Saturday 2 March 2013

Hard-hearted Unforgiving God?

WARNING - This article is likely to make me unpopular.

There’s a tendency amongst Catholics to classify sin and to attribute to God a judgemental nature based on that of man.

Our Church has stated that if an individual dies with an un-confessed mortal sin then he will go to hell. It seems there’s no debate or any movement or deviation from that doctrine or stance.

But is this really always the case?

The Church states that a mortal sin is a grave sin indeed. Something really serious. Like breaking one of the Ten Commandments.

There’s no argument with that.

The Church also says that to commit a mortal sin the act itself must be a grave offence as already mentioned. The second condition is that the individual must know that what he is doing is a serious offence against God. And the third condition is that the individual deliberately commits the sin without undue pressure from anyone else.

To the human eye this seems fair and simple. But is it really the case viewed from God’s perspective.

There are those who believe that to commit a mortal sin you must also clearly and categorically break your relationship with God. You consciously and deliberately reject Him as your God and stand against Him.

This is an interesting concept which has given rise to a lot of debate amongst Catholic scholars and many others.

Whilst I do not deny that some sins, like stealing, murder, adultery in themselves imply a total break with God since they deliberately go against His Commandments; there are other sins which, I hope and pray, are viewed with more tolerance, love and compassion by Our Lord when He comes to judge us.

Let’s for example look at the third Commandment.

The Lord said to keep the Sabbath holy. The Catholic Church has interpreted this to mean we should go to Mass on Sunday (or Saturday) and that not doing so is a mortal sin. This means if you miss Mass on Sunday and you die you’re off to hell with no debate or excuse for your defence.

But, I ask myself, is this really so?

Let us assume that I miss Mass on Sunday because I have guests staying with me that weekend and I have to look after them.

It is a serious offence; I accept that. It is a mortal sin, and I committed it knowingly and deliberately because I had other things to do. We can debate whether it was a valid reason or not to our hearts’ content.

Now let us assume I died that very night with the mortal sin on my conscience. Am I destined straight to hell?

In this case, there has not been a breakdown in relationship with God. The individual still loves God and obeys Him as best he can but, on that one occasion, for debatable reasons, Mass was missed.

Sinning is an active act. When we sin it follows that we WANT to sin and we KNOW we are sinning at the time when we do it. A deliberate act in defiance of God.

It follows that to get right with God once again we must WANT to be forgiven and that we ARE actually sorry for what we have done.

Similar mortal sins would be missing a Holy Day of Obligation, or not fasting and abstaining when required, or breaking other Church rules or edicts.

Would a loving caring God use a human yardstick to judge us and send us to hell? Or would He see beyond the act of sin and judge what is in our hearts? Was missing Mass on that occasion an act of defiance and rebellion against Him? Or was it done, willingly I admit, but under extenuating circumstances?

I’d like to think that God would not condemn a soul to eternal hell for one misdemeanour. That’s not the God I was taught to love and respect.

Now, I am not saying that missing Mass is not serious … of course it is. Because it can lead to missing another Mass, and then another and gradually we can distance ourselves from God. Hence a breakdown of relationship occurs as other sins become unimportant in our eyes.

What I am saying is that God does not see things as black and white as the Church does; and that missing one occasional Mass, whatever the reason, does not constitute rebellion against God deserving eternal damnation.

He is far too big and far too loving to be really hurt by the occasional failing; and He is not as harsh and unforgiving as He is perhaps painted to be.

What do you think?


  1. A friend of mine's mother was dying and in a coma without having reconciled to the Catholic Church. This woman was beside herself, worrying that her mother would not be "saved". Still in a coma. her mother opened her eyes, smiled as her whole face lit up with joy, closed her eyes and died. A deep peace filled this daughter and she KNEW that her mother had seen Jesus, said yes and gone to heaven

  2. Thank you Melanie for this touching story.

    Our relationship with God is on a one-to-one basis. Jesus did not die forgive all our sins and to reconcile us with God. He died to save each one of us individually, to forgive our sins individually, and to reconcile each one of us with God. His sacrifice was not a collective sacrifice for the whole of humanity; but for each person individually; for He knows each one of us by name.

    When we sin, we hurt God on an individual basis. It follows that He knows our motives, our intentions and our actions on an individual basis. He also forgives in the full knowledge of what is in our hearts.

    God bless you Melanie. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. Victor, there can't be a dichotomy between God and the Church. When Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter and the power to bind, he was saying that Peter had the right (and obligation) to establish disciplines to keep the faithful focused on God's laws. So if the Church says it is mortally sinful to deliberately miss Mass on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation without a good reason, it is, objectively speaking, a mortal sin to do so and the person is guilty.

    A person must establish with his confessor's guidance if there is any doubt, whether the reason was frivolous or not. The frivolity of the matter determines guilt. So a person can die and go to hell for missing one Sunday Mass for frivolous reasons.

    Usually a person starts committing mortal sins because he is not doing the basics of praying, examining conscience regularly, and putting God first in his life. Jesus is the just Judge. After death, the time of mercy is over. Only justice remains.

    Jesus doesn't condemn for misdemeanors but for felonies. Actually, we condemn ourselves because after death we see in complete honesty whether we have lived according to God's and the Church's laws.

    Melanie's story is a great example of how our prayers for another person can obtain the grace of conversion at the moment of death.

    1. I understand, Barbara, your first paragraph about the power given to Peter to bind, or not, matters on earth. The thing is, over the years, Peter's successors and the Church have not always acted as one would expect Jesus to have acted.

      If I understood you rightly, in the example I have given, a good Christian who has missed one Sunday Mass would go to hell. But Christ never said so in His teachings, nor God in His Comandments. These are man-made rules just like not eating meat on Sunday, when that was a mortal sin. If it was a mortal sin then, how does man (the Church) change its mind and declare it no longer a sin? This implies that one person at a point in time would go to hell for disobeying the rule, whilst another (in current times) would not.

      You are right in that after death only justice remains. But I'd like to believe that God's justice, for only He will judge, would include an element of mercy. He would know that an occasional missing of Sunday Mass did not constitute rebellion towards Him deserving eternal damnation.

      This is a matter which has taxed my brain for a while. Hence my "un-popular" post.

      God bless.

    2. I meant not eating meat on Friday.

  4. I don't think this should make you unpopular, Victor. You bring up questions that a lot of Catholics ask.

    The catechism says that, while we may judge an act a grave offence, we must entrust judgment of the person to God's justice and mercy. I think the Church is diligent out of love for our souls. To help us avoid the possibility of being condemned. And, like Barb says, we condemn ourselves.

    It was also my understanding that we have the opportunity to repent up until the moment of death and this is where prayers around a deathbed are so important.

    Reading through Kings and Chronicles, lately, has opened my eyes to just how possible it is to fall away from God after nearly a lifetime of doing good. Pride can set in at any time and to those who have received much, much will be required in return. Still, only God knows the state of hearts at the moment of death.

    Random thoughts here, Victor - we haven't got to mortal sin in my catechism program, yet!

    God bless:-)

    1. I seem to agree with all that you say, Vicky.

      God is the only judge and His justice and mercy cannot be measured in human terms. He is God. We are not.

      I agree we have the opportunity to repent up to the moment of death, and an occasional missing of Mass can lead to another and eventually gradual falling away from God. That is why missing Mass is a mortal sin. I suspect that God, seeing within our hearts, will know whether an occasional misdeameanour, serious as it is, deserve an eternity in hell.

      God bless you.

  5. Hi Victor,
    This won't make you unpopular - I think you are simply saying things that have probably crossed all of our minds at some point or other. It has certainly crossed my mind :) How can I not wonder about these things?

    While missing Mass in itself is a mortal sin this doesn't necessarily mean that the person is in a state of grave sin because only God knows the person's heart and why they did it. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest (from the CCC - note the word malice).

    Added to that, we don't know exactly what happens at the time of death, right?

    God bless!

    1. That's my point exactly, Mary. Missing Mass is a mortal sin; but at times it is not done out of malice. In the example given, the individual chose not to go to Mass knowing full well it is a mortal sin; but he still did not go because he had guests that weekend. He did not break his relationship with God.

      As you say, no one knows what happens at the time of death. God knows what is in our heart when we sin.

      God bless you, Mary.

  6. Thank you Colleen. I agree.

    An occasional missing of Mass, serious as it is, does not constitute a breakdown in relationship with God. Obviously, missing Mass regularly is very serious and a mortal sin leading us astray from Our Lord.

    God bless you.

  7. Hi VĂ­ctor:
    I'm so glad you had the courage to post this!
    This is something that I struggle with many times. I agree with you. I don't believe an occasional missing of Mass sends you necessarily to hell, because the relationship with God is not necessarily broken. I like your emphasis on relationship rather than rules. I can follow all the rules that the Catholic Church prescribes but still not be in an intimate relationship with God. I can still be a Pharisee.
    And that's my current concern, that the emphasis on these black and white rules can lead us not into a loving, intimate, and free relationship with God, but on Phariseeism.
    God, in the new covenant with Christ, promised to put His law in our hearts. This for me means that we obey God's laws out of love and passion for God, not simply out of fear of His just punishment. This is the Law of Love that the Cathechism so beautifully describes.
    Jose D. Pinell.

    1. How brilliantly put Jose. Thank you.

      We can follow all the rules of the Church and yet be Pharisees at heart. That's well put.

      I agree with you. God bless you, Jose.

  8. A very interesting post Victor. I think about God's judgement a lot. Part of me wonders the same thing you do - is it as black and white as it reads? Does He consider how hard we try? Of course, I pray that He is even more forgiving than we think (which is inconceivable already). But I keep reminding myself of Jesus' warning to us ... be ready. If we are ready we won't have to ponder the gray area ... right?

    God Bless.

    1. Great point Michael. We should always be ready, as you say.

      I hope and pray God is as forgiving as we imagine and believe; and of course He knows we often try our best.

      May He bless you always, Michael.

  9. Unpopular? Never!
    You're so right: God is bigger and better than that.
    I always think that God's wisdom isn't judgmental; it's knowledge and understanding.

    1. That's so true Gigi. God's wisdom is not judgemental. He understands us and forgives us.

      God bless you.



God bless you.