I’ve recently begun to see holes left and right in the Catholic understanding of sin and Hell, or at least holes in my understanding of what the understanding is. Please try to address these.
First, it’s always said that God doesn’t condemn us to Hell but we choose it freely. However, in all of the parables and descriptions in Scripture we see God (or whatever represents Him in the parables) commanding sinners (or whatever represents them) to go to Hell. For instance we have the master telling his servants to throw people outside where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and in Matthew 25 we have Jesus saying, “Depart from me you cursed into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” I understand that it’s symbolism, but it still needs to correspond.
Similarly, the picture of Jesus in Matthew 25 doesn’t fit with the God is Love idea, at least as it is taught. As opposed to the image we are taught of God standing at the gates of Heaven beckoning, even begging us, to come in, we see Him harshly commanding us to depart from Him, calling us cursed. Now of course this does fit well with the idea of God is Love and Love requires justice idea, but that isn’t what is taught. For instance, I recently read a work, with imprimatur and nihil obstat, which states that God does not punish us for our sins on earth. This seems to be contradicting what has traditionally been taught, correct?
This ties directly into the problem with what sin is. I have always heard it taught, by very educated and orthodox Catholics, that sin is not simply breaking a set of laws, but is rather truly and deeply nothing more or less than the act of falling short of true happiness. In other words, we are made for a certain purpose, and acts are sinful because they work against making us what God designed us to be and make us something else. This makes a lot of sense, but it seems to create problems when we think about temporal punishment. If we’re breaking God’s rules, I can see punishment being necessary. If we’re just sortof… not being what we’re supposed to be, then I don’t see why there is a punishment for that other than what comes naturally from that. In other words, I don’t see why God needs to do it.
Lastly (but what is troubling me the most) concerns the actual “definition” of Hell. It is taught all the time that Hell is best seen as the state of being without God, and often taught that it’s not really a place at all. My concern is that it says in Matthew 25 (and is taught) that Hell was created for the Satan and his angels. Two things then. 1) If Hell was created, how can it simply be the state of being without God? 2) WE as humans were designed to be with God, so therefore the state of being without Him would be terrible for us. Angels were not, which is why it says and is taught that it is an eternal fire created for them. In other words, there’s got to be a pain aspect to it aside from the state of it. How do these things get reconciled?