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No Loss or Suffering in Heaven?

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Can God and the saints of heaven experience sorrow for those who have alienated themselves from the Lord and are lost to heaven?

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

A priest who answers questions at EWTN insists that the souls of the just will no longer remember those who have damned themselves.  He argues that this is necessary to preserve heavenly happiness and peace.  I do not believe this is the case.  As for God, our revealed doctrines allow no room for such a sense of loss in the divinity.  God is defined as the unmoved mover. He possesses all perfections.  He cannot be hurt or moved. Dr. Kreeft suggests that the answer is within the generations of the triune persons, “a system of self-dying, self-giving.”  Is he right?  The notion seems a bit contrived to me but it may be that I am not smart enough to understand what he is trying to say.  Certainly, there is a giving and receiving within the godhead.  Recent online debates are also resorting to revised calculations about the number of the damned.  Dr. Ralph Martin is often cited by those who further the traditional assumption that more might be lost than saved.  Bishop Robert Barron is frequently quoted by the other side— that most will somehow go to heaven. If the latter were true, there would not be that many to feel any loss about.  But of course, within the perspective of God, one soul is as loved as all souls. (There was a raging debate a decade ago between certain traditionalists that God hated sinners and thus the denizens of hell had forfeited the love of God.  The saints would then concur that they got what they deserved and that would be the end of it.  Sorry, but I do not think that is a plausible answer either.)

 

I suspect that the problem is that we are trying to resolve how we will know and feel within the unknown conditions of beatific vision and heavenly light. Currently our awareness is often blurred and everything is touched by an oppressive darkness:  suffering, loss, pain, sin and death.  Can we even imagine how things will seem to us when these elements are subtracted?  Theoretically we can try but on the level of real and immediate experience, it is all we know.

Sorrow is defined as “a feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others.”  The resolution in reference to God seems to be within the Sacred Heart devotion and the mystery of the Cross.  It may be that part of our conundrum is that we are still thinking in a temporal and terrestrial manner.  The secret may be in how we spiritually understand the Mass, which is a sacramental re-presentation albeit unbloody of the passion and death of Jesus.  We know that Jesus dies once and for all and that he can never suffer or die again.  The weight of the world’s sins included both those who would respond in an affirmative way to his self-offering and gift of himself as well as those who would still reject his saving work and join themselves to the devil.  Look at the apostles Peter and Judas.  Both betray and fail Christ; however, one will later be healed by his love of Christ and the other will despair and destroy himself.  The gift of salvation is available to everyone.  But not all will accept it, only the “many” that constitute the elect.  The sorrow of heaven is in the paschal mystery of Christ.  God as a perfect spirit cannot be moved; however, in Jesus Christ we have a God who has made himself one of us.

As pilgrims, we celebrate the sacraments and enter into the betrayal, passion and death of Christ.  We apply our many sufferings to the oblation of Jesus, for ourselves and for the reparation of sins.  We may not mourn or feel loss in heaven, but that does not preclude such sentiment in the present.  The mystery of the Cross cannot be restricted to one page of salvation history.  It bleeds through the many pages of the story.  Along with the sacraments, we are also called to take up our crosses and to follow Jesus.  Here again, any loss or pain toward brothers and sisters who have said no to God is also experienced.  This will later extend beyond the time of testing to the process of purgation.  We will suffer not just for ourselves but like our Lord for all those whom we love and would have as a part of us.  Parents weep for rebellious children.  Siblings lament the ravages of sin in brothers and sisters.  However, once translated into heaven, all the tears would have been shed and wiped away. The time for mourning and pain will come to an end.

The saints in heaven fully embrace divine providence.  The emphasis is upon the goodness of God, what he has done for us and the offer of freedom— not the misuse of freedom or the rejection of God’s gifts.  There is solace to be found in that our Lord as both the Divine Justice and the Divine Mercy has given us every opportunity to share his life and presence.  Those who have turned away are remembered, but as those who have misused their freedom.  They received what they wanted.  God will not force himself upon his children.

God will so saturate us with his joy and his presence that there will no room or space in us for sadness or sorrow in heaven.  That part of the dance will be completed.  That element of the celestial harmony will already be sung.  God withdraws himself from the damned only because they hate him.  Nevertheless, a spark remains that keeps them in existence.  This miniscule spark is what constitutes the legendary and frightening fire of hell.  Poor but happy souls will be perfected (or healed) and saints will dance for joy in the great conflagration of God’s love and the damned will withdraw in pain from the smallest glint of a flame.

Dr. Kreeft wonders about the tears of Mary for wayward children.  Here again, I would return to the mystery of Christ’s saving work.  Mary is the sorrowful Mother at the hill of Calvary.  She weeps not only for her Son but for all who would become her spiritual children.  She will take the dead body of Jesus into her arms.  While never ordained a priest, she would have every right to say, “This is my flesh.  This is my blood.”  There is a profound unity between the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  They beat in unison, loving not just the holiest of men and women, but also those who are wayward and the most prodigal.  There is something eternal about that moment at the Cross.  Jesus offers himself to the Father as a sin offering for the world.  However, in a spiritual sense, and as the new Eve, Mary joins Jesus in this precious offering or surrender.  Mary was always the handmaid of the temple, first of the temple built by men and now the temple of Christ’s body.  Even as we begin to tear it down, Mary holds her Son in her arms, seeking already to rebuild this temple— an effort made complete in the resurrection and ascension.

We can never fully appreciate the immense suffering of our Lord on the Cross.  This is because he was a divine Person.  It is said that with a greater depth of love there comes an increased capacity for pain or suffering.  God neither created nor redeemed us from necessity.  He fashioned us for himself with a perfect freedom.  He wanted us to love him in freely in return.  The measure of the Cross is to free or liberate us from the bondage to sin and death.  While we preferred slavery, he would again make us free.  The infinite love of God is measured for us on the Cross.  This is how much God loves us.  God makes himself into an absurdity for us, and one that the fallen angels could not stomach.  The almighty is made weak.  The invulnerable is wounded.  The eternal is put to death.  Here is the full measure of pain and loss.  While it could not last it would never be dismissed.  It is a moment in time given everlasting significance.  Heaven touches earth.  The eternal enters the temporal.  The full ramifications of the Creator joining himself to his creation have been realized.  We do not have the words to express what happens.  It is terrible and yet wonderful.  It seems so awfully bad and yet we even call it Good Friday.  Tears of suffering will be transmuted into those of joy.  What would normally be a sign of defeat becomes the greatest of victories.

C.S. Lewis would remind us in his book, The Great Divorce, that hell cannot blackmail heaven.  Manipulation through loss would make a hell of heaven.  Dr. Kreeft explains this as God and the saints being entirely active, not passive.  He writes, “We too can love without sorrow or vulnerability because we love only with the active feeling of caring, not the passive feeling of being hurt.”

See “Fourteen Questions About Heaven” by PETER KREEFT.

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One Response

  1. Are we not our brother’s keeper ? We are all in this life together. How can we rejoice in heaven if the very people who passed the faith to us are not there also ? All have sinned and not all finish the race holding true to the faith. Some despair. If we are all connected in the mystical body of Christ, then if not all attain heaven perhaps none attain heaven. Fortunately Jesus says this is not true. Still, the joy of being with God will clearly remove all sorrows. And yet, without seeing God, it is hard to imagine or give up the burden of others’ salvation especially if their downfall may have been my fault or caused by me. Only in Jesus is there any hope at all. Praise be the Lamb of God. May He bring all to heaven.

    FATHER JOE: If all were to be in heaven then there would be no hell. The call to salvation is universal and we can hope that most might be saved; however, universal salvation cannot be assured. The catechism teaches: [CCC 1035] “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.”

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