What Does Hell Really Mean?

08-30-2020Weekly Reflection

Our contemporaries, including many Christians, reject the notion of hell as something incompatible with God’s love and mercy. In fact there have been those who have maintain that at the end even Satan will be reconciled to God, a heresy called apocatastasis, meaning a restoration to the original state, that the Church has rejected as contrary to the teachings of the Faith.

There is no contradiction between hell and God’s mercy because God will not force mercy on anyone Satan included. The doctrine on hell ultimately is a meditation on the mystery of freedom, whether the freedom of men and women or the angels. Hell is the state of definitive self-exclusion (!) from communion with God and the blessed. We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love Him. But we do not love God if we sin mortally against Him, against our neighbor, or against ourselves.

To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means separation from Him by our own free choice. Jesus often spoke of the reality of hell: “Gehenna, “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who will lose body and soul. Hell is part of the teachings of the Catholic Faith: Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend to hell where they suffer eternal punishment.

The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, the Source of all life and happiness and love. The teachings of the Lord and His Church are a call to human beings to use their freedom with their eternal destiny in mind: Man was created to praise, reverence, and adore God and thereby save his soul. Earthly life is a time of conversion from sin and coming to God, which is not easy.

In fact the Scriptures warn us to enter by the narrow gate: for wide is the way and easy the way that leads to destruction but narrow is the gate and hard the way that leads to life and how few there are who find it.

God predestines no one to hell. For this there has to be a free turning-away from God as one’s final choice by persisting in mortal sin to the end of one’s life. Imploring the mercy of God means that He will give us the grace to live the narrow way and never use our freedom to reject Him in the end. For this grace we must all pray.

Everyone -- past, present, and future -- will be judged. Now, then, is the time for mercy, while the time to come will be the time for justice only. For that reason, the present time is ours, but the future time will be God's only!

St. Thomas Aquinas