So, I’ve got a question about hell. I’ve been told all my life that hell is the place where all people go who don’t accept Christ, and I still believe that, but I’ve also been told that it is an eternal torture for them too, even if they never were in a place where they never heard about Jesus. I’ve heard that some believe hell is not an eternal place, but where sinners are destroyed or annihilated, which seems infinitely more merciful. What do you guys think?
If you can, please provide answers with scriptural references that represent Catholic teaching.
No, unfortunately, the reality is that Hell is a tormenting place forever, just like heaven is wonderful and beautiful and not-boring, forever. One thing that many theologians explain is that people go to Hell who WANT to go. They DON’T want to go to Heaven because they do not want Good, and God is good, and they do NOT WANT to be there.
So you are Heaven-bound or Hell-bound when you die, but lots of the Heaven-bound go to Purgatory first, to learn the lessons of love they did not learn on earth.
Another thing to keep in mind is that God is merciful. Remeber that especially in this yer of mercy.
I think God’s mercy is especially evident in this little booklet “Heaven Speaks to Those Who Have Rejected God” from Direction for Our Times. This comes from an Apostolate under the authority of its local Bishop, who has a priest assigned to it. It is private revelation, so we are not required to believe it, however, whether one believes it or not one can be sure that nothing is written that goes contrary to ANY teaching of our Catholic faith, because, besides being under the jurisdiction of the local bishop, all works were submitted to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for formal examination prior to publication.
So, that booklet above “To Those who have Rejected God”] is what Heaven says to atheists. And we all know those! And what Jesus says to these is very merciful, as you can see. God does not want anyone going to Hell, so He gives them every, every chance. And he also relies on us to speak the truth to them, and to live our lives in truth.
The trouble with relaxing in that knowledge that God wants us in Heaven is that each time we choose wrong we get more comfortable with sin and harden our hearts and we can come to love and want only the wrong that we keep choosing. That is explained well in another booklet on that page, “Heaven Speaks to You”. In it, Jesus says,
You say you do not believe in God or you do
not believe that God would send people to
hell forever. I tell you today that it is not I,
the only God there is, who condemns souls to
hell.** It is the soul himself who chooses to
reside in hell**. Do you know why the soul
chooses hell? Because there are** like-minded
souls **there. A soul who aligns himself with
darkness does not choose heaven because
that soul would not be comfortable in
So you can see how its important to avoid choosing what our hearts tell us is sin, lest we get more and more used to it.
See Paul from Iowa’s post #4. The links to Blackburn’s essay are very helpful in finding out how Hell is spoken about throughout scripture.
As to eternal torture; Each person is only punished in agreement with what they did wrong in this life. Some people are more guilty than others, and suffer more.
I think it’s proper to say that Sinners are destroyed in Hell both body and soul, but they are not annihilated. Annihilation is a different concept from destruction. The soul is immortal and can not be annihilated, but it can be destroyed and it’s power to do continuing evil arrested. The ability of a person to “think” could also be reduced, so that their suffering is not necessarily as bad as it could be.
The proportionality between punishment in the afterlife, and sin in this life is taught in places like the parable of Lararus and the Rich man. Abraham patiently explains to the man why he suffers as he does in proportion to the good he had in this life, but refused to share with others.
However, and please notice carefully; God does allow Lazarus to return from the dead in response to the rich man’s prayer, from the fires; eg: as a warning to the dead man’s still living brothers. Abraham told the rich man exactly how his brothers would reject Lazarus, but God still heard the prayer of the man in torment in the flames.
So; note: God does not reject the good prayers of anyone, not even those who are damned. God does want everyone to be saved.
Actually, Vatican II did not say that. The Church has never officially said tha either. It says we don’t know what happens to them. It says it is not impossible for them to be saved, because God is merciful and we do not know all of his ways. But it is a great heresy to say that all those who live good lives will be saved, regardless what religion they follow. Moreover, a person who explicitly rejects Jesus and his Church for atheism, or Budhism, or Islam, or whatever is very likely going to spend eternity in hell, no matter how “good” of a person they are. Any other position leads to indifferentism. Indifferentism is the view that it does not matter what religion you follow, so long as you are a good person. It DOES matter.
“Outside the Church there is no salvation”
846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.337
848 "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."338
We, being creatures who exist in time, think in terms of experiencing our lives, moment after moment. But eternity isn’t like that. It’s always right now. That’s a concept we can’t fully grasp while living our earthly life–I certainly can’t. What I do know is that even if we do not want to obey God out of love for him, we should, at least, obey him out of fear of being forever deprived of his presence in hell.
Yes, there are many people who’s ignorance of Christ is “no fault of their own.” But probably not as many as we would like to believe. How many people in the world can honestly say they have never heard the Gospel message? “No fault” is a pretty high standard. Even “slight” negligence in failing to respond to the message of Christ fails under the standard of “no fault.” So where does someone fit who is aware of Christianity and of the Catholic Church, but are ignorant of the core message of the Gospel or the truths the Church presents only because they have failed to avail themselves of readily available resources (e.g., the Internet, or books, or seeking out and speaking with a Christian)?
“God can lead…”
“Can” does not mean “will.” It means that it is possible but we don’t know. If the answer was that God “will” lead such people to himself, then the Catechism would use the word “will.”
“…may achieve eternal salvation”.
Again, “may” does not mean “will”. It means that it is possible but we don’t know. If the answer was “will”, then the Catechism would use the word “will.”
What we know from the Catechism:
Those inside the Chuch will be saved, assuming they die without unrepented mortal sin.
Those who knowingly reject the Church cannot be saved.
It is possible that who are “invincibly ignorant” of Christ and/or his Church (i.e., through “no fault” of their own) can be saved if they live an moral life. It is, by definition, also possible that they will not be saved. That’s why the Catechism uses “may” and “can” rather than “will”. God’s ways are mysterious. We can pray for them and we must evangelize them.
The un-answered question is where those fit who who are reckless, or even merely negligent, in failing to educate themselves about Christ and his Church, and in failing to accept Jesus and enter his Church. Their ignorance is not “no fault of their own.” This implies that they will not be saved. I believe that a large portion of the world’s population - particularly in developed, Western nations - fits into this category.
I think you are laboring under a false impression. Merely because I cited the CCC doesn’t mean I “believe” all people will be saved. Please quote where I wrote that. You could have saved yourself a lot of typing if you hadn’t assumed what I supposedly “believe.”
Della, I apologize. My post said that the Church does not teach that “all good people will be saved” and that it matters very much whether one is Christian and whether one is in the Church. You responded by saying “Let the Church speak for itself” and quoting the Catechism. I took that as saying you thought I was wrong and that your quotation of the Catechism was inteneded to demonstrate that.
Again, I apologize that I misintrepreted your reply. Nevertheless, I think my post may be useful in disabusing some people of the false notion that we can be confident that “all good people will go to heaven.”
In the final analysis, what the Church is saying is that the eternal destiny of any of us is in God’s hands. Only he knows who has been faithful to the graces he gave us and who hasn’t.
I pray daily for those whose prayers are known to God alone because there are so many who are deprived of good teaching, of support for their faith in their societies, but whose hearts are open to God and desire to serve him as they understand it. Such souls are as precious to God as those who have every advantage, even more since they have a harder journey to trek on their way to God’s judgment.
I mistook what you were saying. It thought you were saying that a) God reveals himself to everyone through the natural law, and therefore b) everyone who acts in conformity with the natural law will be saved. I apologize if I misinterpreted.
I do think it is very important for everyone to know that merely acting in conformity with the natural law is not necessarily a ticket to heaven. God wants to be worshipped as he has revealed himself to the world, that is, as the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And he wants everyone to worship him within his Church, not outside of it. We simply cannot be confident that anyone outside the Church will be saved. We can only say that it is possible because of God’s great mercy but we do not know.