Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

DAMNATION AND DIVINE MERCY

One of the constant challenges I get from my classes regarding the Church’s teaching on the existence of hell is that this narrow waydoctrine is incompatible with their idea of a merciful God. “My God is a God of Mercy, Troy, and He wants all to be saved. That’s in the Bible!” Which is true, God does will all men to be saved, but under certain conditions. Ah, there’s the rub! Not abiding by these conditions may cause some souls, perhaps even many souls, to end up going to hell forever. This brings us back to the problem of Divine Mercy. Many Catholics believe that there is a contradiction between Divine Mercy and the existence of hell.

When Luke recounts the episode in his Gospel where Jesus is approached by someone from the crowd who asks Him a direct question regarding the number of those saved, Jesus, in His typical mystifying fashion, responds by saying, “Strive to enter by the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Lk 13: 24 NAB. See also Mt 7:14.) I recognize the difficulty in Jesus’ response. If God wills that all men be saved (1 Tim 2:4,) then why would He make the door to salvation so difficult to open for so many? There could only be three possible answers: God makes it difficult despite willing all to be saved, Satan makes it difficult, or we make it difficult. Which answer is implied by Jesus?

The first answer is simply implausible based on what we know about God. As stated earlier, God wishes all men to be saved. Further, He sent His only begotten Son to save us, not to condemn us, even though that is what we deserve. Thus, in sending His Infinite Son, God offers the most magnificent and powerful gift He can give to get us all into heaven. Since He is infinite, His gift—namely, His own Son—lacks nothing. Therefore, we can conclude that God can’t be the cause of difficulty for souls getting into heaven.

Satan is certainly a likely culprit.  The problem with this possibility, however, is that he is defeated by the blood of the Lamb of God who is Jesus, and his power is vanquished. (Rev. 12: 11, 20:10; 1 Jn 3:8; Lk 11: 21,22, Mt 16: 18; et al.) Therefore, Satan is incapable of barring the doors of heaven since God became incarnate precisely to defeat him and to despoil him of his goods and power. It would make no sense to still leave him the power to prevent persons from entering heaven (see Lk 11: 22.) This can’t be the answer, either.

This leaves only one final option: that the door is narrow and heavy because we have made it so. Yet, this understanding is not without its problems. Christ came to save us, and this includes making us strong (see Eph 6:10-11; 2 Cor. 12:10.) How, then, do we make the door to heaven heavy if Christ came to make us strong? The answer is sadly very simple: through our pride, we compromise our ability in Christ to make our way through the narrow gate. Part of the message of Christ is to repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. This repentance entails overcoming our pride (cf. Mt 18:3-5; Lk 9:48, 1 Jn 2:15-16.) Simply believing that He is the Lord is not enough. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father” (Mt 7:21.) We must also display the fruits of repentance (Lk 3:8.) We don’t always do this.

Thus, the objection that the teaching on hell is incompatible with God’s Divine Mercy possesses a fatal flaw. It assumes that the souls of the damned are damned due to some defect of God. It overlooks the obvious reason implied by our Lord: the problem is with us! The door is heavy and we lack the strength due to a deficiency on our part, not God’s. God doesn’t send us to hell because he lacks love for us sinners, but because we refuse to change according to His grace.

This, too, is a bit perplexing and ironic. Doesn’t everyone want to be happy? And isn’t that the same as saying everyone wants heaven? Everyone, no matter how devout a Christian or atheist, chooses based on his desire to be happy. No one makes a decision based on the fact that he or she knows that this choice will lead them to utter ruin and pain. There is some good that they think that they are gaining, otherwise they would not make that particular choice. So, why then, does our Lord say that the way to hell wide and easy?

Christ does reveal a price-tag for gaining entrance in His Kingdom, however. “Whoever would come after me must deny himself, pick up his cross daily, and follow me, or he is not worthy of me.” (Mt 16:24.) A prerequisite for following him into heaven therefore is self-denial. This is the condition for gaining heaven. He offers us His mercy for the times when we fail; provided that we don’t give up, we have His promise for final victory. “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22; 24:13.) And this is why the path to hell is wide and many are they who find it: it has nothing to do with God or His expectations, but with our willingness or unwillingness to live a life of self-denial. Do we want heaven bad enough to deny ourselves instant gratification in order to make it through the narrow gate of heaven?

Perhaps a brief examination of conscience will help us identify which way we are seeking, the wide and easy one, or the narrow and difficult one that leads to heaven:

Do I set aside time (like 30 minutes) daily in order to watch my favorite TV program? Do I set aside time daily to make sure I get to the gym? Do I set aside time daily to get on the internet, Facebook, Buzzfeed, etc.? Do I set aside time (like 30 minutes) daily to pray?

Is my sports involvement (either watching or participating) sacrosanct for me? Is going to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation more sacrosanct?

How much time a day do I spend focused on finances, relationships, my physical appearance, my material goods? How much time a day do I spend focused on pleasing God and my spiritual appearance?

How much time a day do I spend thinking about sex or my own sex appeal? How much time do I spend a day begging God to purify my heart?

If we answer the bold questions in these sentences with ‘none’ or ‘very little,’ then we know that our hearts are firmly attached to this world instead of heaven. This is why to gain heaven our Lord told us to deny ourselves. This is what Jesus means when he tells us to strive for the narrow gate. We must be willing to part with anything that gets in the way of our relationship with Him. Divine Mercy is His gift to help us let go of those things because He corrects us with compassion and not harsh judgment. Mercy does not mean to excuse our defects and allow them to remain by giving us a free pass. This would mean that He doesn’t love us at all!

So, to sum up: God won’t force us into Heaven unless we want to go there. But we won’t want to go there if we’re attached to things of this world. So God, in His Infinite Mercy, gives us all the graces necessary to detach ourselves from this world through self-denial, making us desire Heaven and so getting us through that narrow gate. So God won’t force us into Heaven if we don’t want to go, because He’s merciful. And God will do everything He can to enable us to want to go to Heaven, because He’s merciful.

 

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15 Responses to “DAMNATION AND DIVINE MERCY”

  1. Louie says:

    Ηello, I desire too subscribe for this weblog to get most up-to-date
    updates, thus ωhere сan i do it please help.

    • Profile photo of Troy Hinkel Troy Hinkel says:

      Hello, Louie, and thank you for your note. You can also input your email on the left side of the page and submit it, and this will ensure that you receive our updates. Thank you!

  2. sam says:

    THen what about predestination? Does God not choose some and not others? Many are called, few are chosen? The “Elect” is a constant theme throughout scriptures. Have you read Aquinas on predestination?

    Think about this truth, for it contatins virtually within itself all the other truths on this matter: God’s love is the cause of goodness within things.

    Does GOd love all men equally? If he did, then wouldn’t all men possess the same amount of goodness.

    You are going to run into insurmountable logical problems if you insist that God absolutely wills all men to be saved. Aquinas, as usual, corrects your faulty logic.

    • Profile photo of Troy Hinkel Troy Hinkel says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that we will run into big problems if God absolutely wills all men to be saved. The Catholic Church teaches that God gives all innocent people grace to achieve eternal salvation. Pope Alexander VIII, in 1690, condemned as heretical the view that Pagans, Jews, and all heretics receive no grace from Christ for salvation. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” If what you are saying is that God punishes people for not exercising the option for heaven when He didn’t give them the grace to exercise that option, you will find yourself running into other huge problems as well. Banezian Thomism is not the Church’s official teaching. When my son was a toddler, he could not exercise his power of rationality. Would it be right for me to beat him because the prerequisite conditions were not present for exercising that power? Do you really think that a just God would damn people because He didn’t provide the prerequisite conditions needed for them to exercise their choice for heaven? I don’t.

      • sam says:

        THe church doesn’t have an official stance on the issue of predestination. But, as a scholar and acamedician, I’m sure you are aware of the two most prominent arguments. Thomis’ happens to be the only one that fits scripture and reason. So, I don’t deny that God grants grace to all men (Thomas wouldn’t either, as I’m presume you know). Still, a man is primarily saved because he was chosen before he even existed to be a sharer in divine life. God loves the elect more than the rest: this extra love causes the extra goodness in the chosen. The mystery of predestination is hard for most to accept.

        • sam says:

          Again, as Lagrange taught, the whole mystery of predestination and grace is virtually contained in this truth: God’s love is the cause of goodness in things so that no one thing would be better than another if God did not love some things more than others. As applied to men, God’s love is the cause of goodness in them. Since it is obvious that some men have more good in them than others, it is likewise plain that God loves men differently–some more than others.

  3. TeaPot562 says:

    Consider the parables in Matt. 25:31-46; and Luke 16:19-31. In both gospel accounts, Jesus teaches that at least in part, our response to the needs of others, and our recognition of them, is a factor in qualifying for heaven.
    Either rejecting the needs of others (material or spiritual?) or refusing to recognize them – in Luke’s parable, did Dives even SEE the poor man at his gate? Or did he consider the poor man as simply being part of the scenery? – becomes a matter for judgment.
    If we fail to see Jesus as present in our brothers and sisters, it should not surprise us if Jesus doesn’t “see” us as part of His elect.
    TeaPot562

  4. Doug says:

    I’ve often used a simple, legal view of this matter in reasoning on it. If God’s word says, ‘the wages of sin is death’ and ‘he who dies is justified [acquitted] from sin’ (Romans) then hellfire torture would be declared illegal in most “civilized” jurisdictions: it violates the almost-universal prohibition of double jeopardy.
    And, looking at the record of the first human sinner, his punishment was death—nonexistence—not life elsewhere. (“dust to dust”, it says somewhere.) Adam is a candidate for Worst [Human] Sinner Ever because he started from a state of perfection and perfect knowledge of the consequences; I at least have the “alibi” of inborn imperfection. Why should he get blissful ignorance in the grave while I scream for eternity? (Eze 18:4; Ec 9:5,10)
    Addressing the gut feeling about mercy that you mention, isn’t there a danger that hellfire teaching risks showing us as ‘creating God in our own image? Torture under man’s government is universally condemned, and universally practiced.
    “Choose life”, I see on Catholic billboards in re abortion; but the Divine contrast is “rather than death”, not life under torture. Please see De 30:19 for God’s take on this.
    As some of your respondents have suggested, the hellfire doctrine casts God as a sadist, and I think his word shows him to be otherwise. So my point here is to act in harmony with the Paternoster: to clean up or sanctify or hallow God’s good name.
    What do you think?

  5. Bayou Ben says:

    @Troy,

    A good overview of a tough subject. I paricularly thought the questions you pose at the end are incisive. If I may, I would like to offer two thoughts that may serve to make some of your points more precise. First, I believe that it is incorrect to say that Satan’s power is vanquished. Rather the Lord says that he (Satan) is the Prince of this world. It is not for nothing that Blessed Paul says that Baptism transfers us from the Kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Christ. A quick read of tje Catechism on this point will bear this out, as well as show that Satan continues to be an obstacle since he is one of the three sources of sin identified by St. John the Apostle (world, flesh, devil). Second, you do not (seemingly) take into account fallen human nature. It gives your article the appearance of Pelagianism, as if we only have to decide to stop sinning and then *poof* the Blood of the Lamb will do the rest. I rather think it may be well to add what the Catechism says in relation to the punishment due to sin, viz. that God does not directly mete it out but that it followa from thw nature of sin. Just so with the difficulty of salvation: it is a love of which we are not capable by nature and we nees the elevating powwr of God’s merciful grace, in union with our cooperation, to transform us by perseverance in faith and good works.

    It is not that your good article positively excluded these two pionts (at least the second), but that they are so fundamental that they ought to have been included.

    Pax,

    Ben

  6. Shin says:

    Redefinitions. It’s a problem. Everyone keeps trying to come up with something new to deny divine judgement and divine justice.

    ‘Then the Judge will say to them that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.’

    Matthew 25:41

  7. Shin says:

    38 Q. Did all the angels remain good and happy?
    A. All the angels did not remain good and happy; many of them sinned and were cast into Hell; and these are called devils or bad angels.

    God did not admit the angels into His presence at once. He placed them for awhile on probation, as He did our first parents.

    One of these angels was most beautiful, and was named Lucifer, which means light-bearer. He was so perfect that he seems to have forgotten that he received all his beauty and intelligence from God, and not content with what he had, became sinfully proud and wished to be equal to God Himself. For his sin he and all his followers were driven out of Heaven, and God then created Hell, in which they were to suffer for all eternity. This same Lucifer is now called Satan, and more commonly the devil, and those who accompanied him in his fall, devils, or fallen angels.

    Baltimore Catechism #4

  8. Shin says:

    Folks do a disservice to mercy by forgetting about how it exists along with justice, and that justice is a cardinal virtue.

    But then everything is getting redefined isn’t it? It’s easier than defending the true faith to a society where sentimentalism is the true underlying religion. In such a faith, Hell cannot be said to exist as it truly exists. It must be redefined. As much else that does not ‘feel’ ‘good’ is.

  9. Jerry Rhino says:

    One idea that I believe is false is that God sends anyone to hell. During an exorcism one of the evil spirits rebuked the exorcist who had said, “Go back to hell which God has created for you” by replying, “You idiot, God did not create hell, we did”.

    As for humans, God does not send any one to hell. Those in hell have gone there by their own choice. In heaven there is no hate, envy, revenge, etc. If one chooses to hang on to any vice after death, one chooses hell. If one chooses to release a vice, one chooses purgatory. If one has a clean soul at death, one goes to heaven, but these are in the minority. We enter into the place we want, not by being pushed but by entering freely with our eyes wide open.

  10. Matt Byrne says:

    As a student myself, I would encourage you to guide students who are troubled by this idea to read C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce.” This book has helped me understand that hell is a perpetual state of separation from God, and that for many reasons (many of them quite surprising) some choose this for themselves.

    I think it was Pope John Paul II that said that the path to Heaven and Hell begins on earth. If the choices we make are sinful, we are separating ourselves from God, and forgoing the love of God in favor of our own selfish interest.

  11. Art H says:

    I think this article is excellent and points out the modern cultural influence of the mass media that stresses that we should all strive for self and immediate gratification. I think that this has changed our views of what is important. I can see why our blessed Mother told one of the visionaries of the modern era, that souls are falling like snow flakes into hell.

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