Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Forever hell.

Father Ignatius was taken aback by Quentin’s question one evening when they were watching TV in the Parish House living room. Quentin owned a small garage and workshop nearby and every so often he would take the priest’s car for maintenance or to fix something that had gone wrong. That evening, he’d just returned the priest’s car when an important football match had just started on TV. Quentin did not have time to go home to see the game, so the priest invited him in and they both enjoyed a mediocre game seeing their favorite team lose.
 
But football was not on the mechanic’s mind when he asked his unexpected question.

“Father …” he asked, “if God loves us so much, how can he possibly condemn someone to an eternity in hell? Eternity is a long time … it’s for ever like.”

Father Ignatius switched the TV off. He poured himself and Quentin another cup of coffee. He was playing for time and wondering how best to approach this subject.

“There is this misconception,” he said finally, “that priests know everything. Now that may be true of others but not necessarily me …”

Quentin smiled and said, “No matter how bad a person is, or was, surely an eternity is a long punishment. I feel sad for those in hell for ever and ever. If it was up to me, and I knew that someone was truly sorry and repented after his death, I would forgive him. Is God not more merciful than me? Does He forgive people after they die, if they truly repent?”

Father Ignatius put down his cup and replied, “Jesus tells us about hell in the Bible. It has been described as a place where fire burns and people stay there for ever. Christ’s parable about the rich man and Lazarus states that there is a chasm between earth and hell that cannot be bridged.

“So, seen from what the Bible tells us, it does seem that those who go to hell are there for an eternity.

“Now then … seen from your perspective, a human perspective, this does seem somewhat harsh. No matter what someone may have done, surely an eternity is too extreme a punishment.”

“That’s right” agreed Quentin.

“But God sees things from His perspective, which is of course different to ours.” continued the priest.

“You’re right in saying that He is merciful and forgiving. More than any human can be. But He is also just.

“Over the years, many wise heads have pondered the same question which you ask. So you’re not alone here Quentin; you’re amongst the great theologians and philosophers of history!”

Quentin smiled again.

“Some have argued that a merciful God would in His own time forgive those in hell and they would join Him in Heaven.

“Some have also said that God will some day forgive even Satan. And that hell will some day be empty as everyone there truly repents and is forgiven as they rejoin God in His Glory in Heaven.

“Now wouldn’t that be wonderful?” asked the priest, “humanity totally forgiven as a result of the ultimate sacrifice that Christ suffered for us.

“That is God’s love and mercy in the extreme. Total love, full of mercy and forgiveness!”

Father Ignatius stopped for while; then he went on just as calmly as before.

“But nothing of what I have just said is Biblical. There is nothing in Christian teaching that implies God will eventually forgive everyone, even those in hell.

“It’s human conjecture, borne of human nature, human sense of justice and forgiveness.

“God sees things God’s way; not our way.

“As I see it, God’s love is so much that He gave us the freedom of choice. We can choose to respond to His invitation to love or choose to ignore it.

“God’s invitation is always open. Even if we don’t RSVP.

“Now those who choose to ignore God will eventually end up in hell. Whether it is a burning fire, or whatever else we may imagine it to be, one thing is certain. Hell is an exclusion of God.

“No one goes there by mistake. We choose, through our actions, to exclude ourselves from God.

“For how long … I wouldn’t hazard a guess. An eternity maybe … or as you and others surmise perhaps as long as it takes for God to forgive, once again.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” said Quentin.

“Yes I know,” replied Father Ignatius, “and as I said, you’re not alone in your thinking.

“Was it not C S Lewis who said that the door of hell is locked from the inside?

“We send ourselves to hell by turning down God’s invitation to love … and we lock ourselves in self-imposed exile, by continuing to refuse to love Him, by continuing to refuse to acknowledge our sins and repent; rather than God locking us in from the other side of the door.”

“I see …” mumbled Quentin.

“But I repeat,” said Father Ignatius, “none of this is Biblical. It is merely the result of assumptions from human minds who like to believe in an eventual ‘get out of jail free’ card which we can all ultimately use.

“If you ask for my opinion. I believe God knows what He is doing. And nothing is impossible to God. We should trust Him to do the right thing!”

22 comments:

  1. I get terrible fears about hell now and again. I found some peace when I tried to love God's will more than my own and see his judgments as the only lasting truth or reality. This gave me a strange rest within. I mean, I trust God, He held nothing back, not even His son, so it's OK to put any fears about the future on earth or in eternity into His hands.

    It's a lack of trust, fearing.

    So, I pray for trust.For all of us.

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  2. Victor, I've never before come across the thought that God might ultimately forgive even those in Hell one day. Can those in Hell feel regret and want forgivenss? I often wonder about that Biblical story, was it Lazarus? He wanted to come back and warn his brother about Hell and God refused his request. He did feel regret but God said no. Can God change His mind? Wouldn't He make the perfect decision the very first time? Is it a case of justice rather than forgiveness? It is all very thought provoking and interesting. Thank you for your story!

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  3. Victor,
    That speculation that God would eventually forgive those in hell is new to me as well. I think though we need to remember that in order for God to forgive anyone, they have to acknowledge their sins, desire forgiveness and ask God for it. I don't know if those in hell could or would be able to do that. But as you say, we need to trust that God knows what He is doing and all is possible for Him.
    Thank you for this thought provoking post. God Bless!

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  4. Hello Shadowlands, Sue and Karinann,

    The concept thet God would eventually forgive everyone, even those in hell, is new to me also. It's not Biblical and I certainly didn't originate the idea.

    But it raises many questions.

    We know God is love, ultimate love to the point of giving us His only Son to die for us. We know he is very forgiving and just too.

    If a human being like you and I can feel pity for those in hell for eternity; would God not feel greater pity? Nothing is impossible to Him. Would He not forgive those who eventually admit their sins and repent? Would you or I forgive true repentance? Why not God?

    Sue asks a good question: "Can those in Hell feel regret and want forgiveness?"

    I don't know. Presumably, like all souls in Heaven and purgatory, they too are "alive" and can think and decide. At least the Bible story about the rich man and Lazarus teaches us so.

    So if a soul in hell acknowledges past sins, regrets them and truly repents and seeks forgiveness. Would a loving God look the other way and leave such a soul in hell for eternity? Would you or I do that? If we, fallen creatures that we are, can be capable of love and forgiveness; then surely God can too.

    I don't have the answer, for I am not God. But I trust Him to do the right thing.

    What do other readers think? Does a priest reading this post have any views to share?

    God bless.

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  5. Hmmmm....Interesting thought!Who knows the mind of God? Surely not me!

    God bless

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  6. This is such a difficult topic to discuss. Fr. Thomas Keating, a Trappist, says that if there is a hell it doesn't mean that anyone is in it. As a parent, no matter how many times my kids 'mess up' I can't rest knowing that they may not be in my life. I can't imagine that God doesn't want everyone at the banquet - isn't that what Jesus did? But we do have free choice. Another theologian (name escapes me at the moment) suggests that because God reads hearts, motives, etc., he sees sinners as 'sick', his sick children. Lots to think about, thanks Victor for another great post.
    Andie

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  7. Very good and thought provoking post.... Thank you! I really wish you would publish another paperback, I would love to read it.

    You asked for my thoughts..... well here goes...

    I have been taught that God's mercy is endless and He would like everyone to be with him in heaven.

    He also gives us a free will and allows us to make choices.

    I believe that He will also forgive those who have been so very sinful, even up to the time of death if in the end they show true contrition and turn to him.... However, something remarkable happens upon death.

    Once we separate from this world, the human veil that had limited our view and understanding of God, heaven, our own lives, etc is lifted and we can see with such clarity the beatific vision; that is, seeing everything for what is truly is. We see God for who He is, we see heaven for what it is, we also see our own self and our life for what it is.

    This is the ultimate moment of truth. For many of us, we will experience pain that is unbelievable, seeing how we have sinned, turned away from God over and over again.

    There will be a purification like fire as we realize to what extent God loved us and how we turned away from him. The hurt will be painful, especially realizing the magnitude of God's love (unveiled).

    The good news is that this is purgatory. Painful yes, but not directed by God, the pain is the result of knowing the beatific vision and also knowing how far we strayed in life. We place the pain upon ourselves, our guilt, our remorse.

    There are many here on earth who have rejected God and when they die and see God will also reject him. One might ask, how can anyone reject God? Lucifer did!

    There are many in this world who had repeatedly turn their back on God and were void of contrition. When they die and that veil of humanity is lifted, they will also see their life for what it really was. There will be no excuses, no rationalizations,no explanations, only the truth. I regret to say that some will choose hell.... Yes they will choose hell, an eternity void of God.... just like the life they chose on earth, a life void of God.

    This is my understanding of that moment of death. It has been been composed from scripture, from the writings of the early church fathers, and from many men and women much wiser than me, a simple man and servant of Holy Mother Church.

    Deacon Pat

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  8. Thought provoking post, Victor. The thought of hell has always troubled me, but I don't think we can explain it away since Jesus himself warned us about it.

    I hope those in hell might have another chance somehow. As you said, we are not God. We don't know everything. And yes, God is so much more merciful than we could ever be.

    I never thought of the pain of viewing God with unveiled eyes, as Deacon Pat described. I so look forward to seeing God with that human veil removed, but if I did not know Him, how painful that would be. I'm so thankful for God's mercy toward me.

    I love the quote about hell being locked from the inside. That makes perfect sense.

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  9. Greetings Daily Grace, Andie, Deacon Pat and Sarah,

    Thank you for taking the trouble to write in. It's much appreciated.

    Thank you Deacon Pat for your full explanation of Catholic beliefs. I had not thought of death as seeing God "unveiled" and seeing everything differently. Your explanation does make sense.

    I tend also to agree with Andie's view that, as a parent, one always loves and wishes to be with one's children; no matter what they do. And it must greatly pain God to see His children consistently and repeatedly reject Him.

    Thank you Deacon Pat for your nice comments about my book. I don't have another story to write about ... just yet. But perhaps another E Book with a compilation of short stories about Father Ignatius may be a prospect. If so, it will be available to download from this Blog. I'll pray about it.

    God bless you Daily Grace, Andie, Deacon Pat and Sarah.

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  10. Andie,

    I've been thinking about what you said that there is no one in hell. That's new to me.

    I'll look up Father Thomas Keating on the Internet to check on this. Any further comments on this from you are greatly appreciated. Thanx.

    God bless.

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  11. I have asked Father Francis Maple for his views on this subject. He is the priest whose songs I post on this Blog every now and then. (Listen to his songs by typing his name in the Search box above).

    Here's what Father Francis says:

    Dear Vic,

    Thank you for your email. At the moment I am giving a Mission in Oxford.

    Re. God forgiving everyone. St. Bonaventure says that it is impossible for God to forgive the fallen angels because they are incapable of saying sorry.

    Once a person is in Hell Jesus Himself said in the parable of Lazarus and Dives that there is no crossing from Hell to earth, and we can add that includes Heaven. Those in Hell have made a choice to live there forever and from which there can be no revoking that decision.

    I would not teach that God will one day forgive
    everyone. He cannot forgive if someone is not prepared to say sorry.

    If you wish to print this thought on your blog I would be happy for you to put my name to it.

    Thank you for all you do to promoting the teaching of the Church and my work.

    God bless,

    Fr. Francis

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  12. Hi Victor, This is where we look completely at Gods Word. Jesus died for us...to save us from our sins..
    John 3:16 says it all. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him, shall have, ever lasting life."
    So to be saved, we need to believe in Jesus, and all He has done for us. Then at the end of our life, we go to Heaven. Like you say, its a choice..
    When you love someone dearly, you choose to devote yourself to them, not to your own selfish desires...How hard is that??
    The Bible makes it easy.
    I don't know why man makes it so hard?
    God Bless. Crystal Mary

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  13. Victor,
    This one is a toughie! I hate the thought of anyone going to hell but I think that there are people who CHOOSE hell just as some of the angels did. Satan has absolutely no interest in living with God in heaven and maybe some people feel this way too though I don't know why they would want this.
    Lots of great comments here on this subject. I really liked reading Deacon Pat's and Father Francis' thoughts on this! God bless you, Victor!

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  14. Hello Crystal Mary and Mary,

    Thanx for writing in.

    This is indeed a difficult subject to discuss for we really don't know God's way. It's not for us to understand Him, but merely to trust Him to do the right thing.

    Some time ago, I saw a short video on You Tube where a Catholic priest discussed the concept that God may one day forgive everyone; even satan. I'd never heard this idea before and, to my shame, I did not make a note of the priest's name or the You Tube video URL. I can't find this film again ... and I've searched You Tube for ages.

    The concept itself is not Biblical of course, but it does bring into focus God's ultimate love and power to forgive. Nothing is impossible to God. But it is not for us to second guess what He might or might not do.

    God bless.

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  15. Victor,
    I didn't see the You Tube video but I do know where this idea came from and what it is called. The term for it is Apokatastasis ("the restoration of all things") and both Origen and St Gregory of Nyssa discussed this possibility. Here is a link:
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01599a.htm
    or you can just Google Apokatastasis and lots of info will come up. Interesting stuff :)

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  16. Mary you're a treasure. Thank you for the link which I've read.

    No doubt the priest on the You Tube video was discussing just this concept.

    As you say, interesting stuff. It shows that even wise heads over the years do not agree when trying to understand and guess what God does and will do.

    Our role is not to understand Him but to trust Him always.

    May the good Lord bless you and your family.

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  17. You're welcome, Victor :) When I read your post I remembered my Dad talking about this years ago so I googled it. None of us can understand how God works - it's just too much for our poor mortal brains to grasp. As you say, trust is the key! God bless!

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  18. This is interesting Victor. I know the Bible teaches about hell so I believe it; but I'm like Quentin here and have lots of questions. I'm sure grateful that God let's us ask our questions, grateful that He's so big that He's beyond our understanding.

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  19. Hi Victor:

    You are right that God has given us the freedom of choice to choose the path we take in our life. Although many Christians today believes in only a heaven because they believe that love ultimately wins. But I say to you that hell is also real. I know so because I know that demons are real. I like to invite you over to my blog to read my post YOUR CHOICE YOUR DESTINY at http://CertaintyofGodslove.blogspot.com

    Please let me know what you think by leaving me a comment.

    Blessings,
    Paul

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  20. Greetings Mary, Tracy and Paul,

    It's true that none of us understand how God works and we have plenty of questions.

    Heaven and hell exist alright, whatever we might conceive them to be in our minds. And we can't believe in God and not believe in the devil as well. He is always there, ready to lead us astray from Our Lord.

    Nice to see you visiting Paul. We look forward to your return visits and comments.

    God bless you Mary, Tracy and Paul.

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  21. Sorry it took so long to get back to you Victor. I've read all of Keating's books and also have heard him speak several times. I'm not sure what the reference is but he's said it more than once. If you think about it, there has to be a hell if there truly is free choice, right? Again, Keating speaks of God as the Divine Therapist so the thought that we, his children, are sick makes sense. I also believe that it will be very difficult to turn away at that moment when the 'veil is lifted', the Beatific Vision but then again, the angels know God and some of them did. I also believe that the moment when we 'see' the love, our suffering will be the realization that we have refused that love throughout our life, so painful. But, here's another thing to think about...if hell is total separation from God, can there be a place (if you think of it as a place) where God isn't?
    Andie

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  22. Thanx Andie for taking the time to return to this.

    You raise some very good points. Yes, we are sick and it does make sense what you and Keating say. And I take the point you make that if hell is the absence of God then can there be somewhere where He isn't?

    Come to think of it, He does not dwell in the heart of evil men who continuously refuse to acknowledge Him and love Him ... so there are places where WE shut Him out of our lives, and out of our own self-constructed hell.

    God bless you.

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