Hell is not God’s Creation

November 20, 2011: Solemnity of Christ the King

Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalms 23:1-3, 5-6
First Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46

We all know and believe that Jesus will “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

We affirm that belief each week when we pray the Creed.

But perhaps we have not thought deeply enough about the meaning of this final Judgment. For example, we know that God is infinitely merciful. But in today’s Gospel, Jesus welcomes some people into His eternal Kingdom, but others go off to eternal punishment. It is hard for us to understand fully how God’s mercy can go together with eternal punishment, but we can understand it partially.

Today’s Gospel passage can help us. When Jesus addresses the first group of people, the ones entering heaven, He says to them: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father…” But when He addresses the second group, the ones entering eternal punishment, He says to them: “Depart from me, you accursed.” Notice how the blessing received by the first group came from God (“blessed by my Father”), but the curse received by the second group did not (“accursed”). The second group purposely and freely chose to live their earthly lives egocentrically. They didn’t enter into a friendship with God, because they didn’t want the lifestyle of love and self-giving that goes with it. For their entire lives they resisted and rejected God’s many invitations – the voice of conscience, the teachings of the Church, the example of believers, the lives of the saints, the beauties of creation. They freely chose to live separate from God. Now, after lives like that, would it be merciful for God to force them to spend eternity in His presence? No – it would be cruel.

Hell is not God’s creation, it is the creation of those who feely and consistently choose to live without God.

One way to understand this is to think of a normal, healthy family. In a healthy family, the parents are very concerned about the well-being of their children. They worry about all the bad things that might happen to their children. And so, in the early years they protect their children from harm and teach them to be careful, good, and smart.

As the children grow up, the parents have two choices. The first choice is to gradually give the children more freedom and responsibility, as corresponds to their age. But this is a risk. There is a chance that the children will abuse their freedom, as the Prodigal Son did, and do damage to themselves.

The second choice is to put the children in straight jackets and control absolutely everything that happens to them: force them to eat only the most nutritious food; watch only good quality entertainment, have contact only with good people, never be exposed to temptations or dangers. This way, they completely minimize the risk of injury, hardship, or youthful mistakes.

The only negative aspect of this choice is that the children are no longer being treated as human beings.

Which choice is more loving, more merciful?

Clearly, gradually giving the children more freedom and responsibility is the more loving thing to do, even though it involves a risk – the risk that the children may abandon their parents altogether, in fact.

God is our Father. He loves us too much to put a straight jacket on us; He loves us so much, that He is even willing to let us go, if we so desire.

That’s why the existence of Hell doesn’t contradict God’s infinite mercy.

Jesus has made it very simple for us to choose consistently to live in communion with God and not separate from God, so that we can find the happiness we desire here on earth and forever in heaven. He has done this by mysteriously hiding Himself inside every person we meet; similar to how He hides Himself inside the Eucharist. By becoming a man Himself, He has identified Himself with every human being. And so, whenever we find someone in need, whether family member, friend, colleague, or stranger, we are face-to-face not only with that person, but also with our Lord and King, Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus meant when He said in today’s Gospel, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did (or did not do) for one of the least brothers of mine, you did (or did not do) for me.”

And so, to build our friendship with Christ and travel the path to eternal blessing, all we have to do is reach out and serve those around us.

That’s how simple Christ has made it; he has given our smallest, everyday encounters an “eternal weight of glory,” as St Paul put it (2 Corinthians 4:17). Making friends with the new kid at school, defending the colleague who always gets bullied, supporting an unwed mother, adopting an orphan, staying late at work to help a coworker who is behind in his project, bringing fresh flowers to a relative confined to a hospital bed, praying with a lonely neighbor – all of a sudden, with Christ, these actions are no longer random acts of kindness; instead, they take on eternal proportions, they increase the everlasting glory of heaven; they reverberate forever.

In this Mass, Jesus will strengthen us with His sacred Body and Blood in Holy Communion, encouraging and inviting us to make His priorities into our priorities.

Let’s accept the invitation.

2 Responses to “Hell is not God’s Creation”

  1. Apache Helicopter Parent Says:

    Worthy Deacon:

    Thank you for your service to our Church and thank you for stepping in on Sunday to provide the homily. While I am quite a fan of yours, I do find this particular “second choice” in your analogy concerning free will somewhat troublesome.

    “The second choice is to put the children in straight-jackets and control absolutely everything that happens to them: force them to eat only the most nutritious food; watch only good quality entertainment, have contact only with good people, never be exposed to temptations or dangers. This way, they completely minimize the risk of injury, hardship, or youthful mistakes.”

    Okay, so let’s look at this:

    1. PUT THE CHILDREN IN STRAIGHT JACKETS: This would definitely not qualify as a loving option. It would be vastly easier for me as a parent to wrap our children in bubble-wrap every morning, set them in a closet with their books, and let them out every now and again for food (only the most nutritious, of course) and an occasional potty break. This is not love, this is torture (for both of us!).

    2. FORCE THEM TO EAT ONLY THE MOST NUTRITIOUS FOOD: I highly doubt that the majority of parents in this day and age are in any position to provide that on a daily basis due to either budget restraints or simple ignorance. Most of the Standard American Diet (SAD) is just that… sad. Nonetheless, I’m not sure if providing good quality food for your children and NOT having junk food in the house readily available should be considered an “unloving option”.

    3. WATCH ONLY GOOD QUALITY ENTERTAINMENT: Can you please explain to me how it is an “unloving option” to prevent one’s child (or even young adult) from being exposed to the CRAP that is polluting the average American home on a daily basis? Even the commercials have become downright nasty. When a child is told at least three times a day to “ask their doctor if Cialis is right for them”, we know there is a problem with what by today’s standards sadly qualifies as “quality entertainment.”

    It is for this reason (and many more) our children do not have access to anything other than the DVD’s that we provide for them. I am confident that the loving option in this regards is keeping your children’s brains clean until they have to deal with the “muck” of the world – and can clearly recognize and discern what is standard, and what is sub-standard.

    4. HAVE CONTACT WITH ONLY GOOD PEOPLE: This one confuses me. Why would I want my child (or young adult) to have contact with anyone who wasn’t “good” or perhaps acts inappropriately? Should I allow this because I am “confident” that my child knows better because I taught them so at an early age? No… peer pressure is much more motivating than any parental involvement.

    This kind of reminds me of the “sharks in the swimming pool analogy”. One school of parenting would suggest that is it best to throw their children in the swimming pool so he can “learn how to deal with the sharks”. Sure, they might get bitten, they might even lose an arm or two. But because they survived the experience (although with a mild case of PTSD perhaps) they’ll be much more “well adjusted” as adults, and will be all the better for it.

    The other school of parenting might suggest that it is best to first teach their child how to swim, how to protect themselves, and above all – HOW TO NOT LOOK LIKE SHARK-BAIT! Then when the child has had sufficient knowledge and maturity of HOW to deal with the sharks in the pool, then let them jump in. There is still a chance that they might get maimed in the process, but at least they will have a little bit more of a fighting chance, and perhaps even a blissful childhood they can look back on and draw strength from.

    5. NEVER BE EXPOSED TO TEMPTATIONS OR DANGERS: While I do not think it is humanly possible to keep one’s child from all temptations or dangers, we most certainly as parents are called to do so. I haven’t seen anything in Church teaching (scripturally or traditionally) that tells me it is “good” to allow temptations or dangers into my children’s lives. If anything, we hear quite the opposite. Do we not as a community ask “not to be led into temptation” and “delivered from evil”? Should we want any less for our own children?

    Although I am confident to assume that your homily had more to do with FREE WILL than it did with PARENTING SKILLS, the “second choice” in its entirety might not have been the most useful analogy – ESPECIALLY when preached from the pulpit. There were more than a few parents who because of the wording of this “second choice” felt their authority both undermined and challenged by a representative of the Church in front of their children.

    If you had stopped at the straight jacket, I am certain that we would have been hard-pressed to find someone in the congregation that would have taken exception.

    In closing, you might consider revising this well-written homily just a tad. I will even allow you to use my bubble-wrap to accompany the straight jacket. I’m sure I can spare some.

    Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. – Proverbs 22:6

  2. Anna Says:

    I think the point was missed just a bit in the homily. Of course we want our kids to only eat good food and only have contact with good people and never been exposed to temptations or dangers, but by forcing all of this on them, we have taken all free will and not really prepared them to make their own choices. We should be teaching them WHY they should eat only good food, and WHY they should have contact with good people, and WHY they should avoid temptation, and then, as the homily says, we should give them those choices as are appropriate for their age level. You did say this – that this was about free will – but not allowing some free will IS part of parenting and to allow or not a skill of parenting. I don’t think the analogy of getting thrown in with the sharks is a fair one to make in this homily. I think if you want to compare to teaching to swim, perhaps saying it’s wrong to only let your child wade to their ankles and expect them to be able to swim – or perhaps not want to do more than wade to their ankles – when they’re on their own and not bound by house rules.

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