Hell and GOD'S MERCY

Milena Kindziuk

The recent statement of Benedict XVI on hell was commented a lot. When the Pope said that hell existed an on-line discussion started immediately, and the Italian media rushed to give various opinions on that subject. As if the Holy Father said something new. But Benedict XVI reminded us of the teaching of the Church concerning that issue. The Church that is just celebrating the Feast of Divine Mercy. Since there is no contradiction between the existence of hell and God's mercy.

Violent reaction of the world

The sentence of Benedict XVI that aroused so many controversies in the world sounds, 'Jesus came to tell us that he wants us all in Paradise and that hell, about which little is said in our time, exists and is eternal for those who close their hearts to his love.' Commenting on those words in 'Corriere della Sera' Vittorio Messori reminded us that the Pope had been dealing with that issue for a long time and his opinions on hell and eternal condemnation were to be found in his numerous books. The Catholic writer and columnist focuses on the fact that the violent reaction of the 'world' is suspicious when the Church expresses her conviction about the existence of the reality that cannot be removed since the Sacred Scripture writes about this issue in a decisive and clear way. Vittorio Messori states that the troubled and disturbed culture seems not to react ironically but to hurl insults. 'The one that reacts this way forgets that the Gospel, i.e. the Good News, is called good news because in proclaims God's mercy, redemption and salvation in Jesus. Hell was not created by Merciful God but by man. God made man free, he did not want slaves but sons, and he does not impose his presence since he honours our independence', Messori writes.
One can find many comments on the Internet, for example, 'True hell is made by people on earth. The Inquisition, the French Revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, Hitlerism and Stalinism - this was real hell!!!' or 'Why should I go to hell - only because I do not trust people and do not believe in empty words?'

Belief in mercy is most essential

Hell as well as heaven and purgatory are the things we know little of. We know that they exist. We read, 'He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned' (Mark 16:16). Christ also says, 'Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire' (Matthew 25:41).

How should we understand that?

Theologians want to convince us that the biblical images of hell show the state in which man condemns himself. Rev. Prof. Jacek Salij, OP, claims that Christ threatens us with eternal condemnation because he loves us. Jesus respects human freedom. 'God destines nobody to condemnation. On the contrary: he gives all people the possibility to be saved.' 'It is up to us to use this change,' adds Rev. Prof. Jozef Naumowicz from Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw. 'The awareness of the existence of hell encourages us to have deeper faith in God's mercy. But it is faith in God's love that is most important.'
Throughout his pontificate John Paul II spoke a lot on this issue. For him hell meant rejecting God. 'Hell is the state of those who definitively reject the Father's mercy, even at the last moment of their life', the Pope said in one of his teachings. He invoked the biblical images of hell, fire and condemnation, stressing that they should be properly interpreted. 'They point to the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a physical place, hell is the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.' John Paul II continued, 'Eternal damnation, therefore, is not attributed to God's initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created.'

Sometimes one should experience hell to reach heaven

The Gospel is not the only means that portrays hell. So do art and literature. For example, in his 'Divine Comedy' Dante writes that hell is divided into circles with darkness, fire, tempest, rain; a gate leads to hell and there is pre-hell...
'Dante's imagination is very human', said Fr Jan Twardowski. 'Since man imagines all things using his measure. For instance, he can see God as Someone with a beard, and God must be very old. This image is possible only from the human point of view since God has no material appearance. However, I think that images help us find the sense of what we try to imagine. It is important to go beyond these images. They only serve to pass certain contents, to make us aware of many truths concerning our existence,' explained Fr Twardowski.
'The journey of Dante is a metaphor of human life that needs cleansing. Sometimes one must go through hell to reach heaven. One must be cleansed. Reach the bottom to go up. And to see God', said Fr Twardowski.

'And all shall be well'

Let us return to the statement of Benedict XVI. Referring to it the Italian press writes about various concepts of the existence of hell. They most often quote the thesis of Hans Urs von Balthasar that hell is likely to be empty. But someone replied him, and his words were quite right, 'Perhaps hell is empty but the fact remains that you and I could go there first', writes Vittorio Messori.
The history of the Church called this trend 'hope of ultimate redemption of all members of mankind'. The most famous promoters of the thesis were the two 20th-century theologians Sergius Bulgakov and Hans Urs von Balthasar. In their opinions where hell is Christ, the Rescuer, must be. And when a man calls, 'Come, Lord Jesus', he comes. Even after someone's death. Since God would be unhappy if someone were not saved.
This trend stretches the teaching of the Church that says that just after death man receives a reward for his deeds and then he goes to heaven, purgatory or hell. The teaching of John Paul II on this topic is clear. In his book entitled 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope' he wrote that God is the righteous Judge who rewards for good and punishes for evil'. And he stressed that 'former councils rejected the theory of the so-called Apocatastis, which says that after destruction the world will be renewed and all creatures will be saved, the theory that removed hell'.
Therefore, even if the Church never announced that someone was condemned the Church does not allow thinking that hell is, or can be, empty. But one thing is certain that God's mercy has no limits. And anyone that calls God's mercy can know that God will not abandon him. As God revealed to Julian of Norwich, 'and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'

"Niedziela" 15/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl