If God is all-loving and all-merciful, then why does God condemn souls to Hell to burn for all eternity? I mean, I can think of some really terrible people that I might like to see punished with hellfire – but, I’m not God. And the Gospel says, “God is love.” So, why does a place like Hell even exist? Yes, I understand the concept of freewill – God gives us freewill and will not go against that gift. This means that we can choose to turn away from love, turn away from goodness, turn away from God, and our choices inherently have consequences. But wouldn’t a loving God make the consequence of turning deliberately and permanently away from Him a kind of nothingness place, just some sort of blah? Wouldn’t that be more merciful?
I was reading the novel Crazy, by William Peter Blatty (writer of the exorcist) and I came across a thought that puts an interesting spin on our understanding of the afterlife – of Heaven and Hell. These lines are addressed to the protagonist:
“Maybe heaven and hell are the same place, Joey. If it were a restaurant and everything they served had lots of garlic, if you love the taste of garlic it’s heaven, but if garlic makes you vomit it’s hell. Life is learning to develop a taste for what heaven’s got to offer, and then growing that taste to the max. You know, ‘soul formation’?”
Odd, but I like it. It’s an imaginative and vivid portrayal of the prayer, “Teach me to judge wisely the things of earth and to love the things of Heaven.” In our daily earthly lives, we are preparing our souls to live completely and eternally in the pure presence of God. When we do not judge wisely the things of earth and indulge in a steady diet of self-centeredness, greed, lust and pride, we fail to develop a taste for God’s love, for Heaven, and, so it could be said, we rather develop a taste for Hell. If, however, we do judge wisely and we feed our souls a steady diet of God-centeredness, of love, compassion, forgiveness and generosity, feasting on goodness and the holy and terrible beauty of God’s Creation, then we develop a taste for Heaven.
Now, I suppose that God could have made the afterlife something palatable to everyone – but, even the smell of baking bread isn’t loved by all, because some people pick up the scent of yeast or the source of heat and turn their noses away. So, the eternal aroma would have to be a bit bland and rather indistinct, not something that, upon entering, causes me to exclaim, “Oh, my God, that smells SOOOO good!!! And the divine fragrance must be all-consuming, searing into me – transforming me. The question is will I be delighted by the transformation… or find my eternal soul repugnant?
God lays out the Heavenly banquet before us, here and now. God does not force-feed us, but rather invites us to the table. So, if I believe in the afterlife, then I need to seriously consider what I am feeding my soul…
I’m interested in what other people think about Hell, as it’s something that I usually don’t think about. What are your thoughts? Does God do the damning or do we damn ourselves? Does Hell even exist?
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog, and I've written a book titled It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.