The Mercy of Hell

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, December 11

Recently, fellow Back Porch blogger Paul Fahey wrote on the justice of purgatory. While we usually think of purgatory through the lens of God’s healing mercy, approaching the reality of purgatory in the context of His justice can enlighten us to before unseen facets of what God is doing and what purgatory is and does. Likewise, while hell is a topic we usually view through the lens of justice, seeing it in the light of God’s mercy can reveal new meaning.

The doctrine of hell is dark. It is the punishment for unrepented sins in which we suffer eternally with no hope of redemption and no rest from our suffering. It is a place or, rather, a condition of the soul totally devoid of all comfort, all joy, all of God’s love and goodness. However, it is also completely just. Justice is every man getting what is due to him and those who reject God are due to have their wish, existing apart from Him forever. Since God is love and goodness itself this must mean also existing apart from all love and goodness and the suffering that must result is something that we can only imagine. This is the terrible and severe justice of hell.

In the face of such horror some may be driven to repentance, fearing such abominable separation. Many others however, in the face of such terror, conclude that God must be lacking in all love and mercy. How can a loving God inflict such cruel punishment on his very own creatures?

To answer such a question requires that we have some understanding of God’s mercy as well as His justice. Why is hell dark? Because it is a shadow and like all shadows its darkness is cast by a source of light. Hell is not so dark because it grows from a dark god; it is so dark because the light of God’s goodness that casts it is so great. God is love and supreme goodness itself. He created human beings in His image and likeness. We disobeyed Him but He offered us salvation. His own son Jesus Christ humbled Himself and died on a cross so that we may be saved. God made salvation possible so that every single human being had the offer before him to accept or reject God. In accepting God we are promised eternal salvation with Him in heaven, existing in perfect bliss in complete communion with Him. However, in rejecting God, we freely choose to cut ourselves off from Love and Goodness Himself, existing eternally divorced from Him.

While no one may want to go to hell many may will it – and God allows the willful rejection of Himself even to the person’s own self-destruction. He does this because he loves us as persons, persons made in His own image and likeness, persons endowed with free will. God could save everyone; all he would have to do would be to take everyone to Himself even against their will. He could obliterate our free will entirely, making it impossible for anyone to reject Him. It would even be just as we all owe God our unreserved adoration. However, to do so would reduce us to the level of mere robots. Like a computer, we all would merely be programmed to accept God. What a poverty this would be, incapable of love, compared to the boundless blessings God has showered upon us.

In respecting our free will God exhibits not only His perfect justice but also His perfect mercy in making love possible. We may choose hell and be damned to eternal terror but it is the same free will that makes the choice of heaven and an eternity in perfect love a reality. From the great light of heaven is cast the shadow of hell and the two cannot be separated. God, in His mercy, tolerates the shadow so that we may choose the light.

Our response to this truth should be two-fold: first, we should rejoice in the reality of perfect and eternal Love that God makes accessible to us. So much so does He want us to participate in this love that He willingly tolerates the privation of Hell for our sake. in the hopes that our choice may be free and so that we may approach Him as persons. Second, we should be ever vigilant to say “yes” to God always in our lives and seek reconciliation when our response falls short, lest we fall into the ever present danger of losing God’s great gift of salvation and, by thought, word or deed, damn ourselves to hell. This Advent season let us contemplate the constant danger of hell but let us do so always in the context of God’s mercy and His promise to us of joyous communion with Him in heaven.

Christian Ohnimus is a husband and registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He hopes to raise a holy family with the help of his better and more beautiful other half.

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