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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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What is with the Eternal Pains of Hell?

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The question about pain in this world is reformulated in reference to the next: “Why would a good God inflict eternal punishment upon the damned?” How is this just? Would it not be better just to be annihilated? God will not deprive of existence what he has created. The economy of God and his providence would not logically allow such a prospect. We were made for eternity. The real question is will we spend it with God or in opposition to him? It might further be argued that the damned bring their punishment upon themselves just as our first parents through their sin damaged the human race for many generations to follow.

When we hear people deny the existence of hell or argue that such “eternal” punishment is unfair, we should remember that God has given us many opportunities for grace and salvation.

We read in Isaiah 55:7-9: “Let the wicked forsake their way, and sinners their thoughts; Let them turn to the LORD to find mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

We suspect that even those whose lives are cut short or who die in ignorance will not be forsaken by God. But the terrible price remains for those who knew better and still failed to believe and love as they should have.

The issue remains that to live in heaven is to abide in the presence of God. The eternal nature of hell is based upon the simple fact that the damned want nothing to do with God. There is a failure to repent. This obstinacy is fixed at death. I suspect that part of the problem is that many have a false view of how heaven is constituted. The Muslims, for instance, imagine heaven in a material or earthly way where a man is rewarded with seventy-two virgins to despoil.

We read from the Koran (N. J. Dawood translation) Sura 56 verses 12- 39: “They shall recline on jeweled couches face to face, and there shall wait on them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine (that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason); with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they relish. And theirs shall be the dark-eyed houris (girls of tender age with rounded large breasts), chaste as hidden pearls: a guerdon for their deeds… We created the houris and made them virgins, loving companions for those on the right hand. . .”

Cough . . . cough . . . really? A popular albeit secular vision of heaven is that it is a place where good people have everything they want, in a sense expanding upon earthly materialism and reducing God to a genie who grants wishes. The Christian view by distinction is highly spiritualized. There is no lust or animalistic eroticism and no more marriage. It is the banquet of the Lamb. We will be like angels and yet we are also promised restoration, body and soul. We will be the same but different. As with the resurrected Christ and the assumed Virgin Mary, we will put on immortality. The lot of the saints in heaven is not self-preoccupation but an eternal centering upon God almighty. We will join the dominions, powers and principalities of angels in giving eternal glory and praise to God. The damned want nothing of this orientation. Mercy cannot be accessed if there is no movement of the will toward repentance.

I have often thought that the pain to the senses in hell might be God’s last gift to the damned— to help distract them from the deeper pain of loss in shutting themselves off from God’s presence and mercy. They were made for friendship with God. The particular judgment at death is to human beings what the decisive decision of the angels was at the first moment of creation. They have rejected their ultimate end and that necessitates a distortion or corruption of the spirit. I suspect this is why we so often image the damned as mutilated and the fallen angels as with horns and a tail. Graces build upon nature. There is a divinization of the saints. A fallen nature has forfeited any such amplification. Instead of becoming something more it is reduced to something less. The devils and the damned get what they want but not what God had first offered them. The devils still have residual angelic powers but a condemned humanity does not even have full benefit of what was given before. There is something bestial and unclean about them. What becomes of creatures made in the image of God when this likeness is forsaken? There is probably less of a self-love as there is a persistent self-loathing.

If we now lament the possibility of men and women in hell; how do the saints remember their missing family and friends? One priest suggested that the saints no longer remember the damned as this would cause sadness which cannot co-exist with the infinite joy of heaven. I would argue differently. I suspect that the saints do indeed remember those who are damned. However, the saints of heaven no longer have a capacity for sadness or for any external manipulation by others or guilt over the damned. They belong entirely to God. There is no prayer for the damned because it is neither desired nor would it make any difference. They accept as does God that his children have signed their fate. They have made their decision. While there is an infinite quality to that eternal moment of Calvary where the sacred heart is pained by sin; Christ in heaven will never suffer again. Neither will those who join him in his house of many rooms. The “wailing and grinding of teeth” is for those in the darkness outside. They resent and regret but refuse to repent and change. The souls in hell are in a sense at war, not only with God but with reality, itself. The damned and the devils would have us on earth feel sorry for them but this is a devious trick. They want no aid from heaven or earth; rather, in their spite they would steal from those in pilgrimage to add to their number. I suppose this is the ultimate realization of that sentiment, “misery loves company.” The manipulation by the damned of the living is a temptation that must be resisted. Our sights must be kept on God with the awareness that he is good and that he gives to each soul what it truly desires.

Note:  The image above is actually a depiction of purgatory.