Thursday, June 23, 2016
Dismissing Hades: A Perilous Decision
At the beginning of his Catholicism Series, Bp. Robert Barron points out that Jesus compels us to make a choice. We are with Him or against Him. There is no third option. Why so a commanding request? The answer lies in what hangs in the balance. In a word: eternity. Heaven and hell. For many in out society the option is narrowed to one: heaven. As we have reduced the devil to a mythological figure, a metaphysical bogey man, a cheap carnival...so we have tossed his dominion, hell. If there be a hell, for many, it is the deposit for evil spirits. The elimination of hell is the triumph of the modernistic heresy called universalism: everyone goes to heaven. Surely that is something any decent person can get behind. But there are certain things you will have to be rid of first. Thing that many modern theologians and philosophers are trying to get rid of, by the way.
First you must be rid of the concept of free will. If there are no consequences for one's actions, then free will has no real meaning. If the outcome is the same regardless of what is done, then the impetus to do good is at best silly. There is no sense to judging anyone's actions. We may get together and randomly declare what we can and can't do at this moment, making morality a mythological construct. Morality is replaced with legality. Hence, you must get rid of the concept of objective truth. Truth becomes whatever is agreed upon with in a society. Justice is now merely a matter of the capricious whims of those who rule. In a world without the concept of hell, justice is malleable, random, and largely a weapon of control.
I have just described our society. In a world without hell, there will be no other possible road other than moral anarchy. Society will break down as selfishness is given a license to do whatever it pleases. No hell gives rise to the moral absolute of selfishness; there is simply no logical reason to be good. The reward is the same anyway.
But let's ask ourselves how this plays out in real life. Let's delve into human nature. Will a man who thinks he could lose his job and a man who thinks he can't lose his job going to treat their jobs the same way? Will a person who thinks they can lose their spouse and a person who believes they cannot lose their spouse treat their spouse in the same way? Will the person who knows his health can change for the worse going to treat his health the same as person who believes they will always be healthy? We know from personal experience that those who know that what they have can be lost will treat much differently what they have from those who don't. Greater diligence and care is shown; greater wisdom is applied. This doesn't mean that the person lives in a state of paranoia, only that they are more cautious with what they have, especially if they love what they have.
If this true for our interpersonal relationships, would it not be true in regards to God? Many will quote St John who says that God is love. This is revealed truth. They believe that it is this love that conquers the day and allows the person into heaven. God cannot cease to be what He is to punish me, right? So does God love those in hell? Yes. However that love is felt differently. The person who answered positively to God's call to relationship in this life will bathe in this love much like a person who loves the truth bathes in light. For the person who rejects that relationship with God, the same light of God's love will be a source of eternal pain, cursed like the person who loves the cover of darkness to hide their deeds.
Why cannot the damned change then? We are told in the Scriptures that the damned are given what they desired. They desired selfishness here, they will have it for eternity. The blessed chose to love as God loves, hence, they have also chosen their lot. Dante Alighieri, in his work The Inferno, had the damned forever engaged in the activity they chose over God. Where their endeavors on earth brought them a joy, now they are trapped forever in a futile loop of their own making. It makes sense. Hell is the complete absence of heaven, hence nothing of God nor heaven can exist in hell.
In Pirates of the Caribbean, The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Barbossa remarks on their lot, "The drink would not satisfy, food turned to ash in our mouths, all the pleasurable company in the world could not slake our lust. We are cursed men." Nothing of God can exists in hell. The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love...gone forever. Gone too are the gifts of the Holy Spirit; gone are wisdom, knowledge, fear of the Lord, counsel, piety, understanding ,and fortitude...evaporating like dew into the ether. With them go the fruits of then Holy Spirit...to know peace, joy, and such...all gone. Any impetus to convert is gone, because the impetus to convert is from God.
Now, a loving God would not will such for us. He would not create us for hell. This said, we might well freely choose hell. We choose it by choosing things that please us over God. We influence others to hell by teaching them that the things of this world matter more than the things of God. Dismissing hell is the ultimate way of absolving ourselves of our own selfishness.
So should fear hell as the primary way of spurring us to the right thing. Not on its own. Not by a longshot. Does the man who does his job well necessarily need to worry about losing his job? Security comes in doing the right thing. Does the person who truly love their spouse need fear losing that spouse? No. The selflessness of love brings about a security. If we love God, will He abandon us? No. BUT we must love God.
What does that love look like? He didn't leave us to try and figure it our on our own. He reveals it to us. To love Him means to seek Him first...not sports, money, jobs, pleasure, power...seek God first! God has revealed that worship of Him shows our love of Him. Keep holy the Sabbath. When we have to make hard choices, do we choose for God or for something else. Is the center, of the periphery? What we choose over God, becomes our God. The idea we can keep God quiet if we sit in a church building for an hour on Sunday is ludicrous. When we spend the rest of the week putting Him second, how does that say I want what God has to offer for eternity?
We may try to throw away the concept of hell. We may be able to strike it from all theological speech and all public knowledge. That does not make it go away. Your and my actions, priorities, and choices do have eternal consequence. In every story about a person in hell, they are surprised...shocked...that they are there. God informs them that they are there by their own choice. These aren't parlor games; they are real. You cannot say you haven't been warned. Make use now of the time allotted to you...turn back if you chosen poorly. Or remain in rebellion or indifference. It really is up to you.