? Eternity. Because of the nature of eternity, which transcends linear time. Even if one were to “cease to exist” after death, still his existence prior to death would still be a historical fact. And that prior pre-death existence, which itself would necessarily be apart from God, would still exist in eternity. That is, the person would still have the experience of hell.

          To avoid hell entirely, God would have to cause the person to cease to exist, not merely prospectively, but He would have to make it such that the person never existed. But that would be a lie. The person did exist. Not only did the person exist, but other people were impacted by that person’s existence, if not their very existence depending upon that person’s existence. Were God to make it as if you never existed, then, of course, your daughter would never exist.

          • Interested Agnostic says:

            “Even if one were to “cease to exist” after death, still his existence prior to death would still be a historical fact. And that prior pre-death existence, which itself would necessarily be apart from God, would still exist in eternity. That is, the person would still have the experience of hell.”

            Luckily, my own education in scholastic and other forms of theology allows me to say that your reasoning makes exactly no sense. According to the logic you are espousing here, a rock has eternal existence; after all, a rock, even after it is destroyed, is still known to the mind of God in its particularity; that is, the rock’s existence prior to its destruction would still be a historical fact. And that pre-destruction existence would still “exist” in eternity as a thing known to God. Of course, this is nonsense; the fact that the rock did at one time exist (and the fact that that fact is eternal) does not mean that the rock continues to “exist” eternally. Similarly, while it would eternally be the case that I *did* exist, and while God would eternally know that finite and bounded existence eternally, if I cease to exist then my own experience of existence would also cease to exist. I would not suffer, as there would be no more substance to undergo any motion.

            “To avoid hell entirely, God would have to cause the person to cease to exist, not merely prospectively, but He would have to make it such that the person never existed.”

            Again, nonsense. If a person ceased to exist, it would be simultaneously true that *he once existed* and *he no longer exists.* There is no reason that God would have to retroactively erase his existence.

        • Jan says:

          It’s “unfathomably horrible” in description because the realization that you’ve cut yourself eternally off from God becomes unfathomably horrible in reality.

          God will accept an honest and sincere desire to believe in Him, even if its hard. What doesn’t fly is not even attempting to make the journey.

          • Interested Agnostic says:

            “It’s “unfathomably horrible” in description because the realization that you’ve cut yourself eternally off from God becomes unfathomably horrible in reality. ”

            If someone comes to this realization in hell – that is, the realization that life without God is itself a torment – couldn’t one change one’s mind about things? If so, what would be their fate? Additionally, we can probably safely assume that someone who has deliberately chosen hell does not believe life without God is unfathomably horrible, which leads us back to my question: is Hell, as it is traditionally understood, a place of positive torment, and if so how is that just?

    • Thanks Bender i removed my earlier reply since I had to type it fast having no time for a lengthier reply. I might add that I also wrote and earlier article here some time ago that answers some of Agnostic’s points: http://blog.adw.org/2010/07/hell-has-to-be/

      • Ellis says:

        I have to react again, whether or not my comment be published this time. Bender writes in his comment to Interested Agnostic how he is mistaken (uninformed?) because the physical suffering in Hell, e.g. burning in fire, is not real, but just a poor metaphor to describe something different altogether. I must say that saint Thomas Aquinas would not agree with Bender. To prove that I give two links on two consecutive articles of Summa Theologica (and the whole question is worth reading, and questions 94 and 98 of the same part too).

        http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5097.htm#article5

        http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5097.htm#article6

        Now I wonder, given contradictory explanations, whom should one believe – saint Thomas Aquinas, doctor of the church, or Bender?

        • Bender says:

          Bender has no magisterial authority.
          But neither does St. Thomas Aquinas, even if a doctor of the Church.

          Believe the Magisterium. For example –

          1. God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or hell. It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life “hell”.

          In a theological sense however, hell is something else: it is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life.

          2. To describe this reality Sacred Scripture uses a symbolical language which will gradually be explained. In the Old Testament the condition of the dead had not yet been fully disclosed by Revelation. Moreover it was thought that the dead were amassed in Sheol, a land of darkness (cf. Ez 28: 8; 31: 14; Jb 10: 21f.; 38: 17; Ps 30: 10; 88: 7, 13), a pit from which one cannot reascend (cf. Jb 7: 9), a place in which it is impossible to praise God (cf. Is 38: 18; Ps 6: 6).

          The New Testament sheds new light on the condition of the dead, proclaiming above all that Christ by his Resurrection conquered death and extended his liberating power to the kingdom of the dead.

          Redemption nevertheless remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely. This is why they will all be judged “by what they [have done]” (Rv 20: 13). By using images, the New Testament presents the place destined for evildoers as a fiery furnace, where people will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt 13: 42; cf. 25: 30, 41), or like Gehenna with its “unquenchable fire” (Mk 9: 43). All this is narrated in the parable of the rich man, which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain (cf. Lk 16: 19-31).

          The Book of Revelation also figuratively portrays in a “pool of fire” those who exclude themselves from the book of life, thus meeting with a “second death” (Rv 20: 13f.). Whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for “eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thes 1: 9).

          3. The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell’” (n. 1033).

          “Eternal damnation”, therefore, is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.
          Blessed Pope John Paul II, Catechesis of July 28, 1999

          • Interested Agnostic says:

            Believe the Magisterium:

            The Council of Florence declared:

            “But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.”

            The Athanasian Creed:

            “And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved. ”

            I recommend, for a more thorough acquaintance with Catholic teaching on the physical, positive torment on hell, a perusal of http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07207a.htm.

            You see, it seems to me that Catholics – even someone like Msgr. Pope – have been backing farther and farther away from this legacy primarily because there is a real, growing recognition of the incongruity of the fiery Hell and a loving God. Msgr. Pope even mentions in this article that the teaching on Hell has grown more and more light. It is as though a theological crossroads has been reached, and people neither have the strength to admit that what used to be taught was wrong nor to expressly confirm what was clearly the traditional beliefs of the Church.

            • Bender says:

              Is that what this is, Interested Agnostic, a pointless game of “gotcha,” rather than a good-faith inquiry on your part to learn authentic Catholic teaching?

              Are you going to claim for yourself the role of judge as to what is and is not the real Catholic Faith and Tradition, and then presume to assert that what the Magisterium authoritative teaches and has always taught is somehow a “backtracking” and change in teaching?

              • Interested Agnostic says:

                “Is that what this is, Interested Agnostic, a pointless game of “gotcha,” rather than a good-faith inquiry on your part to learn authentic Catholic teaching?”

                It depends on how you look at it, Bender. I am fairly well familiar with Catholic teaching and find it to be highly internally inconsistent, despite the numerous attempts to say it is ultimately unchanging. Nevertheless, I personally don’t have any problem with a religion or philosophy changing. In science, change is necessary for progress, and it would be rather silly to try to hold onto something that is discredited.

                The main reasons I cannot accept Catholicism at this time is that, first, there is a direct denial that things have changed when they clearly have (and are changing even now); and, furthermore, that this denial has led to an increasingly confusing and contradictory set of ideas. But, the thing is, part of me is drawn to the Catholic faith. I want to believe it in some sense; this is why I call myself “interested.” But I will only assent if it is true. I ask these questions for several reasons: first, because perhaps there is someone out there who can recognize the problematic nature of the doctrines and help work through them with me rather than presenting me with the highly superficial “just believe it” routine. There is an element of “gotcha” or elenchus to my comments, but not because I get kicks out of seeing people get into knots. I do it because I already see these knots, and for someone to help me to see through them requires them to acknowledge the knots too. Otherwise, it’s just rehashing what I already know.

                “Are you going to claim for yourself the role of judge as to what is and is not the real Catholic Faith and Tradition, and then presume to assert that what the Magisterium authoritative teaches and has always taught is somehow a “backtracking” and change in teaching?”

                This is amusing to me, partially because I’ve seen variations of this argument countless times, and partially because of how ultimately ironic it is. I assume you believe the Magisterium and the Catholic faith because you believe they are true. You, too, have a courtroom. Unless you have a mental deficiency, you cannot avoid responsibility for your thoughts. Even the choice to submit to a particular religion and say that you will believe whatever it teaches even without understanding it is a choice that you make based upon your judgment that it is the right thing to do.

                My common response is that everyone has a courtroom; the real difference is the quality of evidence that courtroom is willing to accept. If I have reason to believe that the Church and the Magisterium are what they say they are, then I would be willing to submit to them, too – but even then, it would be my decision and my responsibility to do so.

                As I have no reason to do so, I will investigate history and sources and Catholic teaching the same way I evaluate anything great and worthy; attempting to understand what is true and what is false.

                • Jimbo says:

                  “The main reasons I cannot accept Catholicism at this time is that, first, there is a direct denial that things have changed when they clearly have (and are changing even now); and, furthermore, that this denial has led to an increasingly confusing and contradictory set of ideas.”

                  I sorry IA but you are going to have to qualify this statement. What “things” are you referring to? What are the confusing and contradictory set of ideas? Whose ideas are they?

                  As eloquent your words are and how much you may wish to wow us with your word smithing it does not earn you pass on this.

            • T B says:

              Though the Council of Florence was an ecumenical council and as such its teachings are authoritative, though not necessarily (and only quite rarely) infallible: the Athanasian Creed (unlike the Nicene Creed) is not the product of a church council and in fact is of unknown origin. It is revered by the church for its early and relatively clear explication of the Trinity, not that its every word is divinely revealed.
              And by the way, this is the holy faith; anyone who disagrees is damned to a Justin Beiber concert.

    • Interested Agnostic says:

      “1) That is not the way things are, and perhaps you can accept that, but the Catholic Church does not.”

      How can this be? Which of the following does the Catholic Church not teach:

      A) God created Hell.
      B) Hell is a place of torment.
      C) Hell is a place prepared for those who do not love and serve God.

      I am fairly certain these are all still matters of doctrine. If these three are all correct, then (1) is a statement of what the Church teaches.

      As for 2 and 3, are you saying you reject the idea of Hell? I think that you are right that this does not really fit the notion of a “good God,” assuming that we actually mean something by the word “good.”

      ” Hell as a place of physical suffering, e.g. burning in fire, is a poor human attempt to describe, in understandable human terms, something that is, for the most part, still beyond human comprehension.”

      So you reject the Thomistic teaching that Hellfire is real and material and burns the bodies of the damned? And if the most appropriate analogy for this incomprehensible experience is being burned without ceasing in fire (among other contrary torments), how can this experience, whatever it is, be not understood as torture?

      “And that is your error, mistaking inadequate descriptions of the effects for the real nature of the real thing.”

      Well, the description you are making is NOT the traditional teaching of the Church, which has pretty well maintained the material reality of hellfire and hell as a location of suffering. But if this is true – if “Hell” is merely and nothing more than separation from God – then how could it possibly be a place of fear, as you describe it, especially for those who do not even believe that God exists?

      “So, if you choose not to be with Him, He will respect that choice. He will allow you to go your merry way on your own, to spend eternity, not with Him, but with yourself.”

      Very well, that makes sense to me to some degree, even if it does constitute a rejection of much of the teachings on Hell that I consider…well..inconsistent with a good or benevolent God. Of course, the teaching is more than this, because traditionally the souls in hell can never change their minds. Additionally, you yourself affirm that it is a place or possibility created by God. I assume He could have chosen to not create such a place or possibility – or are you saying he was compelled?

      • Jimbo says:

        IA,

        Hell exists because God is a just God. Human actions freely done have consequences. We choose to sin and the consequences of sin are death not eternal life.

    • Bender says:

      Let’s continue on the point, if it is not already been made clear –

      As someone who has a daughter, I can think of it in terms of my relationship with her: if I demanded her love, and if she refused to grant it freely I prepared torture for her, there is no sensible way I could be called “good.” Even if she offended me directly – let’s say, spit in my face, defaced my property, killed my dog, tried to kill me, what have you, none of that would justify my torturing her. I could not be considered good.

      You love your daughter. But for the sake of the example, let’s say that she does not love you in return. Perhaps she has an active hate for you and spits in your face, perhaps she doesn’t feel one way or the other about you and thus doesn’t want much to do with you. Perhaps she blames you for this or that, or she thinks that you haven’t been there enough for her, and she doesn’t understand exactly how much you do, in fact, love her and have been there for her. In any event, she does not love you in return.

      In such a situation, would that justify you torturing her? No.

      But she does not love you, she does not want to be around you, so she moves out of the house. Would her not loving you justify you going after her, dragging her back to your home kicking and screaming, and locking her in her bedroom? Would your love and her lack thereof justify you forcing her to be with you against her will?

      Or, in your love for her, do you let her go? Do you respect her wishes, respect her freedom to not love you in return and, thus, let her “suffer” the consequences of being separated from you and your great love for her?

      However, if this prodigal daughter of yours, after seeing how, being apart from your love, her life has gone to hell, wants to return home, will you take her back? Will you come running to meet her at the gate and have a feast of thanksgiving for her return?

      • Interested Agnostic says:

        “Or, in your love for her, do you let her go? Do you respect her wishes, respect her freedom to not love you in return and, thus, let her “suffer” the consequences of being separated from you and your great love for her?”

        That’s the point. There are no consequences. In fact, she may be very happy and content being separated from me. If she truly does not love me and truly does not want anything to do with me, then there is no “suffering” that results from her not being with me.

        “However, if this prodigal daughter of yours, after seeing how, being apart from your love, her life has gone to hell, wants to return home, will you take her back? Will you come running to meet her at the gate and have a feast of thanksgiving for her return?”

        Of course I would. However, the teachings on Hell are once in, always in.

        • CS says:

          You missed a key point that Bender made. It should have come prior to all this soteriological stuff. We have to first set out a proper anthropology.

          You will see that Bender’s argument (it’s actually the Magisterum’s argument – as he showed) is flawless.

          Bender is starting with an anthropology that believes (for a legion of reasons) that human beings are made for Truth, Beauty, and Love.

          Your quibble in our father-daughter analogy is that it is possible that she may very well enjoy her separation from her father. In the terms of our analogy, this is correct. But analogy always falls short of the real thing, and this misses the key anthrolopological point. It is impossible (in the logical sense), since we are made (our happiness consists in) for truth, beauty, and love, to find it apart from He who is Truth, Beauty, and Love. Hell is looking for love in all the wrong places, and ultimately, rejecting the only place where it is to be found.

          Now a clever reply might be: “well then how is that free at all – given that we’re created for these particular transcendentals” – this is another story, which we would be happy to talk to you about. The short of it is impossible for God to create something that doesn’t point to his essence. Impossible in the – doesn’t even make logical sense to conceive of – rather than a limit on what God can do. Although there is a common misconception that God is omnipotent – in the sense of being able to do anything/whatever He wants – this is not the nature of God. He is omnipotent in the sense that he is all-causing, but not in the sense that he can make 1+1=5, or microwave a burrito so hot that not even he could eat of it.

          • Interested Agnostic says:

            “In the terms of our analogy, this is correct. But analogy always falls short of the real thing, and this misses the key anthrolopological point. It is impossible (in the logical sense), since we are made (our happiness consists in) for truth, beauty, and love, to find it apart from He who is Truth, Beauty, and Love. Hell is looking for love in all the wrong places, and ultimately, rejecting the only place where it is to be found.”

            Your description wholly avoids addressing the problems of the traditional teachings on Hell – physical fire, positive sufferings, contrary torments designed to ensure maximum and enduring suffering, and so forth. Bender and you both ignore this aspect of Hell, which is taught by the Magisterium, thus making it not the case that your description is equivalent to the doctrine. But let’s put all the torture stuff to the side, then, ignore that part of the tradition, and deal with what you are saying now. If God designed man for these things, and they are found only in Him, then yes, there is no doubt that an existence in separation from God would be less than perfect happiness. And in an allegorical sense I can see it being expressed as discomfort (this is, again, ignoring the problem of the literal punishment).

            Nevertheless, this description does not justify the setting up of the world in such a way. If God has made it so that we can only be happy in choosing Him, He has NOT set up the world in a way that allows a truly free relationship. It is, again, like an abusive boyfriend who has set up his girlfriend’s financial situation, etc., so that if she ever leaves him she will suffer tremendously as a matter of course resulting from her choice. Now, if you are right, and God was compelled to make the world this way, then it is not His fault; but, then again, it is unclear why anyone should be interested, aside from pure-self preservation, to obey and love a God that is merely a mechanism of necessity. Of course, Christianity typically portrays creation as a free and uncoerced, unnecessary act. if this is the case, then there potentially infinite alternatives to this setup in addition to the alternative of not creating at all. And therein – the choice of the Creator – lies the problem of theodicy.

        • Bender says:

          You didn’t answer the question — which is the point:

          Would your love and her lack thereof justify you forcing her to be with you against her will?

          If you would not, and it appears that you would not because your daughter may very well be better without you (so you say), then what is your objection to God doing the same thing, to allowing us to leave without forcing us to be with Him?

          • Interested Agnostic says:

            “Would your love and her lack thereof justify you forcing her to be with you against her will?”

            Of course not. This has been part of my argument all along. It wouldn’t justify me forcing her against her will. It wouldn’t justify me punishing her in any sense. It wouldn’t justify me arranging things such that she will be miserable without me. That is what it is to risk in love – to allow the possibility of rejection without any repercussions.

            “then what is your objection to God doing the same thing, to allowing us to leave without forcing us to be with Him?”

            I have no objection with this; it is, in fact, the grounds of my whole argument. “Forcing” here including any form of coercion, punishment, or manipulative setups.

            • CS says:

              Perhaps I explained myself poorly. It’s not a manipulative setup – it’s the only possible setup. Sure, infinite playings out of the different accidental structures of the universe could have been otherwise theoretically, but the conditions of grounding for being in Truth, Beauty, and Love, could not be otherwise. That’s why she can’t find happiness anywhere else. This isn’t some trick of God’s, it’s just The Way It Is. And happily, since we could imagine that demons could possibly create universes, the nature of the Lord is that he is Truth, Beauty, and Love.

              To further play along with the metaphor: if she left in good conscience and did her utmost to perfectly strive for all that she can best believe is good at all times, then she is probably to a large extent, innocent, and could not possibly face any of the harder side of justice. If, on the other hand, she chooses grave evil, and allows herself to spiral into destruction, without divine aid, she may surly be lost forever.

              I think we are mostly in agreement when you say: “That is what it is to risk in love – to allow the possibility of rejection without any repercussions.” The risk of being free is that you can choose evil, which does have consequences for yourself and others. God does not force anyone to believe in him, nor does he “rig the deck” in some kind of game, he created the best of all possible worlds and allowed us to participate, in its unfolding creation, and then to enjoy its perfection. How good is our God! We can of course, opt out, if we’re more interested in our own affairs.

  7. Greg says:

    So why do so many people (including Fr Barron) subscribe to the theory of Hans Von Balthasar that we don’t know if anyone is really in hell and we can still entertain the hope that no one has gone there?

    This kind of theory clearly contradicts what the Fathers, Doctors and Saints of the Church have taught.

  8. Nick says:

    “why the focus of the Lord’s teaching is almost entirely on physical torments”

    Because flesh responds best to physical stimulation, because God speaks to us in human language, and because sin never goes unpunished: the torment already begins in mortal sin.

  9. Hieronymus says:

    I believe in God, the Creator of Heaven, Earth and Hell. I believe in God who is both Love and Justice. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son who will come again to JUDGE the living and the dead. In short, I believe in the mystery of Divinity which was, is and shall always be ultimately inexplicable to the mere human reason. Thus I try to do my best and rely on God’s grace.

  10. Patricio Ortega says:

    I am a catholic, 70 yrs old. I have since a kid, wondered why God created us to serve an adore him. Does he need that? Given the bast diversity and differenciation among human beings, it is likely to expect a wide range of different persons, personalities, attitudes, perceptions and behaviors comming out as a result of nature and nurture and the surrounding enviroment. Therefore, that the Interested Agnostic brings us a different point of view is not only obvious but needed in order to create inside us a sincere conviction on what we belief and not only replay reasons with parrot like repeated words..
    In my opinion, I find valid the interested agnostic questions. As christians we have to respect them and if we want to reply him, we have to be logic, we have to use reason not only faith (although Faith is to be said is a God’s gift, therefore not all human beings are supposed to have it). God is supposed not to be against reason, maybe he is against believing without thinking.

    • B Dever says:

      “I have since a kid, wondered why God created us to serve an adore him. Does he need that?”

      No, He does not need that. We do. God created us as an outpouring of His love. We respond with our own outpouring of love by serving and adoring Him. It is for our good that we were created and it is for our good that we are called to love Him through service and adoration.

  11. Patricio Ortega says:

    I am a catholic, 70 yrs old. I have since a kid, wondered why God created us to serve an adore him. Does he need that? Given the bast diversity and differenciation among human beings, it is likely to expect a wide range of different persons, personalities, attitudes, perceptions and behaviors comming out as a result of nature and nurture and the surrounding enviroment. Therefore, that the Interested Agnostic brings us a different point of view is not only obvious but needed in order to create inside us a sincere conviction on what we belief and not only reply reasons with parrot like repeated words..
    In my opinion, I find valid the interested agnostic questions. As christians we have to respect them and if we want to reply him, we have to be logic, we have to use reason not only faith (although Faith is to be said is a God’s gift, therefore not all human beings are supposed to have it). God is supposed not to be against reason, maybe he is against believing without thinking.

  12. Bender says:

    Ellis and Interested Agnostic — Regarding St. Thomas Aquinas, he is a doctor of the Church, and much of what he has written has been a treasure that has added to an understanding of the Faith. But if Aquinas, or your understanding of him, lead you astray, then let him go. Great as he is, he is not the be all and end all of the Catholic Faith. If the Summa or anything else he wrote end up confusing things, then he is more trouble than he is worth, and it is better to simply let him go.
    ____________________

    As for the idea of a Wrathful God who hurls people into the pit of hell in His anger at being disobeyed by sin, note that the response of this God was to take that sin upon Himself in getting nailed to the Cross. THAT is God’s response to our sin and disobedience — love, not resentment and a desire for retaliation. His response is to pay our debts for us, to take the justice that is due us, and to place it upon Himself, upon His own flesh.

    If God were so eager and willed to impose torments and tortures upon people, then why the hell did He bother with the Crucifixion?

    • Ellis says:

      It is not only Thomas Aquinas, but the whole tradition of the church (up until recently). It is just that Thomas Aquinas summarized it all, and his writings are readily available on internet. For example, there is supposedly decision from papal Sacred Penitentiary that people denying reality of hell fire should not be absolved. And such divergence with traditional teachings occur in many topics. So, when confronted with such divergence whom should one believe? Last 50 years of church history or previous 1900 years?

      • Bender says:

        And such divergence with traditional teachings occur in many topics. So, when confronted with such divergence whom should one believe? Last 50 years of church history or previous 1900 years?

        Ha, ha, ha. The irony.

        The rad-trad and the game-playing agnostic teaming up together to challenge Church teaching.

    • Interested Agnostic says:

      Bender, I think your questions are exactly on the money.

  13. RichardC says:

    There is unity to body and soul, so any physical suffering is, in some way, also spiritual suffering. So, I wouldn’t underestimate the aspect of physical suffering when considering the torments of hell.

  14. Greg says:

    Monsignor,

    See the following video where Fr Barron basically agrees with Von Balthasar’s theory:

    http://www.wordonfire.org/wof-tv/commentaries-new/fr-barron-comments-on-is-hell-crowded-or-empty.aspx

    I think I will believe the seers of Fatima before Von Balthasar.

    • CS says:

      I assume you mean “souls floating into hell like snowflakes” Greg? I would recommend the writings of our beloved Supreme Pontiff on the interpretation of what the seers saw. In summary, it ends up being a lot closer to Von Balthasar than Savonarola.

      I think I will believe the Pope.

  15. CS says:

    Nothing like a short discourse on Hell to flood up the comment box. Indulge a scruple of mine Father?

    “Hell is described as a fiery furnace (e.g. Matt 13:42), an outer darkness (e.g. Mt 8:12), where there is wailing and grinding of teeth (e.g. Mt 13:42), where the worm dies not, and the fire is never quenched (e.g. Mark 9:48; Matt 25:41, inter al).”

    None of these versus implicitly or explicitly teach that the place in question is a permanent state. The closest to that would be where the worm dies not, and the fire is never quenched. But that could be the nature of the place (although I suspect ‘place’ might be a little misleading – the Orthodox have a beautiful – I think – teaching that both Sinners and Saints receive the same thing after death – the Love that is God – only this is burning hellfire to the Sinner and the greatest of rewards to the Saint).

    My quibble is that it seems that our Lord could be speaking of a place of punishment and purification, not necessarily an eternal separation. That being said, we cannot reject the possibility of the total-final rejection of the Love of God. Regardless, even if it is *just* purgatory, it doesn’t sound very pleasant, we ought to purify ourselves now and gather our rosebuds while we may.

    • Worm dies not? Unquenchable fire? fire is never extinguished No time for a lengthy response since I’m traveling

      • CS says:

        That’s what I’m wrestling with. If it’s a place in the proper sense, then it would seem like the nature of the place could be “unquenchable fire” – not that one will be in such a place eternally.

        This would be theologically helpful, if we’re inclined towards a very wide net for those who will, in the fullness of time, be saved. It would explain how many do indeed go down, but hopefully will not remain forever.

        Maybe I’m just being selfish, but I don’t want to see anyone in Hell, not even Hitler. I would hope that Hitler is suitably punished to atone for the unimaginable swath of evil he is responsible for, but that even he enjoys a chance, EVENTUALLY (maybe a lifetime’s worth of purification for every death and error he is responsible for?), of coming to his senses and bending his knee in loving adoration for our Lord? Of course, if all he can muster is his hatred for everything loving and beautiful, and he wants no part in it, then he does not have to. How can we reconcile this with the same Master who also, as he was suffering in his glorious Passion, begged his Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do”?

  16. Ellis says:

    This whole argumentation circles around who is actually to blame for hell – god or man. So, the modern theology fervently stresses that the hell is actually separation from God, so the soul does it to itself of its free will. In that manner we can have both good merciful God and hell. Or can we? Since then the problem arises to which Interested Agnostic pointed very well, and which I have also pondered and discussed very often, and that problem is – what is the suffering of hell if hell means nothing more than being separated from God for a soul who does not want to be with God anyway. I mean, you don’t want to be with someone, and you are granted not to be with him, and that is suffering?!? No, that is not suffering, that is alleviation. So, that did not add up to me. And I thought about it and I came to the following conclusion. When you sin, what actually happens – you want something God does not want or you don’t want something he wants. Hell is eternal sin, so hell means your will eternally differs to that of God. And the supposed freedom allows you to will it. But the trouble of hell is that things are not the way you will them, but the way God wills them, since his will is done. So, the suffering of hell could be like when you don’t want to eat the food that your parents prepared for dinner, but that food is still being prepared for the dinner. Or to be more serious, it is like not accepting for whole eternity that God allowed you to be sick for some greater good, and suffering because you were sick anyway. This way we have both – hell being separated from God because of own free will and hell involving suffering. But then again, God is not exempt here from anything to do with hell, since in this view hell arises from the possibility not to like what God likes and what therefore is. So why create such possibility? I mean, what is the point of creating creatures which can dislike the way things are, if things are gonna be that way anyhow?

  17. Annette Strachan says:

    On the New Advent site immediately above Msgr. Charles Pope’s A Short Teaching on Hell, there is currently an item; video:Whats it really like in the middle of an apocalyptic desert sandstorm? Although I cannot get the video to open,let’s consider it as “Hell” and that devotion to Our Lady of Mt Carmel is our saving grace. Thanks

  18. Scott W. says:

    On a slight tagent, I see a connection between the Four Last Things and the modern phenomenon of coming up with ways to annihilate the body. A few years a go it was typically the scattering of ashes in some place of hippy signifcance. Recently however a read an article about how someone has devised a way to completely liquify the corpse and what is left can be safely jettisoned into the sewer. What that seems to say is, “If I can utterly annihilate the body, God won’t find me for judgement.”

  19. Nate says:

    Agnostic,

    Thank you for taking the time to search for Truth and truly you have come to the right place to find it – the Catholic Church.

    Bender’s analogy is deeply flawed and does not adequately address Agnostic’s concern. Humans may consciously reject God, thinking that without Him, they will find freedom and happiness. What most humans don’t pause to think about is that EVERYTHING that is good in their lives comes from God. Instead, they focus on things like the Ten Commandments or an aspect of the Church’s teaching that they find unpleasant and assess that they will be happy if they can live without the encumbrance of God’s rules. And they probably do find some measure of pleasure or comfort living outside those rules. However, they fail to understand that every bit of real joy, happiness, and love that we have stems from our relationship to God and our relationship to others insofar as they are a reflection of our proper relationship to God. I would suggest that most people who reject God do so without contemplating the implications of what life would be without Him. This is particularly the case since we have not been graced with the Beatific Vision. We don’t even know what we are missing. God, of course, understands all this and, therefore, assigns these grisly torments to Hell as a means of discouraging people from making a terrible mistake that we can’t possibly understand. God is omnipresent in our earthly lives and we cannot understand the implications of separation from Him and the complete removal of all that He brings to our lives. But, lets be clear – the physical torments of Hell are not even close to the worst aspect of Hell – separation from God is. We can find evidence of this in the teachings on Purgatory, where there is also terrible pain stemming from purification but the souls suffering there are joyful because they are aware of the certainty that, at some point, they will be in Heaven with God. The torments are apparently bearable, separation from God is not.
    Bender’s analogy doesn’t work because a human daughter may, perhaps, be happy separated from her human father but she is incapable of being happy separated from God because true joy, happiness, and love cannot exist without Him.

  20. Michael says:

    Interested Agnostic,

    I have to disagree with your statement that Catholicism is “internally inconsistent.” Exactly the opposite is the case; I think I recall more than one agnostic/atheist conceding that if he admitted God’s existence, Catholicism would be the automatic next step, since it is the only theistic religion which is consistent with itself. There is a book I wrote (“Rational Faith: Proof of the Existence of God, the Falsity of Atheism, and the Truth of Catholicism”: http://www.amazon.com/Rational-Faith-Existence-Catholicism-ebook/dp/B0084OTP2S) which addresses this and many other topics more thoroughly if you care to explore it further

    I don’t have time to reply to all of your objections, but I would like to address two:

    1. You seem to hold that God more or less arbitrarily attached pain and torment to the loss of Himself which constitutes the principal pain of Hell. I would argue, and I think St. Thomas Aquinas would as well, that human beings are such that it could not be otherwise than that losing access to God for all eternity would ipso facto produce pain and torment. Put differently, since our eyes by nature enable us to see, it wouldn’t be possible to tear out your eyes without also becoming blind. It wouldn’t make any sense to complain that it was “unfair” or “arbitrary” that blindness followed upon the loss of your eyes. The ability to see and the possession of eyes are intrinsically connected. Similarly, since human beings desire what is good, since all created goods are limited, and since happiness can only be found in a limitless good, therefore humans will never be happy without a connection with the unlimited and infinite Good (i.e., God Himself). Therefore there is nothing arbitrary about Hell being filled with torment; it could not be other than tormenting to be deprived by one’s own fault for all eternity of the sole Being for Whom we were created and Who can make us happy.

    Two other objections you made about Hell, if I recall, were that the damned cannot some day decide that they want God, and that they shouldn’t be tortured by being cast away from Someone they hate in any event.

    To the first, Fr. J.P. Arendzen has a good quote about this which I will paraphrase, correcting a common caricature of Hell. Fr. Arendzen says that people picture to themselves the damned burning in Hell and begging eternally that God would forgive them, and God refusing despite their unceasing supplication. He points out that this picture is completely wrong; the damned, if they repented, would be pardoned immediately. The point is that they never do repent; that is why Hell is truly populated with villainous reprobates, so villainous, in fact, that although they see what a disaster they have made of their existence, their obstinacy and pride makes them refuse–ever–to repent. They would rather be miserable without God than repentant with Him. “This is irrational!” you object. Of course it is. All sin is irrational.

    To the second objection, the damned are tortured in part by their own evil dispositions such as despair; as St. Thomas says, every act of the will in them is filled with malice. Thus they know that God is infinitely good, that He alone can make them happy, that He alone is worthy of infinite love, but in spite of this knowledge, they hate and despise Him. It is likely that they even recognize how absurd it is to hate and despise Someone worthy of all love, but this self-inflicted inability to love Him Who ought to be loved is in fact one of the torments of Hell. We can easily see analogies to this sort of behavior even in this world. Many people have doubtless had the experience of confronting some unpleasant fact or truth, knowing that it is true, but hating and despising that truth while still knowing that they ought to act in accordance with it. The drug addict, for instance, may know that doing drugs is bad for him, may know that he has made a mess of his life and may hate himself for his moral cowardice and weakness in refusing to get off the drugs. But in spite of that he keeps using. You might say “He shouldn’t be tortured by his addictions if he hates being sober anyway,” and yet he is.

    2. You also objected about purported changes to Catholic teaching. I’ll preface by saying that I am a traditionalist and deplore the disastrous apostasy which has undeniably taken place among many (not excluding hierarchical authorities) over the last half-century. With that conceded, I deny that any substantial, real, formal change of Catholic teaching has or ever could take place. The Church has never at one time said “We define and pronounce that A is true” and at another time said “A is not true.” The key word there is “formal” (i.e., Creeds, infallible papal definitions or conciliar definitions, etc.). If you can find a quote from John Paul II denying that real fire exists in Hell, that would simply mean that John Paul was wrong, not that Catholic teaching has changed. The First Vatican Council defined papal infallibility not only to tell us when popes ARE infallible, but also to tell us that, outside a limited range of circumstances, they are not infallible and can and have erred even on matters of faith (cf. Pope John XXII in the 14th century). If you are indeed familiar with Catholic teaching, you are probably familiar with this.

  21. ron a. says:

    How can any of us, through rationalization, come even remotely close to understanding God and His creation? Why would a good God create a hell? Or, more mundanely, why does God allow bad things happen to good people? Some questions must remain that, simply questions. The answer ultimately relying on the assent of faith. And, in fact, that’s the valid justification for the Church and Her Magisterium.

    Yes, God is good and benevolent. So my Faith tells me. But, it’s REASONABLE to assume He’s much more than that. However: A good God created man. A good God gave man a good earth. A good God gave man a second chance through Jesus Christ, Himself both God and man. Thus a good God has opened the gates to eternal happiness.with Him (and what greater gift can there be?). And, a good God gave (and gives) us so much more, too numerous to mention. He also gave us free will—and there’s the rub.

  22. VistaNow says:

    It is nice to end the article with JMT-God alone is enough! The word of life is in the scriptures, the words of death and warning against death are also in the scriptures. Jesus spoke of hell. And He tells the truth. To me life is to embrace the Catholic Church to help me on the Journey towards the New Jerusalem. Therefore take for the journey the scriptures in your mind and Love in your heart then in a short while the synthesis of a renew mind and the deeds of a loving heart will make themselves present before the light of all creation. Less you wonder aimlessly, But if you must continue as an unbeliever – then while it is still day we will continue to drop seeds and offer to you words of encouragement while He is near and may be found

  23. thomas says:

    Most of the writers here try to bring God to their own concept or interest. God is not only a loving God and benevolence, but he is also a just God. If a man did a wrong to another and the judge says, ‘allright, though you did wrong, since I am a good man I don’t want to punish you’ and if he freed him, will you accept that the judge is a good man? Or if a student, (for a better understanding imagine him as a medical student), though he is not capable of understanding anything about the neccessary knowledge of medicine or medical treatment, will the authorities promote him since they are good? Or if a man caused severe damage to so many people by his rash driving should he not be punished for his negligence? Justice demands that the wrong doers should be punished or atleast make them restitute for their mistakes. Otherwise, we may abolish all the instiutions of the states, and religions and tell the people that they may live according to their whims and fancies.

  24. Jamie says:

    Here’s more description of what Hell is like.
    “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” -Revelation 21:8
    Hell is hot!

  25. Dante Aligheri says:

    Among the Eastern Orthodox there is a position that Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell are all precisely the same location. To be in the presence of God is to be bathed in uncreated fire and light. The saints find God pleasing while many find God cleansing or purging from sin. Hell is God experienced in hatred or loathing, refusing to be transformed by God in order so they may not be changed into what they are meant to be.

    After all, in the Old Testament God cannot be seen without dying or being incinerated (like in the case of Uriah touching the Ark). Maybe the first Indiana Jones movie is a good depiction.

  26. Dante Aligheri says:

    I just realized “CS” has already brought this up.

    There is a wonderful essay about this called the “River of God” by an Orthodox priest and convert from Anglicanism, Father Stephen Freeman, at his blog. Sometimes, there are some oversimplifications of Catholic belief, but overall it is well-written.

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