In the gospel earlier this week, we read a warning from Jesus that too many people just brush aside:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few (Matt 6:12-13).
I have commented on this blog at some length in the past on the serious problem of universalism (the notion that nearly everyone goes to Heaven). I will not create another whole post on that just now, but you can read one of those older posts here: Hell is for real and not rare.
But just to summarize, most people today have the teaching exactly backwards. Whereas Jesus says “many” are on the road to destruction and only “a few” travel the narrow road (of the cross) to salvation, most reverse what Jesus says and claim that many go to Heaven and only a few (if any) go to Hell. Don’t do that. Jesus is not playing games with us. No one loves us more than Jesus does, and no one warned us more of judgment and Hell than Jesus. And even though He doesn’t give percentages for each category, do not refute His words by trying to make “many” mean “few” and “few” mean “many.”
The question does surely arise as to why many walk the wide road to destruction and Hell. Is it because God is stingy or despotic? No. God surely wants to save us all (Ez 18:23; 1 Tim 2:4). The real answer is that we are hard to save and we must become more sober about that. We have hard hearts, thick skulls, and innumerable other traits that make us a difficult case.
If even a third of the angels fell, that ought to make us very aware of our own tendency to fall. This should make us more humble about our own situation. The fallen angels had intellects vastly superior to ours and their angelic souls were not weighed down with the many bodily passions that beset us. But still, they fell!
Adam and Eve, possessing preternatural gifts and existing before all the weaknesses we inherited from sin, also fell. Are you and I, in our present unseemly state and vastly less gifted than the angels, really going to claim that we are not in any real danger or are easy to save?
We need to sober up and run to God with greater humility, admitting that we are a hard case and in desperate need of the medicines and graces that God offers. He offers us His Word, the Sacraments, holy fellowship, and lots of prayer! We need not be in a panic, but we do need to be far more urgent than most moderns are about themselves and the people whom they say they love.
Consider some of the following ways we can be a hard case in terms of being saved (Disclaimer, I do not say all these things are true of you personally, just that we, collectively, have these common tendencies):
1. We have hard hearts and stubborn wills – While some of what this includes is specified more below, here is a good place to begin. God, speaking to us through Isaiah the Prophet, says, I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead is bronze (Is 48:4). He is talking about us!
2. We are obtuse in our desires – In other words, if something is forbidden we seem to want it all the more. St Paul laconically observes, When the commandment came, sin sprang to life (Rom 7:9). If something is harmful we want it in abundance, but if it is helpful we are often averse to it. We like our sweets and our salty snacks, but vegetables rot in the refrigerator. In the desert the people of Israel longed for melons, leeks, onions, and the fleshpots they enjoyed in Egypt. Never mind that they were slaves then. But when it came to the Bread from Heaven, the Holy Manna, they said, We are disgusted with this wretched manna (Num 21:5). We are obtuse, that is, we are turned outward toward sin instead of inward toward God in a Holy embrace. Jesus sadly remarked that judgment would go poorly for many because The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (Jn 3:19).
3. We don’t like to be told what to do – Even if we know we ought to do something, or to stop doing something, the mere fact that someone is telling us often makes us either dig in our heels and refuse, or else comply, but resentfully rather than whole-heartedly.
4. We are not docile – When we were very young we were fascinated with the world around us and kept asking “Why, Mommy?” or “Why, Daddy?” But as we got older our skull thickened; we stopped asking why. We figured we knew better than anyone around us. The problem just worsens with age, unless grace intervenes. St Paul lamented, For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Tim 4:3-5).
5. We love distraction and don’t listen – Even when saving knowledge is offered to us, we are too often tuned out, distracted, and resistant. ADHD is nothing new in the human family. God says through Jeremiah, To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it (Jeremiah 6:10). Jesus invokes Isaiah to explain why He speaks to the crowds only in parables: For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed (Is 6:10).
6. We are opinionated – We tend to think that something is true or right merely because we think it or agree with it. Having opinions, even strong ones, about what is right and true is not wrong per se. But if God’s Word or the Church’s formal teaching challenges your opinion, you’d better consider changing it, or at least making distinctions. The last time I checked, God is just a little smarter than you are. His official teaching in the Scripture and the Doctrine of the Church is inspired and you are not. Scripture says, All we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way (Is 55:8). Or again, Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? (Is 29:16) Or yet again, Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” (Is 45:9) But still many go on with their own opinions and will not abide even the clear correction of God.
7. We have darkened intellects due to unruly and dominating passions – Our strong and unruly passions cloud our mind and seek to compel our will. Too easily, without training and practice in virtue, our baser faculties come to dominate our higher faculties, making unreasonable demands for satisfaction. And thus we love to tell ourselves lots of lies. We suppress the truth and our senseless minds become darkened ( Romans 1:21). The catechism says, The human mind … is hampered in the attaining of … truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful. (Catechism #37). And the Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium 16, says, But very often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.
8. We are lemmings – We are too easily swayed by what is popular. We prefer ephemeral notions to ancient and tested wisdom. Tattoos, tongue bolts, and piercings are in? Quick, run out and get one! Whatever the fad or fashion, no matter how foolish, harmful, or immodest, many clamor for it. Let a Hollywood star get a divorce and soon enough everyone is casting aside true biblical teaching against it. The same goes for many other moral issues. What was once thought disgraceful and the stuff of back allies is now paraded on Main Street and celebrated. And like lemmings, we run to celebrate what was once called sin (and is still sinful from any biblical stance). Instead of following God we follow human beings. We follow them and the “culture” they create, often mindlessly. Yes, lemmings is the right image.
9. We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. Many seem to abide all of this quite well and make quite a nice little home here.
10. If all this isn’t enough to show that we are a hard case, consider a “few” others. We are so easily, in a moment, obnoxious, dishonest, egotistical, undisciplined, weak, impure, arrogant, self-centered, pompous, insincere, unchaste, grasping, harsh, impatient, shallow, inconsistent, unfaithful, immoral, ungrateful, disobedient, selfish, lukewarm, slothful, unloving, uncommitted, untrusting, indifferent, hateful, lazy, cowardly, angry, greedy, jealous, vengeful, prideful, envious, contemptuous, stingy, petty, spiteful, indulgent, careless, neglectful, prejudiced, and just plain mean.
So if the road to destruction is wide (and Jesus says it is), don’t blame God. The road is wide for reasons like this. We are a hard case. We are hard to save. It is not that God lacks power, it is that we refuse to address much of this. God, who made us free, will not force us to change.
We ought not kid ourselves into thinking that we can go on living resistant to and opposed to the Kingdom of God and its values, but that then magically at death we will suddenly want to enter His Kingdom, which we have resisted our whole life. Jesus said that many prefer the darkness. Is it really likely that their preference will suddenly shift? Will not the glorious light of Heaven seem harsh, blinding, and even repulsive to them? In such a case is not God’s “Depart from me” both a just and merciful response? Why force a person who hates the light to live in it? I suppose it grieves God to have to abide such a departure, but to force a person to endure Him must be even more difficult to abide. I am sure it is with great sadness that God accepts a person’s final “No.”
Yes, the road is wide that leads to destruction. It is wide because of us. The narrow road is the way of the cross, which is a stumbling block and an absurdity to many (1 Cor 1:23), who simply will not abide its message.
So, we ought to be sober about the Lord’s lament. We ought also to be more urgent in our attempts to secure our own unruly soul and the souls of those we love for the Kingdom. The blasé attitude of most moderns is rooted in the extremely flawed notion that judgment and Hell are not real issues. That is a lie, for it contracts Jesus’ clear word.
Why is the road to destruction wide? Because we are hard cases; we are hard to save. We ought not be unduly fearful, but we ought to run to Jesus in humility and beg Him to save us from our worst enemy—our very self. If you don’t think you’re a hard case, read the list above and think again.