Do Not Be Deceived: Hell Is Real

Last Judgment – Michelangelo Buonarroti (1541)

There is a verse from the Letter to the Hebrews that deserves attention because it is a more common problem than many imagine:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has an unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Heb 3:12-13).

When most of us read a text like this, we think only of obvious and dark cases. For example, someone’s tendency to lash out at others leads him to increasing violence and cruelty, or someone’s desire for possessions leads him to increasing stinginess and unkindness, or someone’s lust leads him to sexually promiscuity that is more and more debased and perverse. However, there are less egregious versions of what this text describes that can lead even religiously observant Catholics to become hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

An example of this is the outright, almost categorical denial of the doctrine of Hell by a large number of Catholics, even ones who attend Mass faithfully each week. Although Jesus taught it consistently, many today firmly resist the biblical teaching that many people are in significant danger of going to Hell.

It can be argued that 21 of the 38 parables have as their theme the warning of impending judgment in which some are judged unable or unwilling to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For example, there are sheep and goats; wheat and tares; those on the right and those on the left; wise virgins and foolish ones; those who accept the invitation to the wedding and those who refuse; those properly dressed and those who are not; those who are told, “Come, blessed of my Father” and those who are told, “Depart from me.” This is not the place for me to give a full teaching on these doctrines. (I have posted in more depth on these topics previously: here and here and here.)

Many today, even among the religiously observant, do not take these consistent teachings seriously. “God wouldn’t do that because He is love and compassion,” they say. “There aren’t many people in Hell, except maybe Hitler.” Most people are quite “hardened” in this “deceitful” view, to use the language from Hebrews. Even when presented with verse after verse from Scripture—most directly from Jesus’ mouth—many still stubbornly persist in rejecting what is clearly taught, saying: “Yeah, I know, but He didn’t really mean it. He won’t really do that.”

To illustrate, some years ago a woman confronted me after Mass objecting to my sermon, which included a warning about Hell for those who refuse to repent. (The Gospel for that Sunday included Jesus’ sad warning that the road to Hell was wide with many on it, while the road to salvation was narrow and only a few were walking its way and would find salvation). She said to me, “I didn’t hear the Jesus I know in your sermon about Hell today.” I replied, “But ma’am, I was quoting Jesus!” She did not miss a beat, saying, “Oh, please! We know He never really said that.” This reply indicates a hardening by the deceit of sin on several levels: she rejects the revealed Word of God in favor of her own views, she rejects the doctrine and warnings of Hell itself, and she remakes the Lord so that He conforms to her notions and can be worthy of her credence and worship. (We used to call this last thing “idolatry.”)

Listen again to the words from Hebrews: See to it, brothers, that none of you has an unbelieving heart … so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. This refers to more than just wicked behaviors. Sometimes the hardness is a refusal to believe revealed doctrines or to accept the Lord’s serious warnings. A world hardened by the deceit of sin will not accept that there are lasting consequences for the refusal to repent. Many have allowed themselves to be influenced by it, setting aside God’s Word in favor of human ideas and preferences.

Beware of this tendency, which is so common today. Study the doctrines. Read the warnings of the Lord in Scripture. Ask questions about things that puzzle or trouble you; pray for insight—but do not be misled into sinfully and stubbornly rejecting what is revealed.

The reading for Wednesday’s Mass contains a salutary warning:

Rely not on your strength in following the desires of your heart. Say not, “Who can prevail against me?” for the LORD will exact the punishment. Say not, “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?” for the LORD bides his time. Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin. Say not, “Great is his mercy; my many sins he will forgive.” For mercy and anger alike are with him; upon the wicked alights his wrath. Delay not your conversion to the LORD, put it not off from day to day; For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance, you will be destroyed. Rely not upon deceitful wealth, for it will be no help on the day of wrath (Sirach 5:1-10).

The Lord says these things because He loves us. He does not want us to be lost. In the end, though, God respects our freedom to say no to what He is offering. He knows how we are made and how stubborn we can be. He knows that the values of Heaven (particularly love of our enemies, forgiveness of those who have wronged us, and chastity) are not pleasing to many people. The Lord will not force us to live values like these, but they are what Heaven is about. Thus, He warns us to let Him instill a desire in us for what He offers so that we will desire the Heaven He describes. Listen to Him; He warns us in love so that He can take our heart of stone and give us a true heart to desire the Heaven He is offering.

Do not be hardened by deceitful teachings rooted in this world of sin!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Do Not Be Deceived or Hardened in the Error of Those Who Say Hell is Unlikely or Unreal

22 Replies to “Do Not Be Deceived: Hell Is Real”

  1. St. Faustina Kowalska relates a horrible experience of Hell: “I was led by an Angel to the chasms of Hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is!…
    There are special tortures of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse to say there is no Hell, or that nobody has ever been there, (or not know) what it is like.”
    “I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of Hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence…the devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of things I saw. But I noticed one thing; that most of the souls there, are those who disbelieved that there is a Hell. When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. How terribly souls suffer there!”
    In 1981, Mary, Mother of Jesus, visits six young teenagers (1 preteen) at Medjugorje, Bosnia Herzgovina. Some of these visionaries were shown Hell as well.
    The first seven apparitions have been recognized as supernatural. There are many prophecies recorded in the book and web site called, “After The Warning To 2038”. It is an accumulation of prophecies from Venerable, Blessed, and Canonized saints confirming 10 major “Storm” events that God intends to unfold on this planet to take us out of this chaos and bring us to the peaceful Triumph of her Immaculate Heart.

    1. Bruce, I think you are going way too far with these prophecies. Garabandal appears to have failed in several ways.

      Are you adding to the book of Revelations? (especially the time periods concerning Church ages)

      The first seven apparitions at Medjugorje have been recognised as supernatural but not approved by the Pope.

      I think a thorough personal investigation of apparitions and the associated prophecy is highly valuable, with much discernment and prayer (if one has the abilities). (Which I have done with good spiritual growth but I also needed much correction (I took them too far). Some will not be in a position to seek correction. Satan misleads in subtle ways and will mix truth with lies e.g. making an idol out of routine prayer and fasting).

      We must not simply believe these apparitions unless approved by the Church, and we must not extend our activities beyond Church restrictions or Church teachings (e.g. messages from apparitions that comply with church teachings are fine, if balanced with wisdom and full church teaching, and can re-stimulate our enthusiasm.)

      Medjugorje is a great place for pilgrimage, worship and prayer, I have been there. I accept the the first seven apparitions are likely to be real and I and open to believe that a proportion of the miracles that occur there are from God. However I doubt there is any spiritual value in waiting for signs or warnings (a great distraction, we wait for jesus) (no value apart from a fear induced prod, without expectant belief, to refocus on God and the Church, which is why God may allow them if they are not from Him).

      Prophecies of signs and warnings failed at Garabandal. One should not focus on signs, or expecting signs, or focus on warnings, or waiting for a warning, or waiting for a pre-judgement enlightenment of conscience, or a ‘time of peace’. It seems more like pride in having ‘special’ knowledge. We know that we will have an enlightenment of our conscience at our Judgement and we will have a time of peace when in heaven.

      We may die before any warning or sign or Jesus may catch us out with his second coming (We only thought we had plenty of time!.

  2. When discerning whether more go to hell than heaven or vice versa, it leads one to believe that half will be damned and the other half will be saved. In other words, there is a 50/50 chance you’ll pass the test.

  3. No one is sent to hell by God. Those in hell are there because they are unwilling to go to heaven. How so? In heaven there are no grudges, no enemies, no unforgiven disrespects, no ugliness either physical or spiritual. It has been said that, “The gates of hell are not locked on the outside.”

  4. “Bernard says that free choice, is the most powerful thing under God. But such a thing cannot be forced by anyone. The will therefore cannot be forced to will something of necessity.”–St Thomas Aquinas, Questiones Disputatae de Veritate, TRUTH, Question Twenty-Two: The Tendency to Good and the Will, ARTICLE V, Does the will will anything necessarily?

    That is an incredible claim, a claim by Bernard that St. Thomas doesn’t dispute. It is on the basis of such claims that hell is a reasonable and appropriate destination for some of us, us of the human species, that is.

    People who accept an afterlife, but deny that anyone is in or can go to hell, usually either look at themselves as too pathetic to undergo judgement or they look on God as too pathetic to render judgement.

    One reason to accept Bernard’s claim, as seconded by St. Thomas, is that from their view one can conclude that no matter what my circumstances are I am someone, someone who matters, someone whose decisions matter.

    We don’t have to pretend that we are fluent in fifteen languages, or such idiotic things, to see dignity in ourselves, in the camp Bernard.

    The ‘no hell’ view smells of the culture of death.

  5. “Say not, “Great is his mercy; my many sins he will forgive.” For mercy and anger alike are with him; upon the wicked alights his wrath.”

    I think a huge problem these days is that people do not understand what forgiveness truly is. To come to the Lord and “expect” forgiveness, is to come un-repentant, ie, without a wedding garment. The prevailing notion today is that forgiveness means “it’s all right.” It isn’t all right. If you have done something wrong, forgiveness does not erase that. You made a choice that you cannot escape from. Forgiveness frees the wronged party (ie, the person you sinned against)from the attachment to your sin, however you are and will continue to be bound by your sin regardless of their forgiveness until YOU REPENT of that sin. Repentance and Forgiveness work together to bring about salvation.

    It is a pity that people reject the doctrine of Hell. By doing so, they commit themselves to the very place they say doesn’t exist, for without it, there can be no Mercy. They reject Divine Mercy and by their own power choose the damnation they believe God would never impart.

    It’s really quite tragic how they end up being right.

  6. This is something I worry about a lot. I worry and pray that I may escape myself, but mostly I worry about dear friends who are caught in the mind set you highlight. They have translated “God is love” into something that means God is bound by His love to never condemn anyone to Hell, and certainly not to condemn anyone forever. But God is also just and He is totally free to do or not to do. I pray often that they will have no reason to prove their own theory.

  7. “Many today, even among the religiously observant, do not take these consistent teachings seriously.”

    I salute Msgr. Pope for this article, but if I would make a small critique, it could use a little stronger acknowledgment that the reason most Catholics don’t believe in Hell anymore is not simply cultural; it is because their bishops and their pastors actively preached to them the opposite and told them either Hell did not exist, or at least no one went there.

    Coming out of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the “liberal” seminaries largely adopted the teachings of Karl Rahner, and the “conservative” those of Han Urs van Balthasar. The thing is, they are both universalists in practice*, and far from the traditional teaching of the Church on the subject of salvation. If anything, the “conservative” here going farther than the liberal.

    Bishop Robert Barron (former rector of Mundelein Seminary) is probably the most famous and vocal proponent of the Balthasar-school of universalism in the US, but he is hardly alone, and seems to represent a kind of majority opinion.

    The end of it all is that this is a subject (but sadly, not the only one) where individual priests and the faithful, if they wish to retain and believe the traditional teachings of the Church, are almost guaranteed to find themselves at odds with the prevailing opinion of the current hierarchy of the Church.

  8. I wonder if Msgr Pope has viewed the Word On Fire video of Bishop Barron who says that there is great hope that Hell is empty. I am paraphrasing so i can stand corrected.

  9. @teo

    I think you can be certain that Msgr Pope knows.

    All that said, and the reason I made my own comment, is that I think it often isn’t enough to condemn something in the abstract, “a lot of people believe X, but actually the truth is Y.”

    That is a great start, but there remains a real problem yet to be dealt with if the reason they came to believe “wrong thing X” is because that is what their pastor/bishop/pope taught them.

    If we never reference such things, at the end of the day you’ve got this:

    1. Bishop Barron of Word on Fire says everyone goes to Heaven.
    2. Msgr Pope of ADW says not everyone goes to Heaven.

    So far, a tie. Let’s break it:

    3. Our Lord said not everyone goes to Heaven.

    Well, that settles that. But just for bonus points:

    4. So do the Apostles in Holy Scripture.
    5. So do the saints and the Tradition of the Church.

    1. ThomasL,

      You’re right on the proverbial mark. I shudder to think what the Judgment will be like for those responsible for teaching the Faith who lull souls into thinking they can commit mortal sin with impunity and are consequently lost. When I’m debating the subject with someone who has some theological savvy and my time is limited I refer them to Ralph Martin’s October 2012 work, “Will Many Be Saved?” It’s a direct response to Von Balthasar’s “Dare We Hope (all will be Saved)?” and is his dissertation on Soteriology for his Sacred Theological Doctorate. In such cases I tell my interlocutor to read the work (the ones I encounter never have) and refute it, then come back & preach Salvation Universalism to me.

    2. to @ThomasL: Where has Bishop Barron ever said or written that “everyone goes to Heaven”?

  10. It is hinted to in the New Testament that Judas Iskariotes was not saved. Then one wonders, what was his great sin? In the Jesus of Nazareth movie by Franco Zeffirelli (commisioned by pope Paul VI), Judas Iskariotes is portrayed as a liberation theologian who hopes for Jesus to be a glorious, political Messiah. So perhaps Judas Iskariotes was the first communist, but was disappointed with Jesus’ rejection of political empoverment. It may simply be that Judas Iskariotes was political opportunist without deep moral convictions, like Julius Caesar (who is also candidate for the first communist, elevating himself to Roman state deity for practical politics). We only know about Judas Iskariotes that he was a thief who spoke well on behalf of the poor, but was rebuked by our Lord. Another figure, in the Acts of the Apostles, is Simon the Magician. He was once a disciple of John the Baptist, as was Peter, so the two knew one another. Simon the Magician is a materialist who thinks the Holy Ghost can be bought for money. Somehow this materialist conviction reveals denial of human dignity. But the New Testament never explicitly says this or that person went to Hell. Because, nobody should care about other people’s personal fate with God. On the contrary, one should care for ones personal encounter with Love. Jesus says that he is our brother, and we are his friends, even unto death. But if we are bad friends who betray our brethren and sisters, we are dead.

  11. For many hell is right here, right now on earth . The suffering that mankind endures is so horrific and so unrelenting that it is unfathomable that God who is love and mercy would not look with pity on the millions if not billions of lost souls who know nothing of Love and forgiveness . Hell is cetainly real and mankind has created it himself through endless wars and mass destruction of the earth and all its inhabitants . The thief on the cross next to Jesus just did one act of kindness to Our Lord and Jesus told him that he would be with him that day in Paradise . God is looking for that one gesture from the soul to grab hold of them for all eternity . Gods mercy and love is beyond mans intelligence beyond mans ignorance beyond mans sense of justice and revenge beyond mans shame and condemnation beyond all comprehension is Gods infinite and all encompassing love and God will not suffer to lose one particle of His creation . That is how great his love is . He gave us his son to prove it and no one has yet to catch on to the fact that Jesus Christ paid the price for All not just some but all to be saved ……..

    1. That ‘one act of kindness’, by the thief on the cross, occurred as he was being crucified in unimaginable suffering.

      I am not saying we are God because we are His creations, created to magnify His glory, but have you considered that our challenge is so great, because in effect, our suffering is God testing Himself? If that is the case, Hell, may be very full.

    2. The thief confessed to his own sin and unworthiness before he asked our Lord to remember him in heaven! This is EXACTLY THE POINT!

      The man himself said:

      Luke 23:41-2
      “We indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
      Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

      He confessed his sin! THEN he asked to be with Jesus.

      Note too that of all the evangelists only Luke thought the incident was notable enough to mention; Matthew and Mark thought it just as well that we walk away remembering only that “those who were crucified also taunted Him.”

      [Edited for content – Blog Administrator]

  12. I have always understood that the Mercy of the Lord is not an EXCUSE to sin, but rather an invitation to repent.

    1. Romans 9:16 “So then, everything depends, not on what we humans want or do, but only on God’s mercy.” Reference: Good News Bible (Catholic Study Edition)

  13. Evil, hatred, cruelty and hatred exists in this world; what makes you think it doesn’t exist in the spiritual world?

  14. Thank you Msgr Pope for this important message.
    Heaven begins in the heart, as does hell. Heaven begins and grows with turning away from sin and opening the heart to God and neighbour and the truth of the Gospel. In a similar way, hell begins in the heart – with the hardening of the heart towards God and neighbour, and the truth of the Gospel. Heaven or hell are the logical results of our choices. Thank God for His mercy, that He seeks us out as lost sheep that we might return to Him, until our very last breath.

    Hell is real, but God doesn’t want us to go there. It is our hardness of heart that paves the way. A heart that knows its imperfections readily repents each day and willingly accepts to be bridled by the truth of the Gospel, to be led to everlasting life. May God give us such hearts always.

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