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During my conversion from agnosticism, I found that of all the Christian doctrines that I encountered, the doctrine of Hell was the most reasonable of them all for me to believe. It just made perfect sense that there was a permanent consequence of my actions. I saw the fact that as each of my actions in the immediate life yielded an immediate consequence, why wouldn’t the total summation of my actions in this life yields a total consequence? The logic of consequence was there. If I am doing as God would have me do, then the consequences belong to Him and I am safe, but if I am doing what I want to do then the consequences belong to me and there is an unhappy price for that.
AND WHAT IS THAT UNHAPPY CONSEQUENCE REALLY?
No one in the Bible talks more about Hell than Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God Himself. He often speaks of “Gehenna,” of “the unquenchable fire” which has been reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and to be converted. In Matthew 13:41-42 Jesus proclaims that He “will send His angels, and they will gather . . . all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,” and in Matthew 25:41 He promises to pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”
This language that Jesus uses to paint the picture of Hell being a place of fire also made perfect sense, because throughout Scripture, from the smoking brazier with a blazing torch as the sign of God’s covenant of Abraham (Gen. 15:17), to God appearing to Moses in the burning bush (Exo. 3:2), to John’s foretelling of Jesus’ Baptism of Fire (Mt. 3:11-12), to the tongues of fire coming down from Heaven at the first New Covenant Pentecost (Acts 2:3), fire has always been used in Scripture as a sign of God’s purifying will being done on earth. Therefore, if God truly desires for everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4), then it follows those who voluntarily rejected the fire that unifies us with God on earth, would, in turn, merit the fire that separates us from God after death.
Moreover, this point of Hell being a condition of separation is very important for us to remember. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in Paragraph No. 1033, defines the reality of Hell in this way.
We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 Jn. 3:14-15). Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren (Cf. Mt. 25:31-46). To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
Sin is what happens when we disobey God – when we reject His good will our life for something less than that, and from the very beginning, with Eve disobeying God by eating from the forbidden tree, sacred Scripture has consistently informed us that the consequence of sin is death (Cf. Rom. 6:23).
WHAT IS THIS DEATH THAT SIN CAUSES?
Death has always been defined in Scripture as a separation from that which gives us life. In the beginning, God breathed the breath of life into man and he became a living being (Gen. 2:7). Indeed, as long as we are breathing we live, but the moment when our body is separated from that breath we die – that is the physical death. Similarly, there is both temporal and an eternal spiritual death that comes about through sin, as well as a temporal and eternal life that comes about when we receive the Holy Spirit (the living breath of God) (Cf. Eze. 18:4,20; Rom. 6:23, 7:9-11; Eph 2:12-13; Col. 2:13; Phil 1:21-23, 1 Tim 5:6; 2 Pet. 1:13-14). When we sin we separate ourselves from God, and if we physically die in that spiritual state of separation we go to Hell where we remain permanently separated from God, but those who live in the Spirit of God and Cooperates with His grace will live forever in Heaven with Him.
Again, death always comes about when we are separated from our source of life. Whether that source of life is our physical breath or spiritual breath – to be separated from it is death.
WHY SEPARATION IS ALWAYS HELL?
I think anyone who has ever loved anyone or anything knows what is like to be separated from their object of love. It’s Hell. Whether it was a spouse, your child, a pet, or, for some people, a material object – when you can no longer hold onto that which your heart longs for, it is Hell and it’s painful. Separation is always hard. In the language of happiness, when we are joined with that which our heart desires we are happy, but when we are separated from that which we desire we are unhappy. That is the dichotomy of Heaven and Hell.
If being separated from that which you love is painful, nothing is more painful than separation from love itself – God. Because we were created by Love and in the image and likeness of Love, from the moment of our birth our heart longs and searches for our true origin of life. We search for love because we know it is the only thing that can complete us. God gives us free choice so that we might search for Him freely and choose Him voluntarily; and it is by searching for love in all the wrong places that we eventually discover, through trial and error, that true love is not a ‘what’, but a ‘who’. God is Love (1 Jn. 4:8).
The greatest torment of Hell is finally coming to the knowledge of the truth that God loves you, but that you now are in an eternal state where you can’t be with Him whom every fiber of your being longs for. The gulf that separates you from Him whom you now know that you can’t live with is Hell. This eternal condition of longing for Him whom you were created for and Him whom you searched for causes the souls in Hell to scream in pain, their teeth to gnash, and screeches wailing that only Satan could enjoy hearing.
HOW DO WE AVOID HELL?
Other than knowing that Hell is real, the best thing to know about Hell is that Hell is a decision. God makes no one love Him or hate Him. He has chosen to freely love us so that we might freely choose to love Him. Inasmuch as God has never sent anyone to Hell, many a soul have freely chosen, through their actions, to reject the love of God and separate themselves from Him in this life and, consequently, in the next.
Indeed, God is truly pro-choice and pro-life, because He desires nothing more than for us to make the right choices with this free gift that He has given us so that we might have true life with Him now on earth and later in Heaven. Nevertheless, whether we end up in Heaven or Hell, God’s desire for us will have been achieved; that is, both the souls in Heaven and in Hell have come to the knowledge of truth – that God is real and He loves us (1 Tim 2:4).
But for now, know this; that God is actively in the process at this very instant of doing all that He can to get us to Heaven to dwell in joyous bliss with Him for eternity. He has made and is making every possible grace available to us for us to be happy in this life and in the next. He even went so far as sending us His only begotten and beloved Son to not only show how to live this life but to make living this life in virtue possible, through His death and resurrection. Therefore, to avoid Hell and to arrive in Heaven we must Cooperate with God through those graces and helps that He made available through Christ Jesus, namely prayer and the Sacraments of the Church, the chief of which are Baptism, Penance & Reconciliation, and the Holy Eucharist.
Remember friends, just as God is doing everything that He can to help us make the right choices in this life that lead to eternal life with Him, Satan, the adversary, is doing everything in his power to tempt us into making bad decisions, the kind of decisions that reveal us to be enemies of God and worthy of Hell. Therefore, if you truly desire God and Heaven, then reject Satan and all his pomp and lies in the name of Jesus Christ. Through the grace of God immediately turn from evil at all times and pursue virtue.
Of the many pleasures in this life for us to have, there is no sinful pleasure or choice that is worth spending eternity in Hell for. Indeed, just as Hell is a decision, so is Heaven a decision, and there is nothing in this life more important to fight for than eternal life with God – anything less would be Hell.
Truly, there is no such thing as a finite mistake. Every sin, as an action, sets in motion the consequence of a permanent ripple in time that will continue to affect other people’s lives for as long as this earth remains. Consider the extreme example of Hitler’s sins or fornication that creates a new child who grows into an adult and has children of their own. Not only that, but sin always affects more than just the person who commits it. Consider abortion that kills a child, may physically or psychologically harm the mother, and causes several other people to join in on the sin through their cooperation (e.g. the person who brought the mother to the abortion mill, the doctor who killed the child, the nurse who prepped the mother, the person who owns the building where these murders are being committed). Even lies live forever – they never die. Long after we are dead and gone our lies may still be roaming the earth and, as actions, continue to cause people to react. Catholics class Martin Luther’s heresies in that category of lies that continue to harm Christianity, through division, even 500 years later.
I would also like for us to get out of the business of thinking of Hell as a punishment. If I were to get into my car right now and head due north I would eventually end up in the city of Detroit, Michigan. Granted, Detroit may not be the greatest city in America, but the fact is that I knew where I was headed and never reversed course; where I ended up is exactly where I always knew I could/would. Or if I leave my home right now and hit the bike path and run at a good pace for about a half mile I would have to stop because I would be pretty winded, but my fatigue is not a punishment – it’s just the natural result of my choice. On the contrary, Hell is an expression of God’s love. For if He hated unrepentant sinners He would have just destroyed them, but, instead, He allows them to eternally long and cries out for union with Him. Yes, that longing is painful, but if you have ever been in love before you know that, given the opportunity, you would prefer to do nothing other than long for the one you love, because you know that your union with them is the only thing that can bring you true happiness.