Wednesday, 25 May 2011
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!”