It is quite apparent to an impartial observer that Christianity seems to have jettisoned many basic beliefs into the ash heap of history. This is, of course, not generally true in fact, but the tacit acceptance of the removal of some “discarded” teachings permeates how many modern persons look at their religious lives.
High on the list is the existence of hell. We have been fed a steady stream of opinion, told with emphasis, that God is love and that He is so compassionate and wants every sinner to be saved. His mercy is made central.
Now, all the above is obviously true; but the revelation of our futures and our present standing tends to be woefully incomplete. Because we have lost a sense of sin, we have come to believe that we are the center of existence and that God (if He is indeed good) owes us eternal life. Funeral liturgies have often asserted that the person is in heaven, thus bypassing the necessary judgement of God hoping that, irrespective of how they actually lived their lives, they are enjoying eternal bliss. While we tend to do this in charity, we only mean that we hope the deceased is with God.
In all this we lack two things that are necessary for us to fully understand what happens after our death. The first is that the world has lost its sense of the gravity of sin. Sin is nothing to be laughed at or considered as a momentary defect. Sin is ingratitude to God who has given us life. It is ugly, vicious, and frightening. It is the only thing that separates us from God both in this life and in the life to come.
The second thing that the modern world has obscured and even eliminated from our understanding of spiritual reality and our future life after death is the justice of God. God is just and is committed to rewarding the good and punishing the bad. We have this sense in us as well, being made in the image and likeness of God. It is akin to our understanding of fairness.
To use an exaggerated example that perhaps shows this clearly: do you believe that Adolf Hitler should have been admitted into heaven? After all his murders, his destructive ideas, and his ending suicide? Would that be just?
You, I’m sure, can see the power of this argument. God is both just and loving. While I cannot say where Hitler went at his death, I can see that hell is a necessity if there is any fairness in God.
You may rightly say, “But Hitler is a unique type of evil.” And that is true. But what of the evil engendered by the adulterous spouse? Of the child molester? Or the serial killer? We might say of these: they are the products of the evil done to them by their childhood experiences. The fairness of God must factor this in. Yes, but when is someone responsible for his or her actions? Are we not also free to reject or work on treating the bad of our childhood? Considering the grace of God freely and lavishly bestowed on us in this life, the many opportunities we have to repent, and the pervasive presence of the sacrament of Confession, what excuses hold up in the test of time?
We can see why the reality of hell and the danger of its choice by us is declared in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the compendium of all the teachings and understanding of the Church and our Faith. In order that God be truly God, and in keeping with His justice and so that His Holy Word be not seen as deceptive or untrue, hell must be factored in as a necessary reality in the economy of salvation.
Even in the words of the old Act of Contrition we see clearly the two types of sorrow for sin, imperfect and perfect: “And I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments (the imperfect motive of fear of punishment); but most of all because they offend Thee my God who are all good and deserving of all my love (perfect contrition when we repent because of our love of God).”
Some people need something to fear so that they do the right thing. All our laws (and those of every other country) are based on this principle. We would like people to do what is right because it is right and that it contributes to the benefit of the community; but tax laws are necessary to make sure people are honest on their taxes. Traffic laws are necessary so that people are safe on the roads. And, unfortunately, hell is necessary for people who regularly blow-off the Commandments of God.
That means that hell is a reality. The justice of God demands it. But the mercy of God allows repentance up to the last moment of our lives.
Are there many who don’t repent? The Saints who have been given visions of hell have written in tears that many are in hell. Jesus also warned us: Broad is the way to destruction. Narrow is the way to eternal life.
The choice is ours. The choice is yours.
“Make sacrifices for sinners, and say often, especially while making a sacrifice: O Jesus, this is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary…You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.” – The Revelation of Our Lady of Fatima